HOME > Chowhound > Chains >


Same chain, different locales and quality

We just moved from the SF Bay Area to Tucson, and found that the Sweet Tomatoes here is decidedly inferior to the one in Sunnyvale, CA. The variety and recipes are the same, but many dishes were "off" (not as delicious, cooked, etc.) particularly the chili, the ice cream, the muffins and the sweet potatoes. However, the diet cola and service were much better than in CA.

We also found that the food at the Chipotle on Campbell in Tucson was so tastier than at the two Chipotles in CA we used to frequent, and also better than the two other Chipotles here in Tucson that we have tried. I asked the manager why her food was so much better, but she said that she just uses the same recipes as the others.

Perhaps it's just coincidence - we'll keep trying them and see. Wondered if you've found any regional/individual differences in these chains?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The goal of chain restaurants is consistency. The fact of the matter, in my opinion, is that a competent (read one that gives a shit) manager makes all the difference in the world.

    I would say that the best a chain's food can be might be somewhat limited but the depths it can sink to is not.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kengk

      While that is exactly the promise of a chain (come here and you can trust it will always taste the same) - I always wonder if how busy a specific location is will impact the quality. If the Chipotle in Tucson has more customers, then food is made more frequently and therefore fresher, hotter, etc.

      My primary experience working in a chain was during my teen years working at Starbucks, and the busier the location the fresher everything would be. Coffee was brewed more often, milk was gone through faster, but most importantly - pastries would be gone through faster. Pastries at Starbucks have pretty long shelf life, but in a very busy location even though it's the "same" product, stuff is just sitting around less.

    2. I have always been a huge fan of Fuddrucker's, and even as most locations in Florida have disappeared over the last 15 years, I still embark on a mission to visit the closest one at least once a year. I greatly prefer it to Five Guys, Boardwalk, and other more popular burger chains. Their burgers just taste better than everyone else's to me, between the meat, the bun, and the toppings -- I love being able to add my own. Their onion rings and fries are excellent, and even their desserts are awesome.

      That said, I've always found Fuddrucker's to be wildly inconsistent from location to location, and even from visit to visit at the same location. Nothing deal-breaking for me, but my wife has ordered too many medium-rare burgers that come back anything but, to the point where she's completely done with them.

      The one near us is also less organized than any of the others I've been to in different cities. There is a separate counter for the bakery with all the desserts, but nobody is ever there to take orders, and sometimes it isn't even lit up. You have to wait in the main food line to place a dessert order, but they don't have a dessert menu or prices there, and I swear the workers always seem confused when we've tried to order bakery items up front. You can even buy a loaf of bread that's the same as their delicious burger buns -- it says so on the menu up front -- but people lose their damn minds if you try to order that bread!

      1. I've found cracker barrel to vary greatly.

        1. Red Lobster varies wildly as does Red Robin.

          1 Reply
          1. re: melpy

            Our local Red Lobster is surprisingly good for a chain. This had led to us being badly burned when we've tried Red Lobsters elsewhere.

          2. I've experienced a difference at the Chipotles near my office, they're 2 within a few miles. One of them, they always skimp on the ingredients, so you have to ask them to add more, and the workers there are not that friendly. the other one, they pile them on and everyone's really nice.

            Also in my former town in CA, 2 of the Chipotles had a HUGE difference... so much, that one had great yelp ratings, and the other one had really poor ones.

            1. 5 Guys...that chain has no quality contol.

              1. We have found huge variations at Carrabba's, a mid-level chain.

                Now, the higher-end Capital Grille I have found to be remarkably consistent, in a good way.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Bob W

                  Same experience with Carrabba's had a great meal, a mediocre one and a disaster.

                  I have only eaten at Capital Grille twice, once in DC - very good; once in Pittsburgh - mediocre to poor.

                  1. re: RetiredChef

                    That's exactly our Carrabba's record!

                    Sorry to hear you had a bad meal at a CG. not surprising that you found a weak link in the chain, but at those prices it certainly hurts more.

                  2. re: Bob W

                    I have found Carrabba's to be one of the better and more consistent chains but recently had the first sub par meal there. After eating more than thirty meals with them in five different states.

                  3. Five Guys, Chipotle & Panera Bread come to mind quickly. As well as Jersey Mikes subs.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      Five Guys & Panera Bread I would agree with, but I have eaten in Chipotles from the West to East coast and haven't noticed much difference except for quantity of rice they try to stuff in the burrito. However other posters here have noticed it so maybe I have just been lucky.

                      1. re: RetiredChef

                        Unfortunately Chipotle has been one of the offenders and when it is good it is oh so good so a mediocre one is upsetting.

                      2. re: Janet from Richmond

                        Five Guys has no quality control. Each store is a different experience; and more often than not, a bad one.

                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                          Second 5G and Chipotle. The former is the poster child for overexpansion and inconsistency. They finally opened a Chipotle near where I work and the place is a mess; lines out the door, poor prep and assembly, staff just loitering around. It's worth the extra couple bucks to just go back to the overpriced burrito place I used to go to. As for Jersey Mikes, I've only been to one, and it sucked: C-Grade lunchmeat and "hand carved" roast beef that tasted like absolutely nothing.

                        2. Last time I went to Chipotle it was near opening time but the guacomole had a nasty grey crust around the edges. It clearly had been saved overnight in that container. Guac does not keep well and at very least, a container transfer should occur if only for esthetics... personally, I think at the prices they charge, it should be made fresh daily, hell throughout the day, but at the very least a fresh start every day. But avocados are expensive here and I can totally see that being the first corner cut by an owner/manager who is faced with lack of profits. Another cheat would be putting unripe avocadoes in the microwave to soften. They get soft but not flavourful.
                          Living in Toronto, I could actually go on about all the ways guacomole can fail but I won't ;) I would be curious what Chipotle's official guac procedures are.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: julesrules

                            Me too! I had grey guac the other day.