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Mar 16, 2012 11:02 PM

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.