Chows and Chains
I assume even most CHers find themselves in chains or fast food joints, but where do we draw the line. Obviously, we can't all afford fine dining weekly, but I would flip this comment and say a true Hound would not be caught dead once a week in a chain or fast food joint.
Obviously this is a rough estimate, but I started thinking about the past year and here's what I came up with. Place and # of times
Burger King - 5
McDonald's - 1
Wendy's - 1
Pizza Hut - 1 (and never again)
TGIF - 1
Five Guys - 1 (probably never again)
KFC - 5
Taco Bell - 1
Nathan's - 1
Buffalo Wild Wings - 1
Friendy's - 2
Johnny Rockets - 1 (never ever again)
That's it. For food, only about 20 meals in a year. I can also say that of those visits, only two have been in 2012. Been trying to avoid them completely. So how often do other hounds find themselves succumbing to the demons of fast food and chains?
I think I’m in the middle somewhere. I probably eat in chains more often than most CH’ers, but WAY less than most Americans. I’d say once a week is probably the average, although it’s not evenly distributed: I haven’t been to a chain in at least 2 weeks, but a few weeks ago when traveling I went to 3 or 4 in a weekend. When I do go to a chain, it’s typically fast food, because I’m in a hurry and/or want a drive-through.
Subway - 3-4x a month (we have one at work)
Sonic, Starbucks, Tim Horton’s - 3-4 times a month (combined) for drinks; rarely eat at any of them
Jersey Mike’s – 1-2x a month
McDonald's - once a month, usually breakfast
Wendy's - once a month
Max and Erma’s, Taco Bell, Steak and Shake– 3-4x a year
Burger King, Raising Cane’s, White Castle, Culvers, Ruby Tuesday’s, Cracker Barrel – 2-3x a year
Olive Garden, Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, Red Lobster – once a year, if that
Chain restaurants are more prevalent than we realize and some of us have extremely limited options in general. Where I live, there are only TWO restaurants that are not nationwide chains. Yes, I said it right.....TWO. One is a bit expensive to eat at regularly while the other is a greasy spoon/working man's lunch place and not open for dinner during the week.
Aside from traveling, I try to stay away from the fast food chains. Fortunately, I don't do much traveling any more. Not traveling, I've eaten 5 meals over the past 12 months at fast food chains. Dinner options here are limited so we're stuck with Outback and I'd say maybe 4 times in the past 12 months.
I cook and can make pretty much anything better myself.
We just returned from a three-week road trip to the midwest/upper Plains/Utah. And we were hard pressed to find anything that was NOT a chain. We did have to stick to the Interstates, which makes finding local food more difficult, but I was really dismayed by the lack of choice.
At home, we will do a national or regional chain a couple of times a month. We are lucky to still have some great local spots [suburban LA - not LA proper.]
The best local eats we experienced were in Northern Utah. !
No fast food in years, zippo on that one. I have eaten at Chipotle and Jimmy John's several times in the last few years, but I think those are 'fast casual' not traditional fast food. I have eaten in table-service/sit-down chains many times, as they are often all there is to eat by us. Last night we got takeout from Longhorn.
We are very fortunate to live in an area with lots of locally owned places!
I doubt I can come up with any kind of realistic count of how many times this past year I ate at a chain... but I can tell you which chains I will choose over others...
Chik fil a
A couple of years ago I was going to In-'n'-Out once or twice a week, because it was close to work and quick and easy. Now that I'm retired, I never go there or to any other fast food chain, although I haven't ruled them out entirely. Once in awhile my wife brings something home, such as Wendy's chili (coincidentally just last night).
Thank you We put him down early Jan and I still find myself missing him (as does my Siamese)
. He was 16 yr and suffered from diabetes for the last 6yr. Nickname was Big Mac (Macavity) so I decided in his memory I would stop eating big macs, the only thing that I ever eat at McDonalds.
It a rare event for me. There just aren't many chains in my town, and the few we do have are not on my way to/from anywhere I normally go. I do usually stop at Bojangle's on road trips to visit family or for work, maybe 6 times a year. If I'm out running errands in chain-land near the mall I will some times get take outfrom Moe's, once a month or so.
Subway about 10 times a year.
MacDonalds for coffee every Wednesday morning.
KFC about 5 times a year. Original.
Since our daughter moved to Texas, I no longer do the TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, Shells, rotation.
We have a lot of independent, if mostly mediocre dining venues in this area, along with the usual chains.
Gosh, Shells! They were hugely popular in Pinellas county in the '80's. The ones in that area seem to have closed. Where are the open locations?
Last I was at one was early '90's and the food was not as good as it had been. I assumed it was related to their fast rate of growth.
interesting - my comment about the Tampa location was because I looked it up before I posted!
Not doubting you -- just a little odd that they wouldn't list both....
ETA: That's really weird - there's two separate websites, both with the same logo and same menu, but they make no mention of being connected.
Much depends on circumstances.
When I visit my family in Florida we end up at many chains. They are the predominant option near my parents home and they enjoy the consistency of the experience. These range from Steak 'n Shake, Chick-fillet, Tijuana Flats to First Watch, Longhorn, Cracker Barrel and Bonefish Grill.
Interstate travel often involves chains due to time limitations and options available. I try to have alternatives in my cooler if I haven't found a chowish option through research.
Choosing chains day-to-day? I probably get get cravings twice a year for Five Guys, McDonald's (fish filet) and Sonic's tater tots. So 6 x's per year. Starbucks perhaps twice a year too if I'm beat and won't be home for awhile.
I go to Mimi's Cafe, Cracker Barrel or Bob Evans perhaps 6 times a year, largely because I can get breakfast items at non breakfast hours. Outback, Longhorn, Macaroni Grill perhaps one of them twice a year - usually if I am running around and just too hungry to go buy groceries and cook.
Now that I am cooking for one I find I am going to Sweet Tomatoes or a cafeteria every 6 weeks or so. I enjoy having a wider selection of vegetables for one meal than I will prepare for just me.
Ha Ha! Me too! Grand Slam on my birthday followed by a free dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Pig out city!
Otherwise, chains are probably as follows:
Cafe Zupas (chain that just started here out of Utah and quite good) 2X year
Culvers (cannot resist those strange fried cheese curds) probably 1X month as they're close by and DS is ADDICTED to their ice cream.
Jack in the Box (gotta have a pig out of tacos) probably 2X year
Subway - 2X year for convenience when I don't want grease.
Little Caeser's pizza probably 4X a year cuz' it's convenient on the way home from the bar and that sweet, charred crust is excellent at that time of day.
Most other chains are just not appealing nor something I want to spend $$ on. If we're on the road, we'll hit a diner usually, if needed.
I used to stop into McDonald's for chicken mcnuggets and fries, but they no longer appeal to me. Popeye's fried chicken is fine, but I'm not wild about fried chicken. Otherwise, I don't do chains any more, except food stores that prepare their own fresh salads etc. It isn't about eating healthily, I just don't trust any eatery that sells based on serving food instantly at a low price - something has to give and it's got to be quality, and possibly safety too.
re: John Francis
Funny what you mentioned about McNuggets. I used to love McNuggets, but the last time I was there, I ate one without any sauce and realized the meat had absolutely not flavor. I could have been eating a paper towel for all I know. Strange. They say they use real chicken, but it used to taste like real chicken and now it doesn't
Aside from coffee shops, I am actually surprised the frequency is so little for those who have commented. Surveys have shown that 25% of the country eats fast food every day and 40% eat it at least once a week. I think some surveys have said the average person eats fast food/chain/takeout five times a week.
If I had to add takeout, I'd have to add Chinese 25x, Mexican 15x and Pizza 10x
Woah - I can't imagine eating out 5 times a week, regardless of whether or not it's a chain. For us, we just don't want to spend that much money. We don't love fast food enough to eat it too often, even though it's cheap. And other restaurants just cost too much to eat at every day; we can cook at home for a much more reasonable price. We probably eat food from a restaurant once a week, average.
I didn't even think of that, as lunch for me is often cafeteria food. I don't think of that as "fast food" but it sure is eating out. (And probably would cout as fast food in many people's opinion.)
I wonder why my automatic tendancy was to just ignore what happens when I'm at work?
Yeah, those statistics don't really surprise me, especially when you generalize the data set to include fast food/chain/takeout. Another one is regional or micro-regional chains. A burger joint I really like opened a second location in a different part of town and are planning to open a third. Is that a chain? I ordered a pizza last night from a place with three locations around town. Would that count?
There are a number of chains around my office, and I know more than a few colleagues that grab lunch from a chain just about every single day.
I generally prefer independent local establishments or food made fresh from my own kitchen, but I've eaten at two chains in the last 24-hours if the aforementioned delivery pizza place counts. The other one was Subway for lunch, but only because I was too lazy to bake any bread last night and was looking for a healthier option than the more calorie laden options served at the independent local eateries.
McD's- 3X week for black coffee, about 4X year for sausage burrito or sausage biscuit
Hardees- 3X year for a breakfast biscuit, 3X year for lunch (chicken tenders or hot dog with onion rings
Jersey Mikes- 2X month
Taco Bell-2X month
Chick-Fil-A-3X month (used to be about twice a week)
Five Guys-1X month
McAllister's Deli-2X month
re: Janet from Richmond
Which roughly translates to 15 times a month or about 12% of meals if you do 3 meals a day.
Here is food for thought. Add in the stops for coffee, using the vending machines at work, and food trucks as convenience foods.
For the broadest of definitions of a chain, add the frozen and premade dinners or sides you buy at the store and take home and heat up.
Using that I can fully support Jhopp217's statistics.
Bonefish Grill 2-4x/month. Cheap food & drink happy hour and we love the staff at our local one.
Kona Grill every other month for happy hour sushi rolls.
BK or Wendys once every 2 or 3 months, either on road trips or when hungover.
Sweetwater/Maggios/Firebirds/Panera/Outback a few times a year when family demands it.
I always go to local coffee shops of which we have many. But the other day got Starbucks when it was the only one close. I am so ashamed.
Well, since I'm a bit surprised by how routinely many 'hounds go to such places, given how often many make excuses for doing so, I'll add my total to restore some balance. In the past year, I twice had espresso from Starbucks (I feel bad if my wife or I need to use the bathroom, so I buy something).
That is basically the same rate of patronizing chains that I have maintained for the past decade. I think it may be eight years now since I last ate fast food (one McDonald's hash brown) or even entered an establishment with more than two or three locations. It seems the survey takers don't call guys like me.
I mostly save chains for road trips... and then it's the chains I don't have near me, like Chick Fil A and Sonic.
We have a nice, renovated Burger King nearby where I might get some coffee or a soft serve if I'm babysitting my niece and she wants a burger.
My mom like Johnny Rockets--she gets a kick out of the malt-shop atmosphere.
I will get coffee at Starbucks if I'm at the mall.
I went to a Shoney's once this year (mandated by a family function) and hope I never have to return.
I'm not surprised that Chowhounds and Chains go together at all. Convenience, that we don't always make the decision of where we'll be eating food, and location all play a big role in where I wind up and where I pass...until the hunger pains get the best of me. So I'll play:
Panera Bread - 6 x a year for one particular sandwich; the mediterranean sandwich
Starbucks-well everyone I know gives me a SB gift card...so often for a beverage but I also buy music there
25 Burgers - 6 x a year and I have to hold back from going because the darn place makes this amazingly decadent mac n cheese burger that has a hold of me
Bone Fish Grill - a killer pomm martini with frozen grapes has to be enjoyed slowly there
National Chains -
Burger King - 2
McDonald's - 4
Wendy's - 1 - probably not again
Five Guys - 1 - probably not again
KFC - 4
In and Out - 1
Dunkin Donuts - 12 (hot chocolate & maybe a donut)
Waffle House - 2 (country ham is a nice treat)
Ruby Tuesday - 1
Smokey Bones - 2
Steak & Shake - 2
Sweet Tomatoes - 1
Chic Fila - 1
El Polo Loco - 1
We usually eat out breakfast and a lunch about once / week, but would never consider a chain for breakfast (other than perhaps Waffle house when traveling). We occasionally hit Ruby Tuesday & Smokey Bones for lunch, but only if we have one of their $10-off coupons (for two). As for supper, again, we find no reason to ever hit a chain unless caught in a bind while traveling.
It's been many years (perhaps 5-10+ years) since we've been to Cracker Barrel, Denny's, Carl's Jr, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Ihop, Sonic, Hardees, Arthur Treacher, Popeyes, Johnny Rockets, Friendy's, Texas Roadhouse, Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut (or any pizza chain), Applebees, Chilie's and will probably NEVER stop at any of these places ever again. Simple question would be why?
I think a lot of posters live near major metropolitan areas. In order for me to go to a decent restaurant that's not a chain, I have to drive two hours. There is one restaurant in the nearest town that has decent food (interpret as fish that's not catfish and vegetables that are not canned.....yes.....canned). The rest are buffets or places that serve fried food. The non-FF chains we DO have are pretty much low level (TGIFridays, Ruby Tuesday, Outback, Olive Garden, Cheddars).
Clams, I envy your selections, since I had the same type of options where I used to live. The lack of decent dining options is the only thing I regret about our move.
Great post. I agree, we can't all afford fine dining weekly, and sometimes there truly is nothing else available except fast food. But, sometimes, the local joints run such great specials, you can eat and drink for less than what a meal at ChilAppleTGIMcFunsters's would set you back.
Here's my fast food tally for the past year:
Dairy Queen - 3
McDonald's - 3
Sonic - 4
Jack in the Box - 4 (weird affinity for their tacos)
Wendy's - 1 (for breakfast)
Domino's - 2 (raining, cold, sick, not wanting to go out, they delivered cheap)
KFC - 3 (after not having been to KFC for about 5 years, had a 2-week period where I was craving fried chicken and was too lazy to drive the extra 5 miles to Popeye's, but sufficiently grossed myself out so that I won't be back for another 5 years, if ever)
Popeye's - 6-7
Taco Bell - 6
El Pollo Loco - 10
Jimmy John's - 6
Subway - 4 (my husband likes them way more than I do, and sometimes they can be the healthiest option available)
Whataburger - 6
Long John Silver's - 1 (weird craving for hush puppies)
Johnny Rockets - 1 (never ever again)
Friendy's - 0 - wish we had them in our area, such nostalgia from childhood visits w/my grandma
Panda Express - 3
Chick Fil A - 2
In and Out - 2
Taco Cabana - 2 (would have been way more, but all the TC locations in Phoenix shut down several years ago :-( waaaaaaaaa).
Wow, my list is actually way more than I thought, which is a good thing I gave up fast food for Lent!
Fast food and "fast casual" places I have not visited in the past year:
I like Chik-fil A occasionally.
I do go through a lot of fast food places to get a large diet soda, but no food.
I like Sweet Tomatoes or anywhere I can build my own salad to-go (eg Salad Creations, Salata, there are a few local chains around me)
I do like Starbucks, but never go there because I cant justify spending that much on coffee. I think the last time I went there was several months ago when a friend wanted to meet there to chat.
I will go to places like Olive Garden or Maggianos or Carrabbas occasionally because friends want to go there, and I'm fine with going to a place they want. I enjoy their friendship much more than its worth complaining about the food.
If we're going to limit this to US chains, then my list is really easy for me to determine given that in 2012 I was in the US for a total of two and a half weeks. And also makes the list more embarrassing perhaps because these were meals or snacks I really went after.
I typically try to swing by a Long John Silvers for a side order of hush puppies, but didn't make it the last time. Something to look forward to this year.
While I'm not a regular at McD's, I did recently give the new fish bites a try. I liked them. The filet o fish is prepared differently though and I still prefer the sandwich over the bites.
KFC chicken pot pies, arrived super hot, had a decent and generous filling but a tad too salty btwn crust and filling for me. My husband & I shared one pot pie which we felt was enough for two people.
I also tried a Chipotle burrito for the very first time and did not care for it at all. Mushy, salty and dull. Although filled quite generously for the price. I know it's a popular place.
And that will be my fast food chain fix for months.
This is a guestimate for me:
Arby's - 4
Pizza Hut - 4
Ruby Tuesday - 6 I like the place, what can I say?
TGIFriday's -1 (airport)
And now that I think about airports, I'm sure I grabbed stuff at chains a few times that aren't listed here, I was probably just to tired or apathetic to remember. The last year has been "the year of the airport" for me.
My guestimate for 2012 national chains would be:
Jimmy Johns - 12
Arby's - 5
Chipotle - 4
Carl's Jr - 4
Jack in the Box - 4 (breakfast burrito only, right by my house.)
IHOP - 3
Del taco - 3
Ruth Chris -2
Rubio's - 2
Taco Bell - 2 (with my grandson)
Five Guys - 2
Wendy's - 1
P.F. Changs - 1 (was a business meeting)
Chili's - 1
Olive Garden - 1 (friends took me there)
Spencer's - 1
these days I'm at Panera once a month. It offers a good, central location for my embroidery guild's board meeting, and the food is pretty decent. OK. I admit it - I'm a little in love with their cuban panini. I know, it's not authentic, but it's darn tasty. :) I also really enjoy their black bean soup, but rarely get it because it isn't on the menu on Wednesdays, which is the night we meet!
Being a "road warrior", chains can easily become a way of life for me. If you combine convenience with familiarity, it is all too easy to fall into the chain rut. For example, I just spent two weeks traveling all over Mississippi and Louisiana. Sounds great, until you factor in that I worked 150 hours in those two weeks, being in an average of about four different towns per day. Fast food for lunch is all too easy, and finding the local spots takes time and mileage out of the work day. Fortunately I often choose to work through lunch, or just rely on snacks I can carry with me. But still, by the time my day ends at 9 - 10 PM, most of the local joints, except the bar & grill type, are closed. Trust me, I know - I missed out on cajun, catfish, and the like too many times. That brings that convenience and familiarity factor back into the mix. So I'm afraid that I succumbed to chains of some sort an easy 10 times just in those two weeks. I did manage to get some delicious Cajun seafood, a mufaletta, a nice mixed grill at a beach reastaurant, some great boudin and meat pies on the run (I LOVE buodin!), Some Gus's fried chicken in Memphis (but they have three locations, so that is a chain, I guess) so it was not all bad. Of course, if you want to factor in breakfast in a chain hotel, you can add one for every day, and an easy 150 for the past year.
Oh, and I'm wide open to different cuisines and new experiences, so it's not that. I do often travel alone though, and sometimes it's just not as fun to try something new and different when you can't share the experience.
Cheez you make a great point about road warriors. My SO is now one, and is discovering that fast food or pizza are often his only options. Example, he flew into Dulles last night, and by the time he got his bag, his rental car etc, it was close to 11pm. The only places open near his hotel (in Reston) was fast food or Domino's. All of the local places were closed.
The mr. is also quite the road warrior, and was frequently sent to China at his old job. And he and his cohorts made it a habit to *gasp* seek out the chains. It almost would make me wince when he'd send an email mentioning KFC instead of all the wonderful food he could have had :(
Guess I'm not a true Hound. I eat at Chipotle almost weekly. Also, unless I want to drive 20+ minutes, my only options for eating out near my house is fast food chains, and a really not good overpriced Chinese place. Now, we don't eat that fast food very often but every now and then go pick something up if I don't have anything in the house to eat for lunch on weekends. My SO is also not a food person really (he likes it but is impartial), so when we're on road trips, there's no chance of me convincing him to drive out of our way to go to a local place versus a chain right off the highway. And you know what? I don't mind. I don't mind fast food every now and then. When I'm sick, nuggets and fries from McDonald's are my "thing". The saltiness tastes good to me. This past year I did 2 drives to/from Colorado from California. 1 of them I was alone, and another it was just me and my mom. Wandering around in strange towns isn't really a good idea, safety wise, especially after dark later in the evening, which is usually when I was on a quest to eat dinner. I ended up eating at the same Taco Bell that was between the interstate and my hotel in Cedar City Utah, and lunch at the Carl's Jr right by the CA/NV border by the outlet mall south of Las Vegas, on both trips.
I also had a great meal at Bonefish Grill not too long ago, and I've had a decent meal at Ruby Tuesdays last summer as well. We also like going to Texas Roadhouse. I will say I really don't like Applebee's, which is unfortunate because that and IHOP are the closest "sit down" places to our house.
That all being said, when we go out for a "nicer" meal and are willing to take the drive, we stick to locally owned places for the most part. But, I don't get the snobbery against chains. Maybe if you live in a big city and have lots of access to local places (like I did when I lived in Chicago), but for the majority of the country, having great food at a local place isn't always an option.
McDonalds - 12
Taco Bell - 4
Taco Johns 6 (Damn those fresh hot Potato Ole s !)
Culvers - 8
Wendys - 8
All of the above are drive-thrus. I find the frequency of my visits increases during the summer months when I am too tired and dirty from yardwork to get out of my car and just need food fast!
I don't do fast casual sitdowns unless I'm meeting friends for happy hour at one of the semi-local chains in my area (Jakes and Granite City).
But if there was a Bonefish anywhere near me I'd be there once a week!
I think this is a bit strong of a statement - "draw the line" and "I would say a true Hound would not be caught dead once a week in a chain or fast food joint." I'm not sure there is a line to be drawn...I don't eat much fast food but have probably had at least 2 or 3 meals a month which were fast food not including Chinese takeout which is often a weekly or biweekly event in our house. Also, we grab a lot of takeout mostly from the local restaurants in our town, mostly the grandma/grandpa run delis or diners but I'm not sure if those count as fast food. While I do enjoy fast food on occasion, you won't have to twist my arm to go to Popeye's or Chipotle, I believe that even if you eat it more than I might that you can also play appropriately in the Hound arena. Nevertheless I think you still have somewhat of a point as the people I know who frequent fast food upwards of more than 30-50% of the time rarely understand my Hound madness. So here is my list:
Chipotle - 1x every other month
Chick fil A - 1x every other month
Subway - 1x every other month
Chinese takeout - weekly to biweekly
Popeye's - 1x every month
Pizza hut/Domino's - rarely, maybe 1x every 3-4 months
Local deli/diner - 1x every month
I haven't had a sit-down meal at a fast food restaurant in quite a long time and can't even remember.
Also, most of these occasions have been over the recent holiday season while traveling or too tired/busy from the combination of work and holiday meal prep and cooking to stay home.
Now that your post has made me think about it, I guess I pretty rarely eat fast food and so might fall into the Hound category that you think exists. Lovely post, really makes ya think.
I completely agree. A 'hound does not need to be a food snob, just anyone who enjoys food. And I have to say that my list would be a lot longer if I wasn't lucky enough to have so many local options withing walking distance. And yet, the food is equally "junky", if you will.
If anybody asked the question "How often do you dine at the sports bar down the street and eat out of plastic baskets?", my head would probably explode trying to tally it up!
McDonald's drive-thru for a cheeseburger 6 or 8 times a year. I'll also sometimes try whatever seasonal feature they're marketing, but I don't think I've ever returned for a second order of any of their seasonal features.
Tim Horton' drive-thru for a bagel twice a month.Tim Horton's drive-thru for coffee a couple times a week.
Chains my non-foodie friends choose (Joey, Biermarkt, etc) around 4 or 5 times a year.
Harvey's cheeseburger maybe 4 times a year.
Wendy's Jr burger around 4 times a year.
Mamma's Pizza 3 or 4 times a year.
Aroma Espresso Bar twice a month.
Starbucks for tea or coffee a few times a month. I used to order their pastries occasionally, but it's been around 6 months since my last Starbucks food order.
I had Taco Bell once in the last 12 months, and probably won't be back. I miss the Taco Bell of the 80s.
I only ever pop into McDonald's (anywhere) in China, to get the taro pies. Even then, I don't have to walk in...a lot of the time there are "express" booths to the side of the location.
Subway, I went to in Japan and China a couple of times for a shrimp and avocado sandwich.
Didn't expect Buffalo Wild Wings to be listed on here. They have that many locations around the US/world?
due to the OP's definition I am no longer a chowhound as i visit chains or fast food places 3-5 times a week on average. I'm single, self employed and frequently no where near home/office at lunch time. I would much rather visit the local chain (but still a chain) burger or sandwich place, but it ends up costing $8-$12 per meal. I drive thru McD's and it is $3. That means lunch once a week or lunch 4x a week. I'm not saying it's wonderful healthy delicious food. It keeps my stomach from growling and it's over in 5-10 minutes. Not every meal can be a chowhound's delight, at least not in my world.
I just found that McDonald's has a side salad for $1 in the downtown area of SF, very near my office. I keep a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge. It's a nice, fresh, albeit slightly dull, salad. Any other place in the area would charge at least $5. Not too shabby. And yes I could bring one from home and do the same thing, but I'm pretty much a zombie in the morning, and forget in the evening.
But that's pretty much the only fast food I eat. Okay, you got me, occasionally I do eat a McD's cheeseburger, it's comfort food.
There are such things as convenience and schedule and availability. I used to work near a Red Lobster and so became quite fond of their Crab Alfredo----this was in Maryland where actual crab existed---a happy memory.
I visit McDonald's almost daily and sometimes multiple times in a day because I am addicted to their coke. I rarely get their food.
I typically pick up the kid's naked burrito once or twice a week from Qdoba- it makes 2 meals for me for $4.7?.
I visit Panera Bread every week or two- love their spicy Thai chicken salad made with spinach instead of romaine. I can make 3 meals out of their you pick 2 combos for $8.00
I eat at Fleming's Happy hour once or twice a week- I love their Beef Carpaccio for $6- beats all other fast food and also makes a few meals for me.
My husband and I are on opposite schedules, so choosing meals that are somewhat healthy are a more energy and cost effective strategy for meals. He eats the same thing day in and out, but I like more variety.
Fast food I never eat- BK, Wendy's, Taco Bell, AW, Pizza Hit, KFC. I am more a fan of casual restaurants such like Mc Allisters (love their sweet tea!),Le Peeps, and Moe's.
Chipotle, once every couple of weeks, give or take a few dry spells during the year.
Panera, several times a year especially if we are traveling.
Maggiano's, which is a really nice chain and doesn't therefore count in my book--maybe once a year.
I never go into McDs, BWW, Subway, KFC, or most of the others mainly because I'm vegetarian. (I know Subway has the veggie sub, but it doesn't appeal to me at all.)
I don't think that visiting a chain makes someone less of a 'hound though. Many of us live in parts of the country where decent restaurants are few and far between or simply don't exist, and there are sometimes no other choices (I grew up in such a place).
Dunkin Donuts -- once every other week or so, black coffee + donut
McDonalds -- once a month or so for "on the road" quick food
Popeyes -- three or four times a year for some terrific fried chicken
Taco Bell -- every once in a great while when the rare craving hits and one is nearby (these two things rarely occur at the same time)
Burger King -- Once a month in the past, but the food's gone way downhill, so maybe once a year out of necessity
Subway -- once every other week or so