The tremendous power of chain restaurants was demonstrated once again in my part of the world yesterday, when one of our area bloggers decided to pack it in after a single visit to Olive Garden. That’s a shame, because her blog was quite good.
Before commenting on that, let me get this out of the way: chain restaurants suck most of the time. For some reason, they don’t take reservations, so the popular dinner hour begins with a cattle-call lineup that often stretches out the door. Then there’s the food, which is often either too salty or too greasy, and the drinks, which are either weak, overpriced cocktails or draft beer that tastes like the tap hasn’t been cleaned in a month.
That all said, a lot of locally-owned restaurants also suck a great deal of the time. They pawn off food that was cooked and frozen somewhere else as their own, they are probably more likely to violate health codes, and they’re less predictable over time than a chain.
What I don’t get about chains is the extremity of reaction to them. There’s the “Applebees salad bar”, “real Americans eat here” response, which ignores the fact that a lot of the people eating at chains are doing so because it’s the least worst alternative, or just didn’t want to drive a few more miles, or because the chain offers up cheap food for kids. And there’s the “index of the apocalypse” response, where the chain is a symbol of all that’s bad with our suburban/corporate car culture. I’m more in the latter group, but I’ll fess up that I’ve eaten at Olive Garden without having an existential crisis, and see no reason to go all emo about the popularity of chain restaurants. Almost everything that’s popular is at best mediocre, and the sooner you understand that, the more likely you are to go find something less popular but better.