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Why is the Olive Garden so reviled?

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I'm asking this question out of honest curiosity, because I've noticed here and in other places, and during conversations with people who are into food, that it seems like the Olive Garden is universally hated. In a way that other chain restaurants don't seem to be. And I really don't understand why.

If anything, I think I'm a bit of a food snob, and certainly the food there isn't out-of-this-world, but I'd way rather at the Olive Garden than at, say, Chili's, or T.G.I. Friday's, or really any other cheapish casual dining chain I can think of. The food won't be spectacular, but I've never gotten anything really bad there either. I'm sure a lot of my food came in frozen, but it's not like it's awful. And I actively like their salad.

I can't even really chalk this up to food snobbery either, because it's not only people who are cooking their way through the French Laundry Cookbook in between meals at Alinea. It's often people who are willing to confess a liking for certain fast food items. And it's particularly the Olive Garden, not any other ubiquitous casual chain.

I honestly don't get it. And every time I've gone there, there's been a long wait for a table, which suggests a lot of people like it. Is there an "Olive Garden smell" like the Subway smell, which some people can't seem to detect?

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  1. I think that it may be reviled by some folks because the food is pretty bad. And it's not a particularly good value, either.
    If an Italian themed restaurant can screw up simple pasta as the OG is prone to do (like way, way overcooking it), I'd qualify it as pretty bad. I've been dragged there a few times and have had tastes of a number of their entrees. I like big flavors, but appreciate subtlety just as much (if not moreso) but the stuff I've tasted at OG has just been bland.
    It look at Olive Garden as" the white bread of Italian food". I guess some people just like it.

    I agree with you about one thing...I can always enjoy their salad.
    Most of their other offerings though, if not awful, are just on the cusp and basically aren't worth the money or the calories.

    Just my opinion...others' mileage may vary.

    13 Replies
    1. re: The Professor

      Honestly, they seem to advertise quantity, not quality. I find the appearance of the food on their TV commercials literally nauseating, gloppy piles of goo.

      1. re: mcf

        My son and I joke that their creations are "pasta stuffed with cheese, with chicken covered by alfredo sauce topped with grated cheese. " we make it a game who can come up with the cheesiest alfredoist dish ever.

          1. re: mcf

            So funny, because I always think "how does showing this awful looking stuff drive people to the restaurant?" Like when Denny's shows pictures of it's Grand Slam and everything looks so antiseptic - no hint of browning on the eggs, sausage, etc.... Or Arby's showing off a roast beef sandwich where you can see square blocks of "meat" in the slices.

            1. re: sbp

              My favourite are the picks of chicken breast (in a sandwich, salad or whatever) that show stringy meat... the way chicken breast can only look when it is *very* overcooked. And these are the pics they choose for the menu board...

          2. re: The Professor

            I like Mom and Pop places better than the chains but sometimes the convienience and atmosphere of an Olive Garden win out.

              1. re: LeHiFoodie

                With typical wait times of two hours, the convenience and atmosphere are never a draw.

                1. re: melpy

                  Very true.... then after all that, you get the food :(

                  1. re: libgirl2

                    This is our usual reaction.
                    If I am going to a chain for Italian food. I prefer Carraba's and Macaroni grill.

                    1. re: melpy

                      Yes. Carraba's, even with the massive variation among locations, and Macaroni Grill, even with the mountains of salt in every dish, are far superior to OG.

                      1. re: Bob W

                        Who remembers when Macaroni Grill first entered the market, say 15+- years ago? They use to come to the table with a bottle of their house labeled wine, place it on the table and tell you it was the "honor system". They left the bottle and left you with a crayon and every time you poured a glass of wine you were suppose to place a line on the paper table cloth.

                        I would finish the bottle, and only have 1 line in front of me every time. They stopped that practice after their first year or so in business, I don't think I've been back since. lol

            1. with the exception of the soup and salad, I have yet to have a meal there that was anything beyond meh, and usually closer to ugh.

              Even the soup and salad ranks only as a hmmm -- there are plenty of places to get a better salad for the same price.

              (but when you're in a group and get outvoted, you make the best of it.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: sunshine842

                This is my stance. I'll eat the salad or soup but when I have gotten an entree it is terrible and a disappointment. If I have to have chain Italian I prefer Carrabas and Macaroni Grille for a few dollars more.

              2. If it wasn't for the Olive Garden there would only be The Cheesecake Factory to complain about.

                13 Replies
                1. re: Samalicious

                  Nah, there's also Red Lobster, for one.

                  1. re: mcf

                    Or Ruby Tuesday, Red Robin, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Chili's etc.

                    1. re: Sydneyeats

                      Every year or so, I think "Red Robin. They make tasty burgers."

                      I go. And have the worst burger I will eat that year.

                      1. re: Sydneyeats

                        I've had good food at Ruby Tuesdays. Often I've had good service too. I prefer Ruby Tuesday when traveling over almost any other chain.

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          This is such eye of the beholder stuff. I've come around on Red Robin, whereas I think Ruby Tuesday has fallen way, way off. Chili's has great food photographers, but the actual food is great only if you like salt and fat.

                          1. re: Bob W

                            I don't eat often enough at these places to really have strong opinions. But in our travels we eat at Ruby Tuesdays with confidence. I will eat the chili at Chili's which I find pretty good, but the rest of the menu is too heavy with, as you said, salt and fat. In future I will be keeping an eagle eye out for Chipotle, which I have come round to. I'm not a big fan of Olive Garden. As someone else posted, I've have never had a really good meal there.

                              1. re: Bob W

                                I agree with Bob about the eye of the beholder, but personally I dislike Olive Garden (and Red Lobster) more than Chili's, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, etc. because I have never had a competently cooked bowl of pasta there, ever. Same goes with Red Lobster - EVERY piece of seafood I've ever had there has been overcooked and rubbery (although their biscuits are like crack). You would think that since pasta/fish are their respective specialties, they might be able to get those right, even if the rest of their menu is frozen or from a plastic bag.

                                At least when I order a burger med-rare at Chili's or Red Robin, I'm pretty much assured of a mid-rare burger. And when I go to those places, I'm usually LOOKING for salt and fat, so that part of the equation doesn't bother me. I haven't been to Ruby Tuesday in years but I remember they used to have an excellent salad bar and their entrees were generally inoffensive. All of that said, though - chains are usually our last resort when we're choosing to eat out.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  It also changes by region. Red Lobster in a landlocked state is significantly better than a coastal one. I'm sure this is true for other chains.

                                2. re: sueatmo

                                  I have too, but in the distant past, so can't comment on current quality. Oh, another disgusting one is Applebees, from the broken down booths to the greasy grime on everything, then the junky food.

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    I think that one swings by location, too -- the last one I ate at (in FL) was clean, well-maintained, and had some at least halfway respectable choices on the menu.

                                    You wouldn't want to eat there every day (my steak was tender, cooked correctly, and tasty, despite being savagely oversalted -- and the salad was extremely fresh and was mostly actual mesclun, rather than browned iceberg with a few purple leaves on it)

                                3. re: Sydneyeats

                                  Of those the only one I've ever been to, years ago, was Ruby Tuesday's and it wasn't bad, and wasn't dirty and the food wasn't gross, unlike Red Lobster. I took a look and a sniff and walked out. Haven't been to any of them for years, though.

                              2. re: Samalicious

                                "If it wasn't for the Olive Garden there would only be The Cheesecake Factory to complain about."


                              3. Most likely for many of the reasons Wal-Mart is reviled by some people.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Fowler

                                  I think this is closest to the truth - they are sort of the Wal-Mart of chain restaurants. Perhaps they are more ubiquitous. Not everyone has a Friday's or Ruby Tuesdays, but it seems there is an OG everywhere. They are like the flagship of bad, chain restaurants.

                                2. Obscenely sized portions, gloppy sauces on everything, I don't even like the doughy "bread sticks" or overly acidic salad. In no way does this resemble the food of Italy, or even decent Mom and Pop American/Italian food.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    Agreed about the bread sticks. I've never understood what so many people love about them (the fandom seems on similar levels to Red Lobster's biscuits sometimes). I don't even mind going to Olive Garden once in a blue moon even though I would never pick it, but the breadsticks aren't even worth eating imo.

                                    1. re: Fromageball

                                      Third this. I like those Red Lobster biscuits on occasion, but the OL sticks -- at least, the ones they had years ago -- are tasteless and have a weird texture.

                                      1. re: Rilke

                                        People love the al you can eat salad and breadsticks, but they're just not good. The last time I went to one I was on a business trip and was outvoted by others, despite my warnings. Everyone agreed it was terrible. Then a new one opened near our business, and they brought a bunch of salad and breadsticks, again terrible. The thing is, pretty much any restaurant will give you all the bread you want, good bread too. Where I live the original Carrabba's is still owned by Johnny Carrabba, all the bread you want, plus a salad for 8 bucks that is so large it feeds two, plus leftovers for two. The entrees are two or three dollars higher, but are fresh and prepared before your eyes.

                                    2. re: pikawicca

                                      My brother and his wife were stationed in Italy for three years back in the '80s. (This was during a time we weren't really communicating a lot so I didn't get to visit. Rats.) A few years after they returned to the US, they were in town and wanted to go to dinner with the extended family. She insisted on Olive Garden. My brother -- who is not precisely Chowhoundish -- muttered to me apologetically as we were entering, "Only she could live in Italy for three years and think Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant."

                                      1. I would say that it's because Italian food isn't that difficult of a cuisine to get right. Not only that, but they blatantly bastardize Italian food by using the exact opposite ethos. Instead of taking a "less is more" approach by using fresh ingredients at their seasonal peak, the OG offers a Middle American wet dream food fantasy: extra large meat portions covered in extra sauce and topped with extra cheese on a bed of gummy pasta.

                                        1. It's particularly the Olive Garden because the food is particularly bad.

                                          1. My parents loved Olive Garden, I've always been "meh" about it, but I've never gotten the hate either.

                                            If the portions are too big to suit you then just don't eat it all, it's not like the waitperson will shoot you in the head if you leave some food on the plate.

                                            1. Some people assume that if it's a chain restaurant that's popular in middle America, then it's automatically generic, whitebread, and awful.

                                              I've had some genuinely terrible meals at Olive Garden, but then again, I've also had some genuinely terrible meals at "chef-owned" local restaurants.

                                              Their alfredo sauce is to be avoided, but I've had some very decent ravioli and other pastas there. I admit that their salad and breadsticks are usually my favorite things, though.

                                              1. Right off the bat - I don't particularly like OG and I don't enjoy eating there. BUT I don't think their food is objectively of any worse quality than many other casual-dining chains like, say, Friday's or Chili's or Applebees or Red Lobster, etc. And I'd agree that OG tends to be more reviled than other chains making food of similar quality.

                                                Here's my guess at the main reason for this: frankly, American foodies tend to be more dogmatic about Italian food (or even Italian-American food) than American food. A crappy burger is free to just be nothing more significant than a crappy burger, while an entree of overcooked pasta with gluey alfredo sauce and chicken is looked upon as a travesty of sorts. Why is that? I'm not really too sure.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  This is getting close. In their commercials they claim to have chefs trained in Tuscany and that what they serve is authentic (whatever that is) Italian food. When you make that claim and fall so short you're going to reap the ire of those that know better.


                                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                    I really agree with this. The great majority of people will never get to eat Italian food in Tuscany. I hate to think that these people go through life thinking that the OG represents the food of Italy and/or Tuscany. It just seems so wrong, but somehow people "buy" it. The place is packed!

                                                    We have a gift card to OG from my mother who passed away recently. In most circumstances, I would have given the card to someone who would enjoy it. In this case, we thought that using it would honor my mom in some way. We went this weekend. OMG. Seriously. The food was so atrocious that we couldn't finish it. It was cold when it came out and my sauce (creamy) had somehow both separated AND congealed. Our entire meal, including wine, was comped by the manager and we didn't even complain. She just knew it was horrible by looking at it on the plate. We still have the card, unfortunately.

                                                    1. re: velochic

                                                      regifting is appropriate in this case.

                                                      Isn't there some charity program that takes restaurant gift cards? I remember hearing about such a thing, but I don't remember the details.

                                                      1. re: velochic

                                                        You can use that card at any of OG's sibling chains, which include Longhorn and Capital Grille. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darden_R.... Perhaps one of them appeals to you more.

                                                    2. re: cowboyardee

                                                      The idea of food people being dogmatic about Italian food does make sense. There aren't too many major chains that claim to serve a particular cuisine.

                                                    3. If it's all you've got then it might be a good choice, but it's neither inexpensive enough or good enough to compete in a real town. Nothing makes me crazier than the masses of people at the Olive Garden in Times Square (ditto Red Lobster and the other major chains). Why? Why come to one of the great food cities where you can get ay number of local specialties for the same price - or less?

                                                      I live in Chicago and have no fewer than 4 local spots within spitting distance that can do better than OG for roughly the same price.

                                                      Plenty of people like it because it's familiar but that doesn't make it good.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: ferret

                                                        "I live in Chicago and have no fewer than 4 local spots within spitting distance that can do better than OG for roughly the same price."

                                                        We love visiting Chicago and Spiaggia is a favorite. Would you care to share the 4 local Italian spots within spitting distance of your abode? Grazie!

                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                          My abode is far North (30-40 minutes North of the Loop), so it wouldn't be very accessible. Plus, they aren't the best the city has to offer, they're just local spots that serve competent Italian.

                                                          For visitors I'd recommend Piccolo Sogno or Coco Pazzo as a good starting point. Quartino, which is a very casual spot with small plates is what my fantasy of an Italian chain restaurant should be. If only we could swap out every Olive Garden for a Quartino.

                                                          1. re: ferret

                                                            Ditto Coco Pazzo and Coco Pazzo Cafe. Depending on where we're staying we hit one of these two every time we're in the Windy City.

                                                            Can I also put in a shout in Chicago for La Madia for "close to Neapolitan" pizza. Very good.

                                                            1. re: velochic

                                                              Thanks ferret and velochic! The menus look great.

                                                      2. I don't live in or even near a "food city" but I can name ten or twelve local (within fifteen miles) Italian places right off the top of my head that kick Olive Garden's fatty, overcooked, subpar butt -- the food is not Italian, it's American trying to be Italian and it is not great -- yet the place is always packed, packed, packed.

                                                        It's depressing.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Rilke

                                                          The calories!!!!!!!!!!! The made up Italian names. The calories. Not talking about that salad.

                                                        2. The pastas are overcooked and the sauces have to be squeezed out of plastic bags, right?

                                                          5 Replies
                                                              1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                The pasta isn't overcooked at your Olive Garden? Really?

                                                                1. re: Rilke

                                                                  I don't have my own Olive Garden, but I've had pasta at their locations that wasn't overcooked, yes.

                                                            1. watch Big Night and you'll know.

                                                              1. There food is not Authentic Italian (whatever that means) but mass produced for middle America.

                                                                The WSJ did a great story on how they had to dumb down their menu and food for their target demo.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: usmc5855

                                                                  I don't refuse to eat American Chinese food because it's "inauthentic", though. And all of these chains are producing dumb, mass-produced food for Middle America. But people don't hate on TGI Friday's the same way.

                                                                  1. re: Exy00

                                                                    They should. TGIFriday's is pretty awful and an awful value.

                                                                    1. re: Exy00

                                                                      TGI Friday's aren't running "Taste of Tuscany" specials this month, are they? OG claims to be something it's not, which is authentic Italian food, TGI Fridays, et al, aren't claiming to be something else...be it regional American, high-end, etc. They advertise burgers and fries and that's what you get...no more, no less. They may not be hand-cut fries cooked in duck fat or burgers ground on site and adorned with a fresh baked brioche bun, but it's still a burger.

                                                                    2. re: usmc5855

                                                                      usmc: Considering the story points out that both OG and Brinker International HQs are located in Orlando and Dallas respectively, I would contend that the food is mass produced and "dumbed down" for more than just Middle America. After all, there are several Midwestern cities with large Italian-American enclaves serving much better Italian fare than OG.

                                                                      1. re: usmc5855

                                                                        The pear, gorgonzola and shrimp ravioli rejection said it all, didn't it? (Or maybe it was pear and shrimp ravioli with with a gorgonzola sauce?) This was from the "Wall Street Journal" link above. Anyway, people liked it in tests, but complained about it in the restaurants and, after disappointing quarterly earnings, management quickly yanked it from the menu. As management concluded in connection with another dish, the concept was too "food forward."

                                                                        By the way, I don't think Olive Garden is awful, unlike many of the posters here, just unimaginative and not very authentic--sort of like Taco Bell is an American offshoot of Mexican. Olive Garden is Italian for Americans who want to play it safe--very safe.

                                                                      2. It's thriving despite its homogenized, mediocre food. Blech.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                          Ding ding ding ding ding. Wildly mediocre. And yet often packed. It's the marketing.

                                                                          Marketing works. When you actually query people on what they really like or dont like about the place, get them to stop and think, most people who "love" olive garden end up not really liking it, but they love the idea of going there.
                                                                          Sort of like a designer brand that people buy because it's popular , not because of any particular quality of the brand. Quite sad, in a way.

                                                                        2. I have eaten at O/G only once, 22 years ago (I remember because it was my birthday). Now I live in Southern Italy 6 months a year...when I see their commercials I see only bad American food. Nothing in Italy looks like the plates O/G serves. It might be delicious, but it looks horrid. All that aside though, I began to despise the chain when they commenced airing the commercials about their "Italian Cooking School" in Tuscany. I never bought it. Then it came to light that O/G did NOT have a cooking school, but rather "an apartment" in Tuscany which served as a residence for employees having occasion to travel to Italy. Praianogirl

                                                                          11 Replies
                                                                            1. re: MarlboroMan

                                                                              I've commented about the ridiculousness of this marketing gimmick. It's like McDonald's hosting a butchering academy. The idea that introducing a restaurant-level employee to a Tuscan culinary institute could have any local (or national) impact on their food is mind-numbingly asinine. The "recipes" are rigidly prescribed with a necessary eye on the bottom line. What's the local guy going to do when he/she gets back to the restaurant?

                                                                              1. re: ferret

                                                                                " It's like McDonald's hosting a butchering academy."

                                                                                Your comment is too funny and so very true! There is an Olive Garden located close to my office and there are often Sysco trucks being unloaded and the products hauled into the restaurant. Throwing some frozen Sysco junk in a microwave and serving that is not anything that would be taught in a Tuscan culinary school.

                                                                                1. re: Fowler

                                                                                  I also take exception at the notion that Sysco does nothing but push soylent green. They sell fresh produce and meats and have a very efficient distribution system to get the best and freshest ingredients to customers. Seriously. So if I see Sysco, I never associate it with low or poor quality. What their customer does with the product is an entirely different matter.

                                                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                                                    AND they sell things like napkins and salt and pepper and coffee urns and drink stirrers and toilet cleaner and floor wax and other stuff that even the finest restaurants use all day every day.

                                                                                    The presence of a food-service truck (whether Sysco or someone else) does not immediately relegate them to the dust bin.

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      Agree with ferret and sunshine. I have actually perused the Sysco catalog. You can be a Sysco customer and go one of two ways -- buy perfectly good ingredients and actually cook, or buy precooked meals and zap them. Places that do the latter are the ones that should be reviled.

                                                                                      1. re: Bob W

                                                                                        "I have actually perused the Sysco catalog."

                                                                                        And you base your conclusion upon reading a catalog? I have worked in restaurants that use Sysco food products and they are generally inferior. And then there were always the times when we asked for a specific item and the Sysco salesperson said, "Well, we do not have that but we have a house brand that is almost as good."

                                                                                      2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                        "AND they sell things like napkins and salt and pepper and coffee urns and drink stirrers and toilet cleaner and floor wax and other stuff that even the finest restaurants use all day every day."

                                                                                        You are correct as usual but I never suspected that the Sysco boxes labeled "PERISHIABLE - KEEP FROZEN" that were being carted into Olive Garden were actually boxes of salt, pepper, tooth picks, toilet cleaner, etc.

                                                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                                                          I was referring ONLY to the fact that the simple presence of a Sysco truck does not in and of itself automatically mean that the restaurant is subpar.

                                                                                          You can't tell me you're actually surprised that OG orders from Sysco, right?

                                                                                      3. re: ferret

                                                                                        "I also take exception at the notion that Sysco does nothing but push soylent green."

                                                                                        When did I claim they did that?

                                                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                                                          I think you misread my post or don't understand it. I referenced the catalog because it shows that not everything from Sysco is a "meal in a bag." As sunshine noted, you can also order fresh ingredients from Sysco. Most restaurants cannot go out to Farmer John's place to buy his daily harvest of microgreens.

                                                                                          You are claiming that the presence of a Sysco truck automatically makes a restaurant inferior based on some alleged work experience. Perhaps you need to work at better restaurants, some of which might also get stuff from Sysco. Your anecdotal evidence is not persuasive, sorry.

                                                                              2. Olive Garden is ok IMO.

                                                                                Whenever I'm there it is crowded, so it must be doing something right. I was there a few months ago, had soup and salad which is what I always get there. DSis had salmon and was disappointed, but she is always disappointed.

                                                                                I have noticed the same as OP, it seems to be especially reviled.

                                                                                I don't care for Applebee's; there is a Chili's by us that is pretty ok; as is the Fridays ~~ I always get shrimp cocktail there.

                                                                                Chains I like include Marie Callender's; El Torito, And the Cheesecake Factory.

                                                                                10 Replies
                                                                                1. re: laliz

                                                                                  Denny's is crowded, McDonald's is crowded. People go because they're lured by price and volume (unlimited soup & breadsticks). I find the whole business model to be contemptible; "hey! let's pretend we're something we're not and con people into believing we care about what we serve." It's foodservice by committee.

                                                                                  I was on the foodservice board at my college and we came out with our version of beignets, little bits of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. We sold tons of these at a ridiculously low price to the students. Our cost was nearly zero because the "bits of dough" were the scrap pieces that were left over after the pizza crusts were stamped out of rolls of dough by our vendor. He sold us massive quantities of scrap dough for this use. He dumped his garbage on us and we sold it to the students as a new snack product (this was decades ago) at almost pure profit.

                                                                                  That's the worst side of the foodservice industry. It's not criminal, it's not evil, it's not unethical, but it's the opposite of "service." It's figure out how to maximize profit as a primary goal, with food as an afterthought.

                                                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                                                    but the students had a sweet snack at a cheap price, you made a nice profit, and everybody's happy.

                                                                                    Not remotely trying to defend it as good food -- but welcome to capitalism.

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      When I want a cheap muffler, I'll go to a place that sells mufflers cheaply and has a good reputation. If I want cheap sweat socks for the gym, I'll go to Target. If I go to a restaurant I'd prefer that the food I'm ingesting is, if not prepared by, then conceived by someone who cares about good food. I don't want accountants deciding what makes it to the menu.

                                                                                    2. re: ferret

                                                                                      Hey, according to a story I read years ago, that's basically how fajitas got invented. They were originally made with a small piece of meat from the cow's neck that had been getting thrown out.

                                                                                      Similarly, the now-ubiquitous potato skins -- someone said hey, we're throwing out all these potato skins. Let's slap a little cheese on them, throw them under the broiler, and see if anyone will buy them. Of course, then they got turned into bloated monstrosities, but I remember the first potato skins I ever had, at a bar called Spats in Providence. They were crunchy and quite good.

                                                                                      1. re: Bob W

                                                                                        Nothing wrong with someone getting a spark of inspiration that leads to a tasty treat. And as I said, I don't think we were doing anything terrible.

                                                                                        Maybe I approach food in a different way than some people here, but I like to think that the place I choose for my meal is run by someone who got into the business because he/she cares about food or has some passion for what they're doing. That doesn't mean I have to eat in high-end restaurants; there are plenty of cheap places that I visit regularly where the food is clearly the focus of the business.

                                                                                        1. re: ferret

                                                                                          " but I like to think that the place I choose for my meal is run by someone who got into the business because he/she cares about food or has some passion for what they're doing."

                                                                                          I completely agree with your philosophy but am perplexed why you can then defend Sysco.

                                                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                                                            Nobody's "defending" Sysco, merely stating that you can't draw any conclusions from the truck showing up at someone's door. You generalize that if Sysco's there then the establishment is presumed to be using prepared food products. I'm merely stating that it's an unbased generalization.

                                                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                                                              If a restaurant is going to hit the price points it needs to survive in the local market, then they need to pick and choose where they'll get the most bang for their purchasing buck. At our local Thai takeout place, they grow a number of their own herbs and peppers in the owner's backyard because they aren't happy with the quality of those things they can buy if they're going to keep their entree prices under $10. (Which is about the upper limit on Thai takeout entrees around here unless you're talking seafood or duck as a protein) Another way of hitting their price point- buying their rice from Sysco in bulk. Going through one of the local Asian grocers for their rice would get them the same brand they get from Sysco, but at a significantly increased cost.

                                                                                            2. re: ferret

                                                                                              "I like to think that the place I choose for my meal is run by someone who got into the business because he/she cares about food or has some passion for what they're doing . . . where the food is clearly the focus of the business."

                                                                                              A well put sentiment and one with which I will wholeheartedly concur. "Profit as primary purpose" does not produce good eats. In fact, it's not really a good fundamental approach for any business. Nevertheless, by separating the producers from the decision makers from the ultimate stakeholders enough money can be generated, and on such a vast scale, that it is easy to begin to embrace such a mantra. The problem is that there are always going to be consequences.

                                                                                      2. I agree with some of the earlier posters that insincerity of the Tuscan Cooking School and "authentic" Italian recipes are what make O/G especially reviled by the folks who read this board. When I was a teenager living in the wilds of Pennsylvania, I loved my infrequent trips to the late Chi-Chi's, which fell into the same category. I understand what people hate. I'm, frankly, more fascinated by what motivates people like my 95-year-old mother-in-law to LOVE Olive Garden and Red Lobster. She will complain for days if you take her to a neighborhood Italian restaurant or a New England lobster shack. She truly doesn't understand why Boston doesn't have a Red Lobster. In her view, these inauthentic restaurants are perfect.

                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: mangiamo123

                                                                                          My guess is predictability. If you go to the most authentic lobster shack, it's a new experience, with unknown factors. Olive Garden and Red Lobster are safe bets -- they're the same everywhere. And for someone who's 95, maybe safe and predictable is high on their list rather than adventurous eating.

                                                                                          1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                            That is 100-percent correct. I remember a MAD Magazine spread that originally ran in 1966 (drawn by the great Jack Davis, IIRC). It involved a family on a road trip. The kids were starving, but Dad kept driving by local restaurants because he and Mom insisted on eating only at "Johnson Howard's." When they got to a Johnson Howard's, the parents had stars in their eyes.

                                                                                            1. re: Bob W

                                                                                              Just did a little Googling. MAD # 106, October '66: "MAD Visits a Typical Johnson Howard's Restaurant." The artist was the great Paul Coker Jr., not the great Jack Davis.

                                                                                              Of course, in 1966 we didn't have Chowhound to tell us whether "Al's Diner" was any good or not.

                                                                                              1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                Went cross country by car with the family in 1961. Howard Johnson's were always bad service BUT clean restrooms. So, if mom or sis needed the rest room we stopped at HoJos, if Dad, bro or I needed to go any independent would do for a meal stop.

                                                                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                  Yup - HoJo's was always our "go to" for family vacations during the 60's - both the restaurants & the motels (or "motor inns", as they were called back then). The rooms were always clean, well air-conditioned, & they nearly always had a big swimming pool. And the food was pretty darn good - basic, but good (I LOVED the fried clams & the "shrimp croquettes"). I remember - as a little sprout - always being amazed at how the food arrived looking EXACTLY like the photographs in the menu - lol!

                                                                                              2. re: Bob W

                                                                                                OMG - I remember reading that Johnson Howard feature as a wee nipper. The kids in the back seat mindlesly chanting "Johnson Howards, Johnson Howards". I always flash back to that story whenever I see one of these on the highway.

                                                                                            2. re: mangiamo123

                                                                                              Well, my experience suggests that, for a fair number of people, "inauthentic" doesn't enter into the calculus.

                                                                                              1. re: Exy00

                                                                                                Yes. It's "known" vs "unknown." Known mediocre trumps Unknown possibly great.

                                                                                                Of course, most people reading this do their research and avoid being faced with the unknown. But we are -- as somone reminded me on another thread -- a small percentage of the dining population.

                                                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                  I agree that "known" and apprehension about the "unknown" are big factors -- and not just for 95 year olds. And, I think it's not just food, but the entire experience. For most Americans there is something comfortingly familiar about seeing a logo you recognize, pulling into a strip mall parking lot, entering a building that you recognize and going through the entire dining experience. We know what to do. The experience doesn't challenge and the food isn't frightening. If you look at the ads for all these restaurants, the focus is equal parts happy groups and (usually cheese drenched) food.

                                                                                                  1. re: mangiamo123

                                                                                                    Yes - the marketing is geared towards making it seem the social norm. Go there, fit in. Plus enjoy time with your family and friends.
                                                                                                    Of course, left unasked is the question why cant you and your friends enjoy yourself at a place with much better food? ;)

                                                                                            3. I think the difference between Olive Garden and other chains is the way they present themselves. Applebees, Chili's, Friday's et al, don't really sell themselves as a fine restaurant to go to when you get that big promotion; Applebee's sells affordable family dining, and the other two are just places to grab some pizza shooters and extreme fajitas while you watch the sports ball game and drink light beers. If you listen to what Olive Garden claims, they claim to sell fine, authentic, Italian, cuisine. I'm no fan of Red Lobster either, but at least the claim that the food is "from the sea" is accurate. Olive Garden's food may be palatable to a broad range of American palettes, but it is in no way "fine," "authentic," or "Italian."

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: gilintx

                                                                                                Applesbees used to call themselves "Eating Good in the Neighborhood", while I used to say "Eating OK on the way". Now I am not even sure about that, since I have managed to avoid them for 10 years, the last time being a lunch meeting with a headhunter

                                                                                              2. My 2 cents. I have to say that i love Chinese and Italian food. Growing up, though, I thought the Italian food at a total red-sauce place called The Oxford (Marlboro, MA), replete with red vinyl booths, light bulbs that flickered (designed to replicate a flame) was the height of sophistication. The times we went to the Honolulu, complete with faux bamboo wall coverings, made me think I was actually in Asia.
                                                                                                I like to think places like PF Changs and OG might inspire somebody else.

                                                                                                1. I haven't revisited an Olive Garden in many MANY years, but my problem with them (& other Italian-food chains) is that even the most basic beginner non-foody cook could easily make pretty much ANYTHING on their menu in their own home & produce it spectacularly. With better healthier ingredients & at a lower price (& better ambience - lol!!).

                                                                                                  12 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                    That's an often-repeated myth. Even if f I had the time to make fresh pasta dough, used a pasta press to roll it out, then filled individual ravioli with cheese or meat that I'd prepared.. and then made pasta sauce, garlic bread, and a salad... it'd cost way, way more than the same meal at Olive Garden. Would it be better? Sure, if I knew how to make pasta and had a $70 pasta maker.

                                                                                                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                      They don't make or use fresh pasta. (and an Atlas pasta maker can be had for $30 or less)/

                                                                                                      That pasta machine that sits out in the front that they run dough through? That's the same ball of dough all night long.

                                                                                                      (My sister used to work at OG -- dried pasta, the same sad little ball of dough, all night long -- it's the newbie's job to run that poor little ball of dough through the machine every so many minutes)

                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                        If they're running pasta dough through a machine and cooking it, then they're most definitely making and using fresh pasta (as opposed to hard, dried pasta).

                                                                                                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                          Sorry Boston Otter, but Olive Garden most decidedly does NOT make fresh pasta in their restaurants. (And why wouldn't you take the word of sunshine842, who's sister actually worked at OG? First-hand information is first-hand information.) In fact, Olive Garden restaurants don't even make their own sauces. Everything is prepared offsite & shipped frozen in portion-controlled boil-in-the-bags.

                                                                                                          Anyone could do better than that at home.

                                                                                                          1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                            Technically, that is second-hand information. 8<D

                                                                                                            But no argument on the suckitude of OG.

                                                                                                            1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                              Here's a recent summary of a WSJ article on OG (with a link to the WSJ article).


                                                                                                              1. re: ferret

                                                                                                                So sad. Mrs. W. served gnocchi to the kids last night; they are 7. My dad introduced me to capers when I was 4 or 5, as a topping for pizza (i.e., in 1964-5).

                                                                                                                But that article certainly explains why OG is so roundly reviled -- they serve food that by definition sucks. Overcooked pasta is simply not good food.

                                                                                                                1. re: ferret

                                                                                                                  Thanks for the link! What an interesting article, although I guess I shouldn't be so surprised about the details.

                                                                                                              2. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                                100% true. I've worked at privately owned places where the Sysco and FSA reps have dropped off samples of "Olive Garden Alfredo" and "OG Bolognese Sauce," etc. for us to try for comparison. Even bags of the ravioli and tortellini, all frozen.

                                                                                                              3. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                                read it again -- they're not cooking it -- they're running it through the machine, carrying it back into the kitchen, wadding it back into a ball, carrying the ball back out to the machine, running it through the machine, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

                                                                                                                They are NOT cooking the dough. (and it's flour and water -- only dough by the most basic definition)

                                                                                                                It's the same damned ball of dough, run through the machine over and over and over again, then tossed in the trash at the end of the night.

                                                                                                                What's on your plate was cooked (and cooked....and cooked) from the hard dried bag or box of pasta that showed up on the delivery truck.

                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                  And there are some damn fine dried pasta products out there, so that alone should not condemn them. However, the theatricality of rolling out "show" dough (and wouldn't a Play-Dough Pumper be more entertaining?) is what makes it contemptible.

                                                                                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                                                                                    absolutely -- wasn't knocking dried pasta - I have a pantry full of it!

                                                                                                                    I prefer fresh -- but I detest the implication that they make all their pasta fresh when it obviously isn't.

                                                                                                        2. Rather than wonder why Olive Garden is so roundly reviled, it is somehow easier to find the answer in learning why Olive Garden is so loved by its customers.

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                            This should sum it up (from the WSJ article I mentioned above):

                                                                                                            "At Olive Garden, pasta is served soft, not al dente or slightly firm, the traditional Italian method. Meat is often served on top of pasta, and cheese is mixed with seafood, two preparations rare in authentic Italian cuisine. The reason: Adding a protein to a dish makes it seem like a better value. Also, Americans have a strong preference for meat and cheese."


                                                                                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                              It's easy to understand why OG is so reviled. I'm stumped as to why anyone would ever return (very difficult for me to understand).

                                                                                                            2. The very things that make its fans love it are the exact same things that make its detractors hate it. Sometimes you have to choose between being good and being popular. Consistency, predictability, middle-of-the road experiences are not bad things for most American palates.

                                                                                                              Most people go out to eat for comfort and familiarity, not for the chance of "greatness" or new experiences of unfamiliar new tastes. They just don't want to cook that night. They're not like Chowhounds, who mostly genuinely love food and seek out what's new and great and the best. Chowhounds are such a minuscule portion of the population, statistically, that their opinions are irrelevant to Darden and other large restaurant groups. We don't count and, frankly, we shouldn't.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                                That may be true (your last sentence) but the mere presence of this board indicates that we do appreciate the chains that do seem to put forth a little more effort in serving food that is at least one step above mere sustenance.

                                                                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                  Sure we do. I don't think OG is aiming at mere sustenance. They are aiming at a different particular flavor profile, and hitting it squarely on target. It just happens to be one most CHer's don't like, but most (well, maybe not most, but a huge hunk of) Americans do. There's a reason it is continually chosen as the favorite casual chain in the country by the nation's diners.

                                                                                                              2. To answer your actual question, I just think "Olive Garden" is shorthand for crappy chains in general. I would tend to refer to Olive Garden in the perjorative while meaning to include Applebees, REd Lobster and the rest. I'm assuming it's just so big and well known it's easy to say that instead of being more descriptive. I.e., I think the food snobs hate Chili's just as much.

                                                                                                                And, hell yeah! what IS that Subway smell? There's one a block from my office and I'll be damned if I know what that is wafting out on the street.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: danna

                                                                                                                  "'Olive Garden' is shorthand for crappy chains in general. I would tend to refer to Olive Garden in the perjorative while meaning to include Applebees, REd Lobster and the rest. I'm assuming it's just so big and well known it's easy to say that instead of being more descriptive. I.e., I think the food snobs hate Chili's just as much."


                                                                                                                2. I'm a culinary school graduate and we hear rumors all the time about how they don't really do any actual cooking..I heard it's mainly all premade frozen packages.

                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Llamalicious

                                                                                                                    I would tend to believe that based on my own experience of an unevenly heated entree...like it had been microwaved.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Llamalicious

                                                                                                                      A former client of mine made packaged Italian-American type foods. They supplied Olive Garden with their lasagna (as well as Target's Archer Farms lasagna). There is no doubt that Olive Garden is just doing a reheat on foods.

                                                                                                                      1. re: mels

                                                                                                                        That is no surprise. I am not a food snob, but every meal I have eaten there has tasted premade and frozen, so now if my friends insist on having lunch there, I do soup and salad. Its cheap and passable.

                                                                                                                        1. re: libgirl2

                                                                                                                          A friend who used to work there said even the soup came frozen in bags. I don't eat there often enough to worry about it.

                                                                                                                        2. re: mels

                                                                                                                          Is this lasagna available through other vendors/resellers? Target stopped offering their Archer Farms lasagna and it was the only kind of frozen lasagna that my family liked!

                                                                                                                          1. re: revamp11

                                                                                                                            The company I worked with that I mention above works with clients to make customized frozen entrees- Olive Garden had their own recipe/specs, Target had their own specs, etc. so I don't think you'd be able to find Archer Farm's specific recipe anywhere else. That is, unless they were re-branding an existing product as their own, which as far as I know they weren't.

                                                                                                                      2. I am a Food Snob but get dragged here on occasion when I am in America. This place attracts people because of price. It's a cheap outing for a family. I would never stand in line or wait no long period to get in here. Trying to get into the Times Sq place on a weekend is unbelievable. I only get the potato and sausage soup and a salad and never get an entree.

                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: Ottojr

                                                                                                                          Not especially cheap. Yes, soup and breadsticks is cheap, but venture into the pasta dishes and you're in the mid-teens before you know it, which is well in range of reasonable "real" Italian restaurants.

                                                                                                                          And this is not about food snobbery. I will eat at chain restaurants on occasion, but the whole marketing mindset of Olive Garden should make any consumer who cares about getting fair value for their money think twice before eating here.

                                                                                                                          1. re: ferret

                                                                                                                            I agree. The few times I have eaten there with friends who love it (not me), it hasn't been terribly cheap nor plentiful, but for the salad and bread sticks and even then we had to hunt down our server for refills. I usually do soup and salad, but our bill for very basic dishes is usually over $50... and it isn't as if they are ordering seafood or drinks.

                                                                                                                            And when they have done the never ending pasta promo, it again is a hunt to find our server.

                                                                                                                        2. I went about a month ago with my husband. I hadn't been for probably 5-6 years but remember really liking the eggplant parmigiana. The eggplant parm is still really good. I wonder if anyone else likes it. I hate the pasta that comes with it, though. I wish I could just get a double order of the eggplant. We got fried calamari for a starter and it was so salty. I usually don't have a problem with salt but this was almost inedible. I also don't really like the salad or breadsticks. I didn't remember them being that bad.

                                                                                                                          I would like to have the eggplant parm like once a month but probably won't go again for a long time.

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: Boychucker

                                                                                                                            I maybe eat there once a year; I don't hate it, but I don't love it; I would give it a great big "meh." It's just forgetable mass-market food. I don't usually get eggplant parm anywhere that I think does "heat and serve" meals, because I hate that it's often so soggy and mushy. But I'll have to remember to give it a try the next time I end up at OG.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Ditdah

                                                                                                                              That's the thing! The breading is so crisp and crunchy! Other places I've gotten eggplant parm, it's been soggy and not good.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Boychucker

                                                                                                                                The way they dress the salad, might as well as drink the dressing from the bottle!

                                                                                                                          2. I've read most of this thread and what I don't get is the number of "foodies" that seem to go to chains when traveling. I almost always opt for a hole-in-the-wall local restaurant rather than a chain. Maybe these folks are just talking about when they get dragged to a chain by their local friends.

                                                                                                                            25 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: mikeav8r

                                                                                                                              apparently you don't travel for your job.

                                                                                                                              An awful lot of the time, you're staying in a city with which you're unfamiliar, and you may not have a car. Since most offices and business parks are in suburbia -- so are the business hotels. So your choice is to eat at a chain or skip dinner.

                                                                                                                              And no, taxis are not that common or that easy to come by outside of the major cities.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                Comments like yours make me feel quite grateful that in the thousands upon thousands of miles I covered on behalf of clients, I never had to eat in an Olive Garden, go to a "business park," or stay in a "business hotel." Frankly, I rather enjoyed the being in unfamiliar cities and the adventure they permitted (until I awoke, hung over and confused, and had to look at the area code on the hotel phone to figure our where the hell I was).

                                                                                                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                  Not everybody gets to be a consultant -- some of us have to schlep for just one company.

                                                                                                                                  Then there's the "descent into hell" scenario -- after a day of meetings, a delayed flight, an unbelievable delay at the car-rental desk, and a traffic jam trying to FIND your hotel, it's now 11:40 pm, you're drag-ass tired, hungry enough that the road kill on the interstate is starting to look interesting, you've got 2 more hours of paperwork to do before you can get to bed, and an 8 am appointment.

                                                                                                                                  As you pull into the parking lot, there's a Cracker Barrel next door -- at that point, quality doesn't really enter into it -- you need calories, and you need them now. It's too late for independents to be open (hell, CB is closing in 20 minutes) -- so you just do what you gotta do. (and to be fair, CB actually packed me a pretty respectable salad and bowl of soup one night -- gourmet, no, but the lettuce was fresh and crisp, and the soup hot and tasty -- it could have been way worse)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                    Well, I felt grateful before, now even more so. Room service was often mediocre, but certainly better than the Cracker Barrel scenario.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                      that particular salad and soup was better than most room service I've been subjected to.

                                                                                                                                      But yeah - you're in a whole different orbit -- there's a hella lot of us who work with strict limits on our expense accounts, and corporate mandates to stay in hotels where room service isn't even an option -- and that wasn't just the company I worked for -- most companies in my industry (and a lot of others) run under the same constraints. (and I was upper management at the time of the Cracker Barrel incident)

                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                        If you had a corporate expense account and were "upper management" you could probably also have afforded to open your own wallet, chipped in and dined where you saw fit.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                                          You would be grossly mistaken. Despite the belief that it's another way, people working for small companies do not make huge salaries.

                                                                                                                                          And at 11:30 pm after a long day, starving, lots of work to do before going to bed, before snagging a few hours' sleep to go do it all again -- no time or motivation to go anywhere else (and at 11:30 pm, just how many places are still open?)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                            Personally. I don't think you need to justify eating at a chain in such a situation. There is such a thing as practicality.

                                                                                                                                            I try to avoid chains whenever practical, and for the most part succeed, but even I sometimes end up at a chain. I have eaten at a chain 3 times recently. Once when I was meeting a friend who has a severely gluten intolerant child. Once when my mother in law wanted to go to Red Lobster. And once when my mom wanted to have her birthday at Cheesecake Factory.

                                                                                                                                            At least it also gives me a chance to keep current on "the state of the chain" to be able to compare and contrast, and give recent examples to my friends when they want to go to a chain.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                              Well sure I agree if you are talking worst possible case scenario. However, most that eat at an Olive Garden by choice are not in the situation you described. You make a good point though and sometimes on business trips one has to make the best of the situation if they want to eat.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                        What a great description, sunshine 842. I've experienced what you described many times. It is a real disappointment to be in an interesting city which you would like to explore for its food, but it's too late, you're too darn tired, and you've got a meeting at 8:00 the next morning. And then, after more meetings, you've got a plane flight out the next afternoon. You were afraid that you would miss the flight, so you did not even get lunch.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                      I am in the same boat. I don't always eat at chains when traveling for work, but I do get stuck eating at them more than I would like. There are several reasons. The first is as sunshine842 stated above- no transportation in a suburban office park. The second, is I generally travel with others. My vote isn't the only one that counts. If three people with one rental car want to go to Chili's and I don't, guess where we are going? Lastly, I end up many times in an area of the midwest where chains are more pervasive than in other areas. Many times there isn't an option for an interesting local place.

                                                                                                                                      Lest anyone think I am knocking the midwest, I am not. It is a specific town/city that I go to a lot with ZERO choices for food. Believe me, I've tried.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: mels

                                                                                                                                        I'm fighting the urge to make a comment that would invoke Godwin's Law here.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: mels


                                                                                                                                          You make some excellent points. Especially the one rental car being shared. Usually in my experience the car ends up where the person highest on the totem pole wants to eat. :-)

                                                                                                                                          I kind of disagree that being on a business trip to the Midwest dooms one to eating at a chain restaurant. I have found some fantastic little hole-in-the- wall places and some excellent old world type establishments in many parts of the Midwest. Even in various affluent Midwestern suburbs that are dominated by national chains I have been able to find a great independent restaurant.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                                            Fowler, it is not the Midwest as a whole that has no local food joints, just this one particular area I travel to often. It is a very small city with a "backwoods" reputation with the locals in surrounding towns.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: mels

                                                                                                                                              I know what you mean. I live in the Midwest... sure, I can give you a slew of good choices in Columbus, Ohio. But we don't have effective public transit for travelers, and even calling and waiting for a cab can take forever. if you end up in some small towns near here or in the suburbs, without transportation you're very likely to end up eating chain food or hotel food. Many small towns, especially those right near interstates, have only chains. It seems like so many business parks consist of three fast food restaurants, a Cracker Barrel, a convinence store, and either a TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday, or Red Lobster.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: mels


                                                                                                                                                I see you changed your statements after my reply. Thanks for the clarification.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: mikeav8r

                                                                                                                                          You might ask yourself why there is a Chains board on Chowhound at all, if it's beneath a chowhound to ever eat at any such place.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                                            I don't know, I kinda see his point. I mean, it's not like every person doesn't have some role to play in the decisions they make. It sure seems to me that there's a lot of apologetic acquiescence to "having" to go there.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                              Well, there is a wide range in the quality of chains, which would seem to be why this board exists. If you are simply going to take a no-chains approach, like mike, there's no need to even read this board, and just leave it to the business travelers, parents of young children or teenagers, college kids, children of elderly parents....

                                                                                                                                              In fact, based on the hard line the mods take, I'm somewhat surprised mike's post is even still on here, given that it adds nothing to the search for hyperdeliciousness at chain restaurants (as futile as that search may be).

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                                                Wow! That post got a LOT more response than I expected. You're right; I am not a road warrior. Most of my out of town eating is at my own choosing (though I do know about the land at 10:00pm starving scene). In my own defense I was just surprised at the amount of (dare I say it?) whining about chains. Now I understand more about how one ends up there with few options

                                                                                                                                                1. re: mikeav8r

                                                                                                                                                  I think the whining is due to the mediocre to poor quality of so many of them. At least this board can help separate the wheat from the chaff.

                                                                                                                                                  Thanks to the miracles of the internet, I always try to eat local no matter where I am, but after a long day at an amusement park, for example, with tired and hungry kids and wife, sometimes it's any port in a storm.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                                So all these foodies/chowhounds aren't trying hard enough because they secretly love these places? I don't buy that.

                                                                                                                                                It used to be easy for me to say I hadn't eaten at McDonald's in 5 years. Then I got married and had kids. No, having kids does not force me to eat at McD's. But sometimes it is the easiest, cheapest option that makes the most of us happy, even after having also tried every hole-in-the-wall in the vicinity (and given that cute Turkish guy more than one chance to actually prepare one of the many delicious-sounding items on his supposed menu that were not shwarma ... sigh). It's not always rewarding to go off the beaten path and in these suburban business travel scenarios, I would not have the energy.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: julesrules

                                                                                                                                                  I don't despise national chains. I think that in general, better food is to be found at local places, but that doesn't mean that if I eat a meal at a chain restaurant I can't call myself a "Chowhound." There are plenty of reasons I end up in one, and most times I'm perfectly happy eating there. Sometimes it's cost, or the group I'm with, or unfamiliarity with the area, limited transportation... whatever the reason. Eating in an Applebee's or Olive Garden once-in-a-while does not automatically rule you out as having good taste in food.

                                                                                                                                                  Now, someone who eats Olive Garden food side-by-side with real Italian food and thinks they are the same, or PREFERS the OG food? I'm going to question your food tastes. But there are way too many things in this world to really stress about, and eating a meal in a chain restaurant is certainly NOT going to be anywhere near the top of my list. It's not my preference, and I don't do it routinely (more with fast food than any other type of restaurant) but it's not the end of the world when it does happen,

                                                                                                                                              3. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                                                I - & I'm sure MANY here - don't consider it "beneath us" to eat at chains. It's just that many of them are so far below basic standards of enjoyable food, that even non-foodies don't like them.

                                                                                                                                                While I don't care for "Olive Garden" (or it's seafood sister "Red Lobster") at all, we do have an excellent "Ruby Tuesday" (great burgers & always-fresh salad bar) & an equally excellent "Glory Days" (spot-on terrific "Fish & Chips - complete with malt vinegar on the table) here in town that we eat at frequently.

                                                                                                                                                For me at least, it has absolutely zero to do with the fact that a place is part of a chain, & 100% to do with the food.

                                                                                                                                            2. Whenever I end up in a chain, I always think I could've went to BJ's freezer section and recreate the same dish for a fraction of the price. I think chains are a huge rip.

                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: DarthEater

                                                                                                                                                Actually, in some cases you can go to the BJ's freezer section and get EXACTLY the same dish! And you get it just like the chain restaurant gets it -- in a big bag. Example: TGIFriday's Crispy Green Bean Fries.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                                                  Yup, my point exactly. The refrigerated sections has all the soups and dips. The steaks from the chain restaurants tastes like they took it out of the package and threw it on the grill. I can do that, too. Fortunately, I rarely patronize those chain types.

                                                                                                                                              2. Since it seems every legitimate reason has been covered in this thread I will answer with this reason "Because there is NO such thing as HOSPITALIANO" !!!! That is why I won't eat there. (along with the million other reasons given)

                                                                                                                                                1. I've never eaten in an Olive Garden, but I could. I spend time in parts of the country where mom 'n' pop restaurants have disappeared, thanks in part to the chain stores and thanks in part to a Wal-Martized local economy (read: minimum-wage jobs for everybody). In Kansas, I eat at Chipotle, Red Lobster and the like because there aren't many alternatives. I imagine I could end up eating at an Olive Garden for the same reason. Of course the pasta is overcooked. All these places are staffed by gum-chewing teenagers who don't know anything except what they saw on TV. All of them have menus created by guys with CPA after their names. But in some places, it's the best food in town.

                                                                                                                                                  1. I used to go to OG a lot when in HS and we mainly just ate salad and BASKETS of breadsticks - i loved their breadsticks. Then again, I love anything bread - with olive oil and a nice healthy dusting of garlic salt.

                                                                                                                                                    The salad was good, too. Hard to mess up unless there's a maggot in there.

                                                                                                                                                    The goal was to get stuffed on breadsticks, so I can't recall ordering anything - maybe lasagna.

                                                                                                                                                    OG to me is all about the breadsticks. The last time I was there, I ordered minestrone soup just to have something on the check and wine.

                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: nikkib99

                                                                                                                                                      Lol, regarding the salad, one time my friends and I were there and the salad at the bottom of the bowl was liquidy.

                                                                                                                                                    2. I didn't read all of the replies, but I think I'm the only one that really detests their bread sticks. They remind me of heated styrofoam. My SIL hates cooking even though she has a magnificent kitchen, so at partytime she usually caters from there. It's such fake Italian food, and nasty. It's certainly one of the most crowded chains where I live - which is probably due to the styrofoam sticks and the unlimited salad and soup.

                                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Tudor_rose

                                                                                                                                                        You aren't the only one. I think "heated styrofoam" is a perfectly appropriate comparison.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Tudor_rose

                                                                                                                                                          Nope, you are not the only one. Their bread sticks are repulsive. Terrible texture and each one must contain an entire jar of cheap garlic salt. I have had better bread sticks on airlines.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                                                            And my SIL and her family think those styrofoam sticks are the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel. Real Italian restaurants use real Italian bread, not that junk.

                                                                                                                                                        2. My husband ran the SLC Marathon a few years back and since he is a vegetarian we went to Buca de Beppo and OG in a 24 hour period just so that he could be sure to eat "safe" food! Somebody, please, kill me now!

                                                                                                                                                          1. I'll go there for unlimited salad and breadsticks, it's cheap. However I hate being the cheap lingering table so I tip the server better than usual. They are the ones that prep the salad, so. But yeah, for entrees, I'd go elsewhere.

                                                                                                                                                            1. The recent NYT panning of Guy Fieri's NYC restaurant made me think of this thread. I think there are similarities in that both Guy and OG are easy and highly visible targets. They both have a lot of TV presence, and are generally viewed as aggravations.

                                                                                                                                                              Of course, I do not patronize OG or any of Guy Fieri's restaurants.