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Why Are Chain Restaurants So Much Worse In Hawaii

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I've been noticing this the last few years in my travels, just back from a trip by the way. Normally we try to eat at well regarded, local restaurants we've researched when traveling. But occasionally time and place dictate we eat wherever we can, and sometimes that ends up being a chain restaurant.

On the mainland we've eaten at the Cheesecake Factory, CPK, Chili's, Tony Roma's, to name a few. Every one of them has served food that is so much better to what is served here in Hawaii, off the same menu. Why is that?

Even Wendy's served a freshly grilled, hot, juicy cheeseburger. I compare that to the line of microwaves at burger places locally. In fact a lot of food at the chains here taste pre-cooked, re-heated and lukewarm, while what we ate on the mainland came fresh out of the kitchen, usually piping hot.

This is just a personal observation, but I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. Perhaps that's why relatives on the mainland say they like the Olive Garden (????). Ok so much for my rant of the day..

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  1. The work ethic in Hawaii is at best lacadazical. 70 percent of Hawaiians really don't give a shit. I've been ther many times.

    6 Replies
    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

      Hmm, mrbigshotno.1's post seems kinda trollish. In any case, in my experiences I have not noticed the food in chain restaurants on the mainland US being vastly better than the ones here. I do feel that it is slightly better, but not world's apart like you make is seem. Then again, I rarely find myself eating at chain restaurants whether here or when traveling, so maybe your observations are more accurate.

      1. re: killersmile

        I wonder if mr. bigshotno.1 was aware that even the mighty longshoreman's union, the epitome of labor in America works an hour longer each day in Hawaii than in the rest of the country. Of course unlike Arizona, we don't rely on a constant source of illegal aliens to do the work that no one else is willing to do. Oh, but then thats stereotyping as well. mea culpa.

      2. re: mrbigshotno.1

        Hi, mrbigshot:

        The work ethic in Hawai'i is actually very good. While there're slackers everywhere, Hawaiian employment law is actually quite a severe motivation to work long and hard (a legacy of plantations and WW2).

        You should think hard before slandering 70% of a state's population as being "lacadazical".

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          Yes, agree kaleokahu. I made mention of great service and work ethic in my earlier post. I love when people accuse others of something and they can't even spell!

        2. re: mrbigshotno.1

          To mrbigshotno.1- your generalization that 70% of Hawaiians don't give a shit is so obscene and inaccurate. On my yearly visits there (where I'm originally from) I have always beens served and accomodated like the King of Hawaii. No matter where I dine or enjoy cocktails etc., people go out of their way to provide top notch service , be it Rainbow's Drive Inn or La Mer at the Halekulani. Perhaps it is the person you see in the mirror that's the source of Hawaiians not wanting to "service" you??

          1. re: UES Mayor

            aloha UES
            you should know what his outlook is by reading his screen name...

        3. This is only a guess, as I have not dined at any of those on the Mainland, or in Hawai`i, but I would speculate that they feel that they have a "captive audience," and anyone dining with them, is not looking for anything else - so they will just have to be happy with what they get.

          Now, I could well be very wrong?

          Hunt

          20 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            It's like those restaurants with a view. They know their food can suck because they have the view.

            Well, in Hawai'i, it's like the entire place is "___ with a view".

            1. re: ipsedixit

              In some cases, they do. In other cases, they marry the views with great food and wine, then complement that with wonderful service.

              While I have not passed by all "fast-food restaurants" in Hawai`i - heck, not even in Honolulu/Waikiki, but do not recall seeing any, with a great view. Can you help me out on that?

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                well, there is a difference between chains and fast food. but sticking to fast food there are a couple of mc donalds with great views across kalakaua to waikiki beach, as well as a starbucks or 12. cheeseburger in paradise wolfgangs pizza or whatever its called as well. many of the "family" chains are focused near saratoga/beachwalk/lewers street. of course the fact that many of the newer ones have their storefront open to the street even in the middle of december and january add somewhat to their charm, although not technically a view.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  When it comes to McD's, I would not have, even a clue. I guess that they are, where they are, but I am oblivious to them.

                  Mahalo,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    When I first began visiting Hawaii in the late 70's even the mainland-based chains had "exotic" offerings. A McDonalds ""Big Breakfast" with rice and Portugese sausage, consumed while sitting in the sand on Waikiki Beach, was a novel vacation treat. I've since graduated to conveniece store Spam musubi for my early morning beach breakfasts :<P.

                    1. re: Pwmfan

                      I recall some, that were similar, like the old Sizzler at Ala Moana & Kalakaua, with their Papaya and Pancakes (with Coconut Syrup), at a great price. While I do not know that much about Sizzler restaurants, I cannot recall any on the Mainland, with most of the breakfast items, offered at that location. Think that it's something like a Cheesburger in Paradise, or similar now?

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        sister restaurant cheeseburger waikiki.

              2. re: Bill Hunt

                I'm not sure why folks would come here to dine at mainland chains. Hmmmm, not very adventurous? Not gonna waste my time on this but I do happen to enjoy the Ruby Tuesday every now and then (maybe twice a year) at Windward Mall, great friendly service, prompt and attentive, excellent food quality and great people watching at the mall. Over and out.

                1. re: manomin

                  Manomin,

                  I agree completely.

                  When I see a post, asking for the best Philly Cheesesteak on O`ahu, by someone from Philadelphia, I just flat have to wonder. Can people not give up their local favs. for a week?

                  Though I love New Orleans Cuisine, I do not seek it out in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, London, Paris, Rome or anywhere in Hawai`i. I go to New Orleans for that.

                  Still, some cannot let go of their KFC, BK, Wendy's, or similar - I feel the same way with Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Morton's and similar - just "adult Mc Donalds."

                  Puzzled,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Before they closed the waikiki location it used to amaze me to watch those mid-western families line up outside Sizzler for the early bird special dinners. Youd've thought Don Ho and Elvis were performing together in concert inside. The Waikiki Cheesecake Factory nowadays has a pretty fair line, but it doesn't compare to the old sizzler.

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      my friend and i used to eat there late at night when the only other customers were policemen. that was before we discovered real prime rib.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        Now, back when you were but an infant, the Sizzler on Ala Moana had a great breakfast. Way back when, one could get decent pancakes w/ good coconut syrup, a half of a fresh papaya w/ lime wedge, coffee and guava juice for next to nothing. While not the best pancakes (they were a tad soft), the whole thing amounted to about US $8/per person.

                        That was the only Sizzler, anywhere, that I would eat, and then, only for breakfast - but they became a Cheeserburger in Paradise, or similar, with poor service, mediocre food and no reason for us to go. We soon found Wailana Coffee House, down the block.

                        I do not do Cheesecake Factories, but DO see the lines in Hawai`i, and also the one at Union Square, San Francisco. People stand in line, like kids wanting an iPhone 6, at the Apple Store. They must strike a chord with some?

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          the cheesecake is good, but not much else.

                        2. re: KaimukiMan

                          How did you know (or assume) they were "mid-western families"?

                          1. re: Fowler

                            it was the accent I heard most often, although there was some southern and texas in there too. not so much from the northeast. Sometimes there would be quite a bit of Canadian as well, but still predominantly midwest.

                        3. re: Bill Hunt

                          Bill, this touches on a pet peeve. Being from Texas, I cringe when people from the NE, Canada, or anywhere else describe the Mexican as Tex-Mex style. Then it invariably gets slammed. Most people have not had Tex-Mex in Texas and really have no clue. Having said this, there is plenty of bad Tex-Mex down here, as with other food you have to know where to go.

                          1. re: James Cristinian

                            JC,

                            I have been fortunate to have had real Tex-Mex, and on both sides of the border.

                            I have also lived in the US, in "border states," or nearly so, and can adequately appreciate Tex-Mex, though there are variations, as one travels 50 miles East of X, or West of X. To me, Tex-Mex is the epitome of "border Mexican," over all other variations. Just West of Juarez/El Paso, things change, and not to MY liking. Others appreciate those changes, but I am less warm to them. To me, Laredo to Del Rio, and up to San Antonio, is about the epicenter. Obviously, those are US cities, and I include their Mexican counter-parts in that little triangle.

                            Hunt

                        4. re: manomin

                          i'm a sucker for tony roma's ribs and green beans.

                          i have not had the chance to dine at ruby tuesdays, but would like to. for a chain, i have heard postive things.

                          i recommend wendy's here, i go to the nimitz location. it's always busy so the food is freash. open til 3a!

                          i also love fatburger, i ate there when i lived in vegas, but have not had the chance to eat at the only location on oahu, it is on a navy base. yelp reviews are negative.

                          1. re: indelibledotink

                            wait, there's a fatburger here?
                            i know fatboys, but never heard of fatburger being here

                            1. re: macsak

                              Since it's on a military base, it's not hard to see why most people don't know about it. Not too many civilians have on-base access.

                      2. My best guess is that it has to do with the amount of time cooked food languishes under the warming lights or has ti be microwaved warm. For example, curly fries at Jack-in-the-box are great when freshly prepared but kind of awful after a holding pattern of 10 minutes. When the demand is there, fast food chains are serving freshly cooked foods whether in Hawaii or on the mainland.

                        1. i haven't noticed hawaii's chains to be better or worse than the mainland's.

                          having just eaten at wendy's, i have to say their burgers come out hot and fresh.325

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: indelibledotink

                            I totally agree w indelibledotink-in fact I think Cheesecake factory is da bomb on Oahu-I really enjoy my meals there. I only regret we have no Zippy's in NYC!!!

                          2. Start from the bottom (pun intended?). We don't have great Italian here, and even the good ones are not heavily patronized by a lot of local people. We don't have Olive Garden, people here want to try it when they go to the mainland.

                            You and I agree on most things, so I'm kinda surprised by this one. Leaving out "fast food/drive thru" places, I haven't noticed a whole lot of difference between here and the mainland. In fact the Kahala CPK compares rather favorably to a couple of the CPK's I've been to in the LA area. And The Counter, also at Kahala is right up there with the couple of the mainland outlets I've been to.

                            Tony Roma's is still in Hawaii? We have two franchises for Chili's. The one in Waikiki and the others. I've only been to the one in Kahala within the last year or so, and the food there (not to mention the service) has really slipped over time. Even my non-foodie friends tend to avoid it.

                            Cheesecake factory gets slammed so often in chowhound that I have to admit, I've never given it a chance on the mainland, and have only been to the one in Waikiki a few times, so I cant compare it to the mainland. I didn't think it was that bad really. Huge portions yes, and some odd menu items, but the food was not terrible.

                            I have been to Applebees ONCE in LA. For a short time it was the only place my nephew would eat when we went out. He was 3 at the time. He has grown up. Really, I didn't know a hamburger made in the US could be so absolutely horrible. Truly disgusting. Clearly put on the grill frozen, from a pallet of burgers, a bun also obviously previously frozen, and limp wilted vegetables.

                            I do agree that the Macaroni Grill here has gone from mediocre to bad. I don't even want to discuss my last adventure there. As for Wendy's, well I dropped them the same day they dropped Ellen (what was that '97?) and haven't set foot in one since.

                            I'm guessing a lot of what you have experienced relates to shipping to Hawaii. I know the few restauranteurs I've talked to complain about that more than anything else. Just the problem of getting ingredients, whether fresh, refrigerated, or frozen to Hawaii in reasonable time and in reasonable condition. Matson strikes again.

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              KM I think you have hit it on shipping to Hawaii, but I also feel it could be a kitchen issue as well.

                              The times I've ordered on the mainland, I noticed you could smell the aroma of food as the server arrived at the table. The food glistened, looked freshly cooked, was bright and alive. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and taste and thought I would eat this again if I had to.

                              Here at home the same dishes were dull, lukewarm and rather lifeless, I thought after eating it was a waste of time and money. Even at CPK, which I think is one of the better chains here, was noticeably better on the mainland which may go to the shipping and freshness you mentioned.

                              Just wanted to get this off my chest. Thanks to everyone for listening and I do appreciate your comments.

                              1. re: curiousgeo

                                You may be right, and it's probably a combination of factors. Have you seen that applebees is arriving "soon"? Wish I could say im excited.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  Don't be 'shamed K-Man, you know you just dying for the invitation to the "Friends & Family" preview........

                                  1. re: manomin

                                    i believe the expression is 'gag me with a spoon'.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Yes, but a SILVER SPOON!

                                      Hunt

                              2. re: KaimukiMan

                                kman
                                i am curious to which restaurants you refer to here:
                                "even the good ones are not heavily patronized by a lot of local people."

                                aloha

                                steve

                                1. re: macsak

                                  macsak

                                  assagio, donato's (is it still open?) paesano, maybe verbano. Instead many prefer Old Spagetti Factory, Bravo (shudder), sbarro, and matteo's.

                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    i found assagio kahala to be a disappointment, although kailua was a different matter.

                                    verbano waialae has a large local clientele. or seems to, the times i have been there.

                                    i DO like spaghetti factory, it's hard to mess up with al dente noodles, butter, and cheese, or some meaty marinara (but bucca does).

                                    and i don't mind a slice of sbarro if i'm at the food court, it's about as close to nyc pizza that you can get here, even if it's not great pizza overall. (i find boston's to be pretty good pizza in general and also similar enough to ny pizza.)

                                    i've been to matteos ages ago, and do'nt have a pleasant memory.

                                    1. re: indelibledotink

                                      I have a definite aversion to OSF. I used to go to these Ward retail board meetings early in the mornings there. The whole place smelled like stale used rags from wiping the tables. It was truly unpalatable. I didn't even drink the coffee!

                                    2. re: KaimukiMan

                                      mahalo kman
                                      i appreciate your answer
                                      i had to re-read your post, even though i quoted you
                                      somehow i read it that you are saying our great italian restaurants are not patronized
                                      now i see you said our italian here is not great, and even the good ones are not patronized
                                      i have to agree with indelible, in that the castagnola family tree (assagio/paesano and verbano?) are not hurting for business from locals
                                      and i do agree with you that spag fac, bravo, sbarro, matteo's (you left out buca and zia's) are unfortunately busy too
                                      i will also have to disagree with you on donato's
                                      in my opinion, the only person in HI that has been able to do anything close to what i would consider to be close to quality italian on the mainland would be donato
                                      i know he is a polarizing personality (i, myself, have gotten into a confrontation with him at pearl, and others in my family have worked with him and have love/hate relationships with him), but i have found his cooking to be the best italian in HI
                                      his multiple stints at sarentos, his brief restaurant at manoa, his multiple ventures at the old u'raku space have all been very good to great experiences for me
                                      in my opinion, of course, and i realize that i just highjacked this thread
                                      sorry guys

                                      1. re: macsak

                                        Concur about Donato being a fabulous Italian Chef. Unfortunately he's not cooking nowadays but in the Wholesale Wine Business

                                        1. re: macsak

                                          Hi, macsak: "I have found his cooking to be the best italian in HI"

                                          You try Casa di Amici in Po'ipu? Chef Randall's very good.

                                          Aloha,
                                          Kaleo

                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                            aloha kaleo
                                            don't get to kauai at all
                                            my mom's family is from the big island, so on my infrequent outer island trips, i am there

                                            mahalo for the suggestion
                                            if i am ever in poipu, i will check it out

                                          2. re: macsak

                                            aren't threads supposed to be hijacked?

                                            and there are locals who do eat at the better italian places, but that seems to be inversely proportional to the quality. ie donato's or the original, oft relocated castagnolas.

                                            i guess the question is would olive tree be worse here than the mainland if one ever arrives.

                                        2. re: macsak

                                          I don't agree with K'man's statement that locals don't patronize Assagios (it flies against my experiences at the Kailua, Kahala and Ala Moana restaurants) but then my definition of "locals" for purposes of Chowhound comments would be "local residents" as opposed to tourists or "local" as used in newspaper references to crime suspects being "local males/females." I doubt that any of the Assagios could stay open based solely on the tourist trade.

                                          1. re: honu2

                                            We have to agree to disagree, and my definition of "local" for the purposes of this discussion is the same as yours. I mean local residents. Not people of a specific ethnic background or historic/generational residency here.

                                            All of the restaurants I mentioned, with the possible exception of Matteo's, do depend on local residents patronizing them. But my experience is that many local residents don't know the difference between what I think of as good Italian from medicocre/bad.

                                            It's kind of like chinese food in say Cedar Rapids Iowa, many of the people there just don't know any better. Not a comment on the tastebuds of the residents. Just a matter of exposure.

                                            I know lots of people who grew up here who think that the Mexican food at Jose's is good. It's what they grew up with. But I don't know of anyone who grew up in the west or southwest who think its anything better than passable, or worse.

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              I love to eat at Assaggio in Kailua. It is a very civilized lunch. Martini's (premium pour at a great value), the Caesar salad table side. Great service, although it can be kind of cold from the AC so take a jacket/sweater. Donato has not been open for ages, he is in the importing business and leads tours of Italy. Being from Chicago where there are so many great restaurants of all ethnicities I have come to enjoy what we have here if I can't find it I cook it!

                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                I have to agree with you. Growing up here, I thought Verbano and Bravo served wonderful Italian food. Then while living on the mainland I visited Chicago, NYC, Pittsburgh, and Italy. Now that I have moved back, I have come to the same conclusion: there isn't really any outstanding Italian food here. It's passable, sometimes perfectly tasty, but not great.

                                                A bigger surprise to me moving back was that the Chinese restaurants weren't better. I've had better Chinese food in Las Vegas, California, NYC, and Philadelphia. My list of places with terrible Chinese food is of course much longer...it's probably available just about everywhere if you aren't careful. At many places I have visited and lived, there was no other option. Do not eat Chinese food in Montana. The Japanese food is better than I remember though.

                                                More on the original topic, I haven't noticed the quality of the food at chain restaurants here being that different from the mainland.

                                          2. re: KaimukiMan

                                            I am located in Alaska - so chains have similiar issues here.
                                            A couple of factors contribute, as KM pointed out - shipping is one. The items that the chain has access to in the mainland may not be available. The other is training - not work ethic. The chains on the mainland are inspected more by corporate.The remote locations are allowed to devaite more from corporate specifications due to their location.

                                          3. I almost never eat at chains while in Hawaii. As an annual visitor, I hunger for those local places I love and those new places you all talk about here.

                                            Having said that, and without actually having tried the chains in Hawaii, there may be several factors: 1) The cost of shipping fresh ingredients from the Mainland, 2) the cost of doing business in Hawaii, 3) Lack of quality control from Corporate due to distance, 4) Success despite themselves because of their brand recognition and tourist familiarity.

                                            Even here in LA, the quality of the chains vary from place to place. My experience has been that LA locations are generally better than, say, locations in Southern Orange County. And I'm sure to hear about it from OC people.

                                            As for the Olive Garden, I think that's a matter of taste, or lack thereof.