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so it's a chain, get over it [moved from Chains board]

It doesn't matter if it is a fast food outlet, a 'family' dining venue, or a higher end steak and chop house. When you go to a chain restaurant you are going to have a menu that was designed to appeal to a fairly broad palate. The emphasis is going to be on a consistent product over a wide geographic area, and you won't find mom or pop in the back making the family secret recipe.

On the other hand, for the most part you won't be subject to the kind of horrors that show up on some restaurant reality shows, where food is rotting in the walk in, the chef believes that his 'special' lemon juice and cardamon sauce belongs on every dish from salads to lasagna to steak to sundaes, or the waitstaff hasn't changed their uniform in a week. In short, it is unlikely to be a stellar dining experience but it is equally unlikely to be such a disaster that everyone walks out hungry.

In some ways I wonder why a website like chowhound, which is devoted to buying, creating, or finding 'the best' even has a section on chains. But what baffles me more are the chowhounds; bright, interesting, informed, experienced foodies that they are; become irate that the food at a chain doesn't taste like something their sainted grandmother or the uber-talented chef down the street would create for them. I would not judge a $2.50 hamburger from a stand on the corner on the same basis as I would a $12 burger from LeChicCafe, so why would I judge the Pasta Alfredo from HappyFamilyDiner ('Where America Eats') on the same basis as Chez Miguel's that has a three star rating from Michelin?

If I am in the Chains section of Chowhound I understand that I am not reading about people's experience at Peter Lugers or The French Laundry, or El Bulli. And I won't be surprised to find out that the food wasn't as good. What I am hoping to find out is whether I should get the Burger or the Pasta Alfedo at HappyFamilyDiner because that is Aunt Ethel's favorite place to go. I want to know if the dinner salad selection is better at HappyFamilyDiner or at NewWaveCafe. What are the best selections at Tex'sPizzaPalace (and why does Tex's sell pizza instead of barbecue?) Has the quality at PancakesOfTheWorld really slipped since it was sold to that conglomerate? Can you taste the difference now that BurgerHaus no longer uses pink slime?

I know it's a chain. I knew it when I walked in the door. I knew it when I read the menu. I was reminded of it when i saw the food come out. For whatever reason or reasons it is where I am going to be eating that meal. OK, warn me that it might be a mistake, caution me that the french fries have been sitting under a headlamp since 5am, or that the vegetables have been on a steam table since last tuesday. But please don't insult me by saying that I should have cooked a birthday dinner for 12 in my hotel room, or that going hungry is a better option than a trip to BurgerFactory. Most of all don't tell me that you would NEVER eat at a chain restaurant for any reason. Then why are you in here reading about them?

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  1. I agree with your basic premise here (although sometimes I'm not sure exactly what it is) but I don't really see the point of your post. A rant like this doesn't really contribute much to the discussion.

    1. Illegitimi non carborundum, KaimukiMan -- thanks for posting what I have thought hundreds of times.

      1. K-Man, do what you want. Eat what you like. Just respect the fact that there are those of us, 'hounds and non, who really, honest and truly, "NEVER eat at a chain restaurant for any reason."

        It's probably been seven years or more for me and the last time was when I felt bad about using a McDonald's bathroom while driving on Route 64 in North Carolina. I got a hashbrown 'cause the kids behind the counter had to unlock the ladies' room for the Mrs. and it was just too weird to sit there waiting without buying something. It sat in my gut like an anvil, reminding me that I really don't get much benefit from such fare.

        My aversion to such places, however, is more philosophical than culinary. And, admittedly, there are moments when I have fond memories of the days when I would put the meat half of a quarter pounder together with the money half of a filet-o-fish and revel in the beauty of the ultimate white trash surf and turf sandwich. Nevertheless, I will stop at a gas station convenience store for beef jerky, or politely decline an invitation to dinner, before I will return to a corporate food provider. I just don't like the idea of chain restaurants.

        The truth is, I really just don't like the concept of "profits first." The consequences of that mentality have been more than apparent for the past couple of years and I choose to avoid participating in it, or contributing to it, as much as possible. One relatively easy way to do that is through avoiding taking my meals in restaurants that reheat cryovacked meats and serve them in a generic environment. Though I recognize and respect the amount of effort that goes into figuring out exactly what a server should wear or say in order to maximize return on the cost of her services to the machine, I do not have any interest in rewarding it.

        Perhaps my beliefs are the product of my experiences, but it is nonetheless true that I have a deep distrust and dislike of massive corporations. Perhaps my quixotic view of Jefferson's yeoman farmer society is unpopular and unusual, but it is genuine. When it comes to providing food, something for which I have such a deep, significant love, I find those beliefs shaping my actions. Forgive me if occasionally I can't help but want to return to the cave and point out to others that they are simply looking at shadows on the wall.

        4 Replies
        1. re: MGZ

          "K-Man, do what you want. Eat what you like. Just respect the fact that there are those of us, 'hounds and non, who really, honest and truly, "NEVER eat at a chain restaurant for any reason."

          One would expect such folks to stay out of chain restaurant forums or threads, in that case.

          With very rare exceptions, I avoid chains, but I used to enjoy Outback years ago, still like Legal Seafoods at lunch only, and ate well at my single visit ever to a Bonefish Grill years ago. I stay out of discussions about chain restaurants I'd go hungry before entering, and leave those threads to folks who enjoy them.

          1. re: MGZ

            Most people are pragmatic about food, about where food comes from and about how food is supplied. Chains provide a consistency of standards and tastes that is more reliable than among privately owned businesses and restaurants, and it's that consistency that is highly prized by the public as a whole. I rarely dine in chains partly because as a good cook I rarely dine out in the first place, but chains have their place in meeting a huge need for reliable food cheaply and quickly.

            As mentioned, if you have moral oppositions to chains it's best not to be posting in a forum dedicated to chains and lecturing to people about looking at shadows on the wall. You may also want to be mindful that the diets of most yeomen farmers even during Jefferson's day was dreary and repetitive, and while Jefferson himself was a gourmand he was also a slaveowner. There are only a few food subjects where morality can come into play - such as food waste or using near extinct fishes and animals, and people should not be criticized, despised or rejected for their approach to meeting an essential daily requirement.

            1. re: Roland Parker

              Though my inner socialist is sickened by the notion of food for profit, you may take some solace from the fact that my inner libertarian generally prevents me from criticizing, despising, or rejecting the things that others choose to do, regardless of what wrong I see in such actions. Please note the fact that as I do not post about food I do not eat or places I do not go to, and since I do not eat in chain restaurants, there are no posts from me regarding any of them. I merely offered the OP my general, and genial, reflections on the instant subject - my apologies if I caused offense.

              1. re: MGZ

                I don't know about Roland, but I wasn't offended and appreciated hearing your views. Since t his isn't on the chains board, I find your comments appropriate. What I don't understand are those who post on a thread about McDonalds or Chili's and open with the comment that they never eat at any chain, and generally follow up by telling the rest of us why we shouldn't either.

          2. So interesting. Clearly offering a Chains board appeals to CH's or it would dry up quick. All the validation needed is right there in its existence and place on this site. Enjoy K-Man, enjoy.

            1. KaimukiMan, please let me try to distill this down, and any suppositions or interpretations in error of your intent are from my own failure.

              Chain restaurants are not in the same category as the majority of restaurants discussed on the boards. Thus their own board.

              They have a definite need in the North American culinary scene. The suggestion of sanitary conditions overseen by coorporate, a degree of training of personnel, and fairly consistent food quality elicit a degree of familiarity that is sought after.

              When you go to the chain section, do not equate it with the forked/starred/hidden gems usually discussed. Tell me about the town I will be going through, and what to stay away from. I agree with you.

              All businesses have profit as the bottom line. Customer satisfaction, quality of goods, service, training of personnel and physical plant are all focused to improving the bottom line. The famous exception was El Bulli as it was considered an experimental lab and training ground. It finally died for lack of funds, from what I read.

              If you ever come to Melbourne, FL, I will be more than happy to direct you to the MacDonald's that charges 50 cents for a small senior coffee instead of 75 cents. The only location in a local chain that serves whole mozzerella instead of skim on their pizza's, and which of the two local hot dog chains has the best fries. What I don't need is somebody slamming my hard won knowledge and choices because it doesn't gybe with their standards. We are not all alike. Viva le difference'.

              2 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                "The famous exception was El Bulli as it was considered an experimental lab and training ground. It finally died for lack of funds, from what I read."
                This is pretty parenthetical to the thread, but I'll point out that El Bulli probably didn't die due to lack of funds, though you're right that it lost money on the meals (while making money on book sales and Adria's speaking fees). It has often been observed that the restaurant could've easily charged 5 times what they did for a dinner and still been booked solid - it wasn't uncommon for people to fly into Spain from halfway around the world just because they scored a reservation. Best I can tell, they kept the cost of a meal low (relatively) on principle alone.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Thank you so much. Always willing to have my knowledge base, or lack there of, expanded.

              2. Agreed. I have never been wowed by a chain and expect not to ever be. That said, they sometimes are the only reasonable choice given time restraints, dining companions, location, etc. When home we almost never have sit down meals at chains, but sometimes a quick sandwich from Subway is the best choice between kids' sporting events. And I have no problem with that. I will also admit to a very recent family vacation where ALL meals were eaten either in theme parks or chains.

                3 Replies
                1. re: CanadaGirl

                  As a local, would you please do a trip report? You would be amazed at the variation in ratings based on origin of the poster. Very few from England like the pub, Germans don't even stop by their pavilion, and what did you think of the 35 year old film representing you're country? Let alone the food served there. Hope you had a good time, and see you in a few years before your child/children become teenagers. The next time they will want to be seen with you in the parks is when they have kids of their own. Trust me on this.

                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                    We didn't do Epcot! It lost out the time battle. But I have read that they very recently updated the Canada film. The food at Disney was okay for what it was. I was very happy that there was always a healthy option as a side, such as broccoli, carrots, grapes or apples. Food at Universal was awful and no healthy options at all.

                    We had a lot I fun overall, and te boys LOVED Harry Poiter but we were very disappointed in Universal as a park.

                    I did experimce my first ever Olive Garden. Food was unremarkable, but the portions were unbelievably huge. I don't consider us to be small eaters but I think we left as much a we ate!

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      all together now....Canada (Canada) my Canada (Canada).....It's still pretty, even if it's not really recent anymore....and it's always interesting to see how many people stumble or even fall over when the film tips....

                  2. BRAVO!! ::::::applause::::::

                    I, too, am puzzled by the extreme hatred of various CHers towards chain restaurants. They are a fact of food consumption here in the US and almost everywhere else in the world, and they all have their place in the food universe. Many people eat at chains, even some CHers, on a regular basis. Additionally, lots of other CHers *like* certain types of chain food - see the threads on fish sandwiches like the Filet-O-Fish, as just one example (even if some of them may not be entirely enthusiastic about chains in general) - and it is interesting to read posts there on occasion dripping with condescension and distaste from folks who think such food items are the spawn of the Devil.

                    1. Yes, KaimukiMan, yes!

                      I've never understood why people pop into these threads, not to address the content of the post, but to tell a poster that they're wrong to inquire about, or actually eat at, a chain restaurant.
                      Feel like flicking them off my shoulder with a "shoo, fly!" Pesky, not helpful. Why do they bother?

                      If a poster is asking whether or not they should choose a chain over another restaurant or cooking at home in the first place, that invites more discussion, of course.

                      1. Well put!

                        Most of my family lives in chain heaven (Florida) and their interest in food differs from mine. Perhaps 1 out of every 10 meals out we will try a place I have researched. But when they want to go to Olive Garden it is good to have CH guidance to better my dinner choice. I'll be eating, but the meal isn't about the food - it is about gathering the tribe and spending time. The schedules of the youngest ones make it a challenge to find any time when everyone can get together. Glad my childhood was prior to the constant scurry of kid obligations!

                        I think some hounds don't realize how much of the U.S. does not have the choice between a great $2 taco truck vs corporate fast food when needing cheap, fast and convenient.

                        Interstate travel is another example. Often the only options close to hotels are chains. After driving 10 -12 hours I don't want to drive any further. A stroll across the street is perfect and it is nice to have enough 'hound info to make a choice between the options available.

                        I'm not a morning person. My reward for hitting the road early when traveling is a Sausage McMuffin with Cheese. Sometimes it is the perfect combination of quick and portable hot, delicious greasiness. It hits the spot and I'm not gonna apologize for my choice!

                        1. It just sounds elitist to me to declare that one never eats at a chain. Most of us don't have that luxury. The "local" places around me aren't wonderful. When we are on the road, we eat at chains out of necessity. And the truth is, I can relate bizarre experiences when we have tried to eat local. Not all "local" or independent restos purvey decent food. I don't care for McD's hamburgers, but I'll drink their coffee and eat an occasional snack there when using the rest room. The worst experience I've ever had with food sitting heavy on my stomach was at a local Mexican place in OK. Tasty but really, really fatty. You wanted to like it, but wow the body was not happy with it. I'd have been better off at Chili's. (Sad but true. I don't like Chili's all that much, but it seems to be ubiquitous everywhere.)

                          1. There are chains and then there are chains...but one issue you don't really discuss is that many chains have considerable variety in food quality among branches. Whether because of franchise interest in the food (or lack thereof) or just location: an egg mcmuffin at all McD's is not equal. and the service definitely can vary considerably from branch to branch as well as from chain to chain...Of course, those that never eat at chains wouldn't know this, but I happen to think that a well-prepared egg mcmuffin is worth eating. Check out the one at the McDonald's in Gustine, CA; their food always tastes fresher than other branches of McDs. I figure it could be they don't get a high volume of traffic and make it to order. Of course, the only thing I've ever eaten there is the egg mcmuffin and coffee and only during breakfast hours. If I am in Gustine at lunch time there is *no way* I am going to eat at McDonalds with Wolfsen's Meats right down the street...

                            This is why I sometimes read the Chains board: to find out what to choose from the menu if either one is stuck in Chain-land or asked to go by family members, or to know which items at a particular branch might even be worth seeking out in areas where there are non-Chain options.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: susancinsf

                              Indeed chains are not equal. As a child I had eaten at Red Lobster exactly once and found it to toons of the most vile experiences I had ever had. Cut to years later in a land locked state with barely any options for seafood and being dragged by my boyfriend to find that the quality in a land locked state is heads above states known for seafood. In recent years te quality has been declining however. While I try to avoid chains as much as possible sometimes life happens or the truly is no other option or the people you are with insist on that kind of bland familiarity. Don't overall chain bash when te discussion is off topic.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Actually, I've found that MOST egg mcmuffins are worth eating. And that nothing else at McDonald's really is, although the fries and the coffee aren't bad. And that, to me, is the purpose of a "Chains" board: so that we can figure out what we SHOULD choose when the chain is the only obvious choice (road trips, late at night, office meals, etc -- there are plenty of situations where a chain meal might be required....).

                                1. re: janetofreno

                                  What, don't you like the Filet-O-Fish? :-)

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    *high-fives huiray*

                                    The Filet-o-fish has been my preferred menu item at McDo since I was about 6 -- sometimes I get the Filet Royal (a French version with lettuce and tomato that's darned tasty with at least a moderate guilt redemption factor...) -- but usually it's just that humble little square of fish with a slice of god-know-what cheese and a squish of tartar sauce.

                                    It's probably the only thing I still eat reasonably regularly that I ate when I was 6.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      The filet of fish is the BEST.

                                      I call all chain food "corporate cuisine" and I consider it junk food. I eat clean food 97 percent of the time -but I love me some junk food sometimes!!! Nothing else will do! I feel sorry for others that have such a "refined" and limited palate that they find all chain food "inedible". Poor things. Junk food has it's place in my life and I still enjoy it when I allow myself to.

                                      As to people that post over there stating it is "bland" food...WTF? Chain food is over the top on everything- over seasoned, over cheesed, over sweetened, over fatted, over proportioned, etc. Bland? Not on your life. I can only take about 6 or 7 bites and I am done because it is usually "too much"....then I drink water all night :)

                                      I just can't figure out why they gripe about "why you don't go to an independent restaurant".....duh....because I WANT tasty, poisonous junk for a change. Get over it.

                                      BTW....I have a frozen snickers bar in my freezer right now. I will grab it tonight instead of the imported 87% dark...because I FEEL LIKE IT.

                                    2. re: janetofreno

                                      On a road trip, I might have an Egg McMuffin. Its OK. I do like the chicken nuggets though, even though they are higher than necessary in carbs. I like them with plain mustard for a mid-morning snack when we are on the road. We often do a restroom and coffee stop midmorning when we travel. On a hot summer day, driving cross country, we have been known to stop for a soft serve cone. It isn't on my diet, but if I am horribly hot and stiff from sitting, one of those is a pick me up.

                                      But even then, I confess, I am aware that it isn't really good quality stuff.

                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                        and that's kind of the whole thread -- if you end up at a chain, you KNOW it's not going to be stellar, you KNOW it's going to be oversalted, and you KNOW every other bite is going to be breaded and deep-fried.

                                        So go, eat, and don't crab because it's not stellar, and is mostly oversalted and greasy.

                                        An owl's egg doesn't hatch a partridge.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          And you know that the food is edible and won't kill you. And for the most part the service will be good.

                                          I'm just grateful because without the Chains thread I would never have eaten a fish sandwich @ McDonalds. Also I learned that I'm not the only one who thinks that Sonic onion rings have a weird sweetness to them.

                                        2. re: janetofreno

                                          I just thought of one more time a chain meal is required: about once a month, when I get a craving for Popeye's spicy chicken. DH just shook his head when he found the discarded bag in the trash last week:-)

                                      2. Interesting to read the replies. And interesting that CH moved this to site talk, makes sense as it pertains more to the website than any one chain in particular. I did have to google sunshine's comment (Illegitimi non carborundum - Don't let the bastards grind you down), Honolulu is a LONG way from Harvard.

                                        Appreciate all the responses, this is such a diverse and interesting group of people that I always gain insights and viewpoints I had never considered before. As for me, I don't eat at the mega chains often, and fast food more than family or upscale, but I am blessed to live in a place with an amazing number of really good local options, especially compared to the population. A million people is not a small town, but its not a major metropolitan area either.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          heh -- never set foot anywhere near Harvard.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            apparently its a line in a harvard fight song.... or so says wiki

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              I've only ever heard and/or used it as a comment when you didn't want to just blurt out your real thought...

                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                K-Man, came back to report that the KFC chunky chicken pot pie for $3.99 was a winner, winner, chicken dinner! Highly recommend giving it a go before it's gone!

                                                So, there I said it-chains (can) rock!

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  (Jumping in here, please excuse me) Oh? Well, guess what I think I'll get for lunch!

                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                    two bad experiences at KFC within the last two months. won't be going back any time soon.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      Sorry to hear that K-Man. I haven't had many KFC experience to write about but when the dept brought in the pot pies I was surprised at the quality and taste. I was expecting too much salt and not enough veggies. The pot pie I enjoyed was excellent.

                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                        two bad experiences at KFC within the last two months. won't be going back any time soon.
                                                        Oh the irony (from your own OP), KaimukiMan.....

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          but there's a difference between complaining that a chain restaurant has greasy, oversalted food (as per my above post) and recognizing that this particular establishment just doesn't put out edible "food".

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            hi sunshine. My irony post was directed at K-Man who started this OP frustrated (at least tha'ts my intrepretation) by the dismissive unnecessary behavior on threads at the Chains board. Nuf said.

                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                              yes, i was aware of the irony. but it was disappointing because in general i have always thought KFC did a really good job on fried chicken. now i never had a southerner grandma or auntie so maybe i don't know from fried chicken, but I do know that what i was served the last two times did not measure up to KFC standards, nor did they bother to reply to e-mailed comments on their carefully constructed website. I'm not saying all fried chicken from chains is bad, but I got turned off by two recent experiences. for now i'll drive over to popeyes instead, or from zippy's - a local fast food CHAIN.

                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                Not that I can't agree that chain food can be disappointing even location to location varies. I'm not a regular of KFC by any means but the new pot pie surprised. me. Natch, YMMV.

                                              2. I don't have any problems with chains per se. If I see one of those 2/$4 Big Mac signs in a McDonald's window, I'm more than likely to stop in.

                                                My problem is two larger ones. First, Americans have largely grown up on chains (at least since the 1950s), and older diners and restaurants have become the victim of the endless expansion of these places. The only venues that seem to have a personal culinary vision are very expensive eateries at which most people can't afford to eat. The days when a guy cooked you a hamburger, maybe threw a garlic clove in the middle and gave you a little sauce of his own invention on top, seem to be gone.

                                                Second, expansion only encourages other people to try to make it big when they should be perfecting the food at one restaurant rather than 20. Entrepreneur-ship is a great thing, and should be applauded, but when you do one thing well - like run a single restaurant - why try to run ten more? Cooking - the culinary art in general - is about passion, not about trying to drag every possible dollar from every patron's wallet. You don't need to create an empire to have a happy life. Yet it seems that every individual who has a halfway-successful restaurant nowadays wants to open another location, and another, and so on ad infinitum.

                                                Hey, I don't mind fast food at all. It fills needs: if I'm on the road, hungry, and desperate, I'll take a Taco Supreme. I'm just a little discouraged by the fact that everyone these days seems to want to be Ray Kroc. Isn't it enough to have a little restaurant that does a few things well, and friends who want to be there on a regular basis?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: caravan70

                                                  "The days when a guy cooked you a hamburger, maybe threw a garlic clove in the middle and gave you a little sauce of his own invention on top, seem to be gone."

                                                  Hard to believe, but it seems you somehow have escaped seeing http://www.foodnetwork.com/diners-dri... - can that be so? ;-D>

                                                  1. re: Servorg

                                                    I guess I shouldn't say they're wholly gone, Servorg... I just meant that they're harder to find. Guy Fieri does a great job of ferreting them out on that show, but while they were once legion - any town you went to had them - they're getting harder and harder to find, and you want to stick a historic preservation sticker on them when you do find them. I suppose that's why there's a television show about them - you can't take them for granted anymore. And I imagine that we never should have done so.

                                                    1. re: caravan70

                                                      People on the L.A. board are probably sick of me singing the praises of Pann's by this time...so I definitely don't take them for granted. ;-D> And I knew you were just taking a little poetic license when you said they "seemed to be gone" It is a mitzvah as far as I'm concerned what Guy does on his show (to make money or not in the process) because it celebrates and supports that little guy with a passion turning out unique food along the highways and byways of America.