Your Favorite Restaurant Sucks
December 15, 2017 1:18 PM   Subscribe

 
tl;dr
10. Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar
9. IHOP
8. Outback Steakhouse
7. Red Lobster
6. Chili’s Grill & Bar
5. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
4. Olive Garden
3. Texas Roadhouse
2. Denny’s
1. Cracker Barrel
posted by Fizz at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


.... I can barely stop laughing, the name of the only restaurant chain to get an "A" also pretty much sums up the current political climate in the good ol' USA...
posted by jkaczor at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2017 [19 favorites]


Anywhere you can get fried okra at 6am is all right in my book.
posted by phunniemee at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


My issue with Chain Food is that it's (1) designed by committee and (2) with a goal of Not Causing Food Poisoning.

So, while it's great that you can generally trust an egg mcmuffin, it's not my first choice.

BUT. Texas Roadhouse, like 5 Guys gives you peanuts. That is good.
posted by mikelieman at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


(...i like denny's)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:37 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Denny’s came out of this looking pretty good!
posted by bq at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


... This is a joke, right?
posted by KGMoney at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Denny's and Cracker Barrel over Chili's? Nope.
posted by Splunge at 1:39 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


The interesting thing to me is how few of these exist in dense urban centers. The only one close to me in Chicago is an IHOP.
posted by srboisvert at 1:40 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Going to an IHOP and not ordering breakfast is like going to Peter Luger's and ordering a green salad.
posted by SansPoint at 1:43 PM on December 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Denny's and Cracker Barrel over Chili's? Nope.

Yeah, I was very surprised that Chili's did not rank higher. I'm not a huge fan of these types of chain restaurants, I like to try to support local families/owners as much as I can. But seriously, Chili's deserves to be up a bit higher. I feel like they really set the tone and theme for a lot of these other places.
posted by Fizz at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


So, these are the top 10 restaurant chains by gross revenue (excluding fast food). That’s the criteria for being on the list.

Which means we all need to go out and hit the Waffle House harder if we want to improve this list.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [23 favorites]




Who the hell goes to an IHOP and orders fish tacos?
posted by elsietheeel at 1:45 PM on December 15, 2017 [20 favorites]


Huffy Puffy: If there were any Waffle Houses this far North of the Mason-Dixon line, I'd have patronized them plenty by now.
posted by SansPoint at 1:45 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


We never did find out why Cracker Barrel fired Brad's wife, did we?
posted by ckape at 1:46 PM on December 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Anywhere you can get fried okra at 6am is all right in my book.

Assuming you're referring to Cracker Barrel here.

Most locations will also make Red Eye Gravy (very old school) if you ask.

For a chain, they truly do a pretty good job with Southern cuisine. Especially the staples such as biscuits, fried catfish and chicken and dumplings.
posted by bwvol at 1:46 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


#Blessed that I have no need to patronize any of these establishments because we have Eat n Park.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


Eat n Park. Yes!
posted by bwvol at 1:49 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


soren_lorensen: Eat'n'Park is interesting. I have only a handful of experiences with them as I grew up too far East. I had a couple memorable meals at an Eat'n'Park outside of Cleveland, though, when I went there for the 2008 DEVOtional Fan Convention. Didn't try the smiley-face cookies, though.
posted by SansPoint at 1:50 PM on December 15, 2017


I read the whole article (okay so maybe I glossed over some of the food descriptions) and I'm struggling to find a way to discuss it that doesn't make me look like a snob. I'm blessed to live in New Orleans, a city with incredible and innovative high-end cuisine, as well as a solid foundation of local inexpensive non-chain regional eateries. I double-checked to make sure I'm not making this up before posting: within the city limits we have one (1) of the restaurants listed above. There's an IHOP somewhere downtown, in the French Quarter I think. Other than that we literally don't have these places. I mean I could drive a few minutes to the suburbs and find any of these except for Cracker Barrel - that one doesn't seem to have crossed south of Lake Pontchartrain - but they're not anywhere I could visit on a quick lunch break.

And I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful to have so. much. good. food. at my disposal. I could throw a rock from here and hit at least eight local joints with fabulous food. I mean don't get me wrong, there's a Subway and a Five Guys around here. On the other hand a Pei Wei opened up a year or two ago and already folded, and its former space is now occupied by a local joint.

So I really really want to just bash on all these chain joints because that's not my daily experience, and because they're serving garbage microwave food that I don't think any sane person should be eating.

... except I can't, because I get it, because I grew up in a small town in Tennessee and all we had were chain joints. I could probably name eight non-chain restaurants in the entire town. When the city council passed a referendum allowing alcohol sales (formerly a dry county) then our 'restaurant row' exploded. The city is situated right alongside an interstate and next thing you knew we had all the heavy hitters: Applebees, O'Charley's, Chilis, Texas Roadhouse. Eventually we got the IHOP and Olive Garden, and they may even have the rest by now for all I know.

This happened when I was in high school and it was like "oh man we finally have somewhere to take a girl on a DATE NIGHT! We got fancy joints like Applebees!" and that's funny in hindsight, in a way, but it also makes me sad because now-me knows just how much I love all kinds of food, and how much then-me would have appreciated everything I know now.

I don't really know what my point is. I guess it's to say that this line from the article rings true:
But some of their presumed negatives are also part of their appeal. The promises of speed and sameness can be downright welcome when you’re hungry and near a highway exit, on a business trip in a strange place or home for the holidays.
or at least it rings true for 20-year-old me who would indeed have hopped off the interstate for an O'Charley's, and with glee. Now the thought makes me sad.

and I'm left now remembering that just the other day on twitter I was lamenting how I can't find decent white gravy here in New Orleans. That's yet another one of those southern things that didn't make it all the way down here. That though alone - biscuits and white gravy - would probably get me to stop at a Cracker Barrel just to satisfy my nostalgia-fueled craving. I still really want to bash all of these joints and I think that ultimately we'd be far better off without them all, but

tl;dr: I'm a hypocrite because biscuits and gravy
posted by komara at 1:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [23 favorites]


6. Chili’s Grill & Bar
5. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
4. Olive Garden
3. Texas Roadhouse
2. Denny’s
1. Cracker Barrel


Jeez, I didn't really think that my joke from a previous thread would capture a goddamned zeitgeist.
posted by Groundhog Week at 1:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


I had a couple memorable meals at an Eat'n'Park

Eat n Park has my eternal loyalty not just because I'm a local girl, but because they started serving Gardenburgers (chargrilled Gardenburgers, like they care how they taste and everything!) twenty-five years ago. I was but a wee 16 year old newly minted vegetarian and I could go there with my friends and get a real actual (cheap) meal back before vegetarianism was really much of a thing. That's still the only thing I ever get there. My son has been brought up correctly and also has an Eat n Park usual, and will accept no substitutes. As far as he's concerned, no one can make a grilled cheese like Eat n Park, with fries and a smiley cookie at the end.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:01 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


SansPoint Huffy Puffy: If there were any Waffle Houses this far North of the Mason-Dixon line, I'd have patronized them plenty by now.

I was horrified to learn they aren't universal south of it either. I'm in San Antonio and the nearest Waffle House is north of Austin. WTF?!
posted by sotonohito at 2:02 PM on December 15, 2017


I always have to balance my grandparents' "any meal not prepared in the home is a treat" with my own effete coastal snobbery about this kind of restaurant chain. It ends up being a when in Rome kinda thing, because sometimes you are in e.g. central Utah and famished and the guy you ask at the gas station recommends Denny's.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:02 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


They're not in cities because these chains' business model is mostly "strip-mall anchor" and cities don't have the land to make a big-ass parking lot with a retail moat.

I don't mind Outback.
posted by rhizome at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I spent the first half of the article scrolling in amazement, "all of these are worse than Applebee's...?"
posted by jcreigh at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


They're not in cities because these chains' business model is mostly "strip-mall anchor" and cities don't have the land to make a big-ass parking lot with a retail moat.

Not necessarily - I know of three IHOPs in New York City.

....Strangely, two of them are right next to gyms....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on December 15, 2017


Smiley Cookies are not very good at all.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:08 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: Yup. There's also an IHOP in Center City Philadelphia, on Walnut Street between Broad and 13th. I've eaten there late at night. I ordered breakfast, like a reasonable human being would.
posted by SansPoint at 2:09 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


As far as the Boston metro area, there's an IHOP in Harvard Square, as well as another one only slightly off transit in Brighton. College kids like 24-hour pancake places, who knew?
posted by tobascodagama at 2:09 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


srboisvert: "The interesting thing to me is how few of these exist in dense urban centers. The only one close to me in Chicago is an IHOP."

Same here in Pittsburgh. I think that the only one of the ten within the city limits is an IHOP in Squirrel Hill. I moved back into the city in 2007 and haven't ended up at any of these places since then because there are so many other better options. Even soren_lorensen's fave Eat'n'Park has all but abandoned the city so I seldom end up there.

When I did live out in an ex-urb we'd end up at a chain out of desperation most of the time because there just wasn't anything else out there.
posted by octothorpe at 2:09 PM on December 15, 2017


(...i like denny's)

I've got great memories of after Dead show "Moons over MyHammy"'s with now-absent friends...
posted by mikelieman at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Not necessarily - I know of three IHOPs in New York City.

Yeah, there's a ton of chain restaurants in NYC, mostly in the outer boroughs where the tourists don't go. They're kept in business by NYC natives for whom a chain restaurant is an exotic treat from the wild suburbs. People that grew up in suburbs and then moved to the Big City don't go there--they eat at the lousy coffee shop by the subway, instead. But, it's not a chain!
posted by Automocar at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think that one IHOP is the only one of these places in the city limits. It is a little weird though because we do have chain restaurants in the city (with parking lots even, sometimes!). Just not this particular varietal of chain. I mean, there's Chipotles every dang place.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Automocar: There's also a bunch of chains in the Times Square area including: Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I actually ate at the latter (fortunately, someone else was picking up the check.) My Shrimp Po'Boy mostly tasted of salt.
posted by SansPoint at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I just finished reading this article and came to MF and, lo, here it is. I've eaten at all of these at one or another time for sundry reasons (except Cracker Barrel and Chili's) and think of them all as "edible but not good." However, we've been going to the Moose Cafe for downhome Southern food, and I'm not impressed. May have to give Cracker Barrel a try, even though it's a chain and I deplore their politics. As to Eat n Park, I visited a friend near Pittsburgh and was taken here for dinner. I was fine with everything until I found fries sandwiched between my meat and its cheese sauce. The waitress kindly informed me "that's how we do it here." Ok. Never went back.
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:16 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Denny's and Cracker Barrel over Chili's? Nope.

You know, a year or two ago, I would have said the same thing. I had great memories of Chili's from back in the day. But I found myself at Chili's a few times on business trips in the past few years, and either that place has gone WAY down hill, or my standards have gone WAY up. Really, really bad. And I'm actually pretty pro-chain restaurant unlike a lot of people here. I'm not down on them because they're a chain; I'm down on them because the food quality has become terrible. Or maybe I just had really bad luck. But I also have eaten at Cracker Barrel tons of times on business trips in the south, and it is miles ahead of Chili's if you're measuring just on the quality of the food and service. No contest. I don't think I've been to Denny's since high school, so I can't comment on that one.
posted by primethyme at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


This is a joke, right?

Well, no, there's lots of places have very limited options for restaurants and knowing which of them are decent places to eat is useful. There's a number of factors to this, including rural preferences for the familiar, difficulty for local restaurants getting business loans and supply chains that chains can mitigate, and collapsing local economies.

Are you just doing the well established playbook of Metafilter looking down its nose at rural dwellers or do you have a more substantial criticism of the rankings?
posted by Candleman at 2:18 PM on December 15, 2017 [21 favorites]


So, the subtext to this that I think non-locals may be missing is that Sietsema is far and away DC's best-known restaurant critic. This isn't just some rando talking about chain restaurants he likes, this is THE tastemaker in DC. His opinions are often controversial, and I don't agree with all of them, but he's applying the same logic he applies to a high-end restaurant review to reviewing these places.

I have really good memories of eating the brown bread, a Bloomin' Onion, and a blackened chicken pasta that I think is no longer on the menu at Outback. I refuse to sully those memories by returning and now must apparently go to Bowie and try the one at Texas Roadhouse. (I...must admit I also like B-Dubs! When I had no money it was the best. So cheap. So much food. And before World of Beer had a kitchen, they would let you bring it in.)
posted by capricorn at 2:18 PM on December 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


Yeah, there's a ton of chain restaurants in NYC, mostly in the outer boroughs where the tourists don't go. They're kept in business by NYC natives for whom a chain restaurant is an exotic treat from the wild suburbs. People that grew up in suburbs and then moved to the Big City don't go there--they eat at the lousy coffee shop by the subway, instead. But, it's not a chain!

NYC even has a few of its own local mediocre chains: like Dallas BBQ, where you can get overcooked flavorless BBQ meats for substantially more than flavorful roadside dives driving through the Carolinas.
posted by codacorolla at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was fine with everything until I found fries sandwiched between my meat and its cheese sauce. The waitress kindly informed me "that's how we do it here." Ok. Never went back.

By "here" she didn't mean Eat'n Park specifically, she meant Pittsburgh in general. If it possibly can have fries on it, it will. People here don't know that salads in other places don't normally come topped with fries and melted cheese.
posted by octothorpe at 2:21 PM on December 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


Oh god, yes, Dallas BBQ, where both the first and second Bs stand for "biarrhea"
posted by Automocar at 2:21 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


sotonohito: There is a Waffle House on Ben White in South Austin, but yeah, that's still quite a ways for you in SA.
posted by obtuser at 2:23 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I mean, there's Chipotles every dang place.

I think how it works is that your successful city restaurants fall into one of these categories:

* high-end dining
* mid-range local/regional chains that cater to a particular local/regional demand
* places that offer take-out or delivery
* lunch places

Chipotle obviously falls into both of the last two categories, as do a wide variety of both chains and non-chain restaurants. The second category is obviously situational, so like the example that immediately jumps to mind for the Boston area is Legal Sea Foods. I think the ones in that category survive mostly off tourists (or out-of-town family) and business diners?
posted by tobascodagama at 2:26 PM on December 15, 2017


Chili's deserves to be up a bit higher. I feel like they really set the tone and theme for a lot of these other places.

Pretty much my entire adult 25 years, Chili's has been my pick if I only have the predictable full-service options and I want iced tea refills brought to me, although my husband's pick is Friday's and they're okay too. But over the past 6-8 years when I do have that once or twice-yearly run-in with Chili's even the old standards have gotten awful. The burgers (which were always gloppy but in a pleasant way) are wet, the batter on the chicken fingers is gummy and so are the fries, that formerly-divine meat queso tastes weird, and the southwestern eggrolls are chewy instead of crisp. Everything feels like it's been steamed. Multiple states, freestanding/anchor/airport locations; they've changed something about their equipment or procedures and the food has suffered. Even the chips, which used to be sublime, are thick and chewy. Now, if I must go there, I just get whatever Large Salad is on offer, and eat it sadly.

My boss and I ended up deciding Olive Garden was our default when we're traveling together and our options are only standard chains (where premium might mean PF Chang's or one of those brewpub chains). Their wine options aren't terrible, and they have some fish and chicken options that aren't pasta and you can get some basic steamed vegetables that still have some texture left. That's not really "best" in any sense except "best for getting some food in you so you can go back to the hotel and work for several more hours before bed."
posted by Lyn Never at 2:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


I live in Brooklyn, and until very recently the closest bar was an Applebee's. It's usually packed.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2017


A terrible breakfast at an IHOP changed my life.

I was living in the city I graduated college from and was looking around for a decent breakfast one Sunday morning. Sad and dejected and not finding anything worthwhile I ended up at an IHOP where I ate one of the worst breakfasts of my life. Something had to change!

After this breakfast I drove down to San Diego where I sat in a Starbucks and found an apartment on Craigslist. I signed a lease about an hour later and told my boss in my old city that I could either work remotely or he could fire me. I got to work remotely, and from there moved to New York with the girlfriend I met in San Diego, a year later we moved to Los Angeles, and two years after that we moved to San Francisco, where we broke up and I met the woman who is now my wife.

Had it not been for a terrible IHOP breakfast who knows where I'd be? Probably living another life in another city, with another woman. But I don't see myself being happier than I am now.

Thanks, IHOP, you're awful!
posted by mikesch at 2:31 PM on December 15, 2017 [59 favorites]


SansPoint Huffy Puffy: If there were any Waffle Houses this far North of the Mason-Dixon line, I'd have patronized them plenty by now.

I was horrified to learn they aren't universal south of it either. I'm in San Antonio and the nearest Waffle House is north of Austin. WTF?!


Best up your disaster prep then because you've got no fallback.
posted by srboisvert at 2:32 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Chain sit-down restaurants don't thrive in urban areas because city people have such fine taste or zeal for independently owned restaurants. If that were so, fast food chains would also flail in urban areas, and that's certainly not so. It's because their business models rely upon free parking you can't usually offer in urban areas, and on menu prices, kids menu offerings and alcohol/non-alcohol beverage sale mix that don't cover the rent in urban areas.
posted by MattD at 2:36 PM on December 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


Which is not to say that I don't find the Outback Steakhouse in Elmhurst, Queens to be a very sad place indeed. The food capital of the universe and this is the best you can do?
posted by MattD at 2:37 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have really good memories of eating the brown bread, a Bloomin' Onion, and a blackened chicken pasta that I think is no longer on the menu at Outback. I refuse to sully those memories by returning

So I loved Outback as a teenager, and have gone several times as an adult while on business trips in godforesaken places where the only mid-range dining options are chains. It actually holds up OK if you adjust your expectations for the fact that you know better now. It's never great, but it's usually good and is miles better than other chains.

Applebee's, on the other hand, is utterly disgusting. I didn't even like it when I was a kid.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:39 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I can't call myself a connoisseur of big chain restaurants, but I get the impression that a lot is dependent on the specific store you're going into, despite the fact that a chain's whole raison d'être is to ensure consistency. Because the last two Denny's I patronized were either bad enough to make me ill, or just bad enough to make me wish I had gone hungry. The Chili's I've been to are serviceable. The Olive Gardens, also serviceable.
posted by adamrice at 2:41 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm continually puzzled as to why people pay more money for worse food. I get being in an unknown area and just needing to eat at a known quantity, but regularly going to chains is just beyond me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


In many places there are only chains to eat at.
posted by octothorpe at 2:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Living outside the urban world doesn't mean you get your choice of these, either. My small town has only a Cracker Barrel and an Applebees. The town was full of high hopes for chains after we passed a liquor referendum about 15 years ago, but all we got was an Applebees (I'm not impressed with it). And we are on an interstate!

But we don't lack places to eat. We have local restaurants, fast food, and chains that didn't make the list (Waffle House).
posted by Miss Cellania at 2:54 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Chains are also generally consistent. When you’re driving, tired, hungry, and just want warm food in your stomach that you can eat with a knife and fork, these places often will do.
posted by SansPoint at 2:55 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I spent my High School days and nights at Chili's Cupertino back before Chili's was what it is now. I don't know how many nights we spent eating free chips and salsa and free refill Cokes.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:55 PM on December 15, 2017


Yeah, in my small hometown it was a BFD when Olive Garden opened. There was nothing like it, nowhere that filled the same "nice night out but not forbiddingly fancy" niche within a 45 minute drive. People still wait a long time to get into it. I got a huge chip on my shoulder in my early twenties when I had moved away, about not eating garbage chain food, and now I realize what a huge snobbish jerk I was being.

It's fine. It's food. It's what people have in a lot of places, and you have to go SOMEWHERE before prom or after your kid's graduation.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 2:56 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I simply don't relate to any of these because I didn't grow up in America but everytime I return to Canada I have to go to a Swiss Chalet. Not because it is the best option but because it was one of two places we went when I was growing up (Mother's Pizza was the other but they're gone to the great over expanded franchises section in the sky now).

Quarter white, fries and an extra order of sauce is probably all I will say when I hit advanced dementia and it will probably be functional because the Swiss Chalet will be just across the street.
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 PM on December 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


I live in a densely populated suburb in NJ. You can go to any local restaurant and get better food for a lower price.

Theres a brand spanking new Cheesecake factory in Center City Philadelphia. You can go to any other place within a block and it will have better food for a lower price.

I understand when its the only game in town, but these seem inexplicable to me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


My late brother was a traveling sales rep and spent a lot of time on the road. He always said Denny's was a good place to eat and I always tried to talk him out of it. I'm glad to see his choice confirmed on this list. He was a good cook and loved good food so I always thought it was strange that he liked the place.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:06 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Good call on BW3. It's a horrible place to eat in. Better to get carry out and suffer their over-priced wings in private. The place is the sports bar of your nightmares. If you're lucky...IF...the onion rings can manage to be pretty good.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:13 PM on December 15, 2017


I don't eat at any of these places, if I can help it. But, like, if I was staying at some motel in the back of beyond, couldn't drive, and was faced with these ten choices alone, I too would pick Cracker Barrel.
posted by RedEmma at 3:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Only experience at Cracker Barrel:

My son threw his only public tantrum after spending hours trucking to Louisville and having to walk through the Cracker Barrel "store" to get to the restaurant. First he thinks "toy store" and no we are here to eat and between having to walk through that and not realizing that what he really needs is food he has a total cow in the dining room and it turns into a to go order because I'm not inflicting that on the other diners.

I take him outside and we sit on a wooden bench and I hold his thrashing 3 year old self tight and what struck me was the older folk inward giving me support, with just a look and a knowing smile.

Boy is getting a bit catatonic when waitstaff asks if we'd like that to go. I'm not taking him back through that store, so please. And puts she a ton of wipes in the bag.

He's got the thousand yard stare now as we walk back to the truck. Put the tailgate down, spread out the food, us on either side. Try this. Catfish? Yeah, c'mon, nothing to do with cats. Then why is it called a catfish? Whiskers I guess. He's all down with the catfish and okra and meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes. It's a pleasant day to eat in a parking lot.

If you do a bit of research, you can find places a bit further from the exit.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:17 PM on December 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


sotonohito : You're in San Antonio and not eating at Jim's?
posted by jim in austin at 3:19 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think Olive Garden would be my choice of Highway Exit establishments. When we were living in rural Maryland, a big night out for us was to drive 45 minutes to the nearest town-big-enough-to-have-strip-malls and eat dinner at Olive Garden and then see a movie. Even before then when I was first dating my husband and we lived in Northern Virginia, we went to Olive Garden every now and then because (again) strip malls. We were too poor to eat at real DC foodie restaurants. One time during their first Neverending Pasta Bowl promotions, we ate so much that we couldn't even make it to the movie theater and just went back to my apartment and rolled around in pain for a couple hours before passing out.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:28 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I found myself at Chili's a few times on business trips in the past few years, and either that place has gone WAY down hill, or my standards have gone WAY up.

I may be biased because the Chili's I go to regularly is like my Cheers. I know most of the people there. I sit at the bar and am friends with the bartenders. I was actually invited to one bartender's wedding. The managers are great. The head chef is really good. We talk shop all the time. (ex-bartender, waiter, cook) The food there is top notch. Other Chili's may very well differ. They just pared down their menu to focus on core dishes and it works. YMMV. I'd consider my Chili's a few notches above the usual chain restaurant.

For any curious Orlando folks it's the one on East Colonial off 408.
posted by Splunge at 3:35 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Up where I am in the Boogie Down, there are two or three "identikit" malls near me. And they each have a Marshall's and an Applebee's. I didn't know Applebee's had $1 booze! I might have to wrangle a couple of pals and go when we're dead broke but need a night out.

There's a lot of fast casual restaurants at these malls. When I go to the big working class mall in Yonkers off Central Park Avenue (the middle class one is closer to Riverdale and hard to get to without a car), I see almost all these places. I've only eaten at the Chipotle and the Shake Shack, though.

There's also an iHOP on B'way near me, and it's always full when I pass it. Cracker Barrel would make money hand over fist in NYC; it's too bad about their rep towards POC. Maybe we can get a Waffle House up here! I mean, if Krispy Kreme can make it...

The place I miss from my wooly uni days—Perkins. They served you your breakfast in a cast iron skillet and had bottomless coffee during finals week. I miss that place. It was very homey, lots of pine green and brown decor. And pine cones. Then again, I also miss Cousins' Subs, of which there are exactly 0 on the East Coast.
posted by droplet at 3:40 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I get being in an unknown area and just needing to eat at a known quantity, but regularly going to chains is just beyond me.

I like chains. I like the low barrier to entry. It's not about money, it's about not having to cope with adapting to multiple new environments. I like the fact that it doesn't trigger my social anxiety to order in a chain where not only is basically everything the same as in ever other restaurant in the chain, but also pretty much the same as every other chain restaurant. I also like eating at local places and Michelin starred restaurants etc etc, but to be honest, quite often all I can cope with is a setting and experience that I don't have to think about or emotionally engage with. This is, certainly, a reflection of issues relating to my mental health problems and my disability, but I think for a lot of people it's a reflection of their social experiences and their feeling that at least no-one in a chain is going to look down on them for their choice of eatery or what and how they order and eat.

There are lots of reasons that people use chain restaurants, and not a single one of those is that they're dumb or can't taste properly.
posted by howfar at 3:45 PM on December 15, 2017 [28 favorites]


Nothing in the world can compare to Waffle House ...
posted by mfoight at 3:47 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perkins. Oh yeah, we have them here. Great pies.
posted by Splunge at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Nothing in the world can compare to Waffle House ...


Last time I was in a Waffle House was on a trip to Austin last spring. It was the only restaurant I could easily walk to from my hotel room. Right after I got my food a massive grease fire broke out in the kitchen because the last shift didn't clean things properly. They almost had to close the restaurant, not because of kitchen damage, but because they used all their salt putting out the fire.

My hash browns were delicious.
posted by mikesch at 3:55 PM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


For a chain, they truly do a pretty good job with Southern cuisine. Especially the staples such as biscuits, fried catfish and chicken and dumplings.

Cracker Barrel is the only place I know (within an eight hundred mile radius) where I can GET fried okra, and chicken and dumplings, that taste *vaguely* like my grandmother's. But dear lord, do I wish I knew of other places, because Cracker Barrel is not... my ideal dining locale, let us say.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 3:57 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nothing in the world can compare to Waffle House

I went to a Waffle House in Ohio on a recent road trip and had probably the worst meal in recent memory (the other contender being at Applebee's). I had high hopes for the hash browns, but was served a greasy, limp pile of shredded potatoes with a sad half-melted square of American cheese on top. I remember liking Waffle House many years ago, so I'm not sure if their standards went down or I went to the wrong one or I cought them on an off night or what.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:09 PM on December 15, 2017


I'll never forget the day I was at a meeting and four of us wanted to discuss something, so we crossed the parking lot to eat at Applebees, a place none of us was familiar with. We all examined the menu, and none of us could find anything we could... eat. So we had beer.

I would rather gamble on a dodgy diner than any of these.
posted by acrasis at 4:10 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]




the example that immediately jumps to mind for the Boston area is Legal Sea Foods.

I always thought of Legal Sea Foods as a Washington DC place.

Anyway, this is basically in order with regards to Chain Restaurants I Can Actually Eat At As A Sufferer Of IBS. Anything below #4 and I know I will be eating nothing but a sad iceberg lettuce salad, because everything else is a) overly processed, and/or b) covered in heavy amounts of sauce. Cracker Barrel, Denny's, and Olive Garden offer salads and sandwiches and vegetables and everything! I don't think I've ever been to a Texas Roadhouse, though.

The exception is IHOP, which I can usually safely eat at but it's either going to be just passable or hugely disappointing. This also accurately describes their coffee - I have had the worst coffee of my life at an IHOP, but also some surprisingly-okay coffee.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:25 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I found this article to be fun, and I knew I'd find plenty of chain hate in the mefi thread about it.

I agree with howfar. I have eaten at many of the top fine dining restaurants in the country, and I am happy to eat at fancy or adventurous places quite regularly. But sometimes I just want something easy, decent, and low-stress. Chains reliably provide that. Despite the hyperbole, most chain food is not disgusting. No, it's not the same as Le Bern or Franklin Barbecue or n/naka. But a lot of it is perfectly fine. Not every meal has to be a life changing experience, and I don't always want to spend an hour on Yelp figuring out where the better place is (or planning 2 months ahead to get a reservation, or waiting an hour for a table at the hot new spot that doesn't even take reservations because that's so bourgeois).
posted by primethyme at 4:27 PM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


Are Black Eyed Pea Restaurants still around? I haven't seen one in Houston in ages. They were my first experience with a proper "sit down" chain other than pizza or drive through, and I always enjoyed eating there. I didn't go often, because there was always a long line, which was another new experience for me. This was over thirty years ago, though.
posted by Beholder at 4:39 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


In my day to day I don't go to many chains. However, when visiting family, or I'm on someone else's dime, I'm happy to eat wherever. For my money the best of these have been breakfast related (IHOP, etc) while my experiences with Cracker Barrel have been sub-par. I recently went to Chili's (after promising never to eat there after a bad experience) and was happily surprised that the food wasn't nearly as bad as it had been before.
As to Waffle House, went to one in Amarillo (I think) a few years back on my way to a music fest in Austin. It was maybe 2 am and it was just what the doctor ordered. The food wasn't memorable (I couldn't tell you what I ate) but the place was. And the coffee was nearly good enough to keep me awake for the rest of the drive.
posted by evilDoug at 5:19 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I always thought of Legal Sea Foods as a Washington DC place.

There's one Legal Sea Foods in DC and 26 in MA
posted by jeremias at 5:20 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Our little town has been submerged by Dallas moving east, which means we've gone from 6 locally owned little tiny restaurants and a Sonic drive in to a metric fuckton of commuters, and the sudden sprouting of chain places everywhere. And they seem to be kind of universally meh. Like, we went to the Chilis, and the server pointed us at a computer on the table and told us that's where we should order. And the only other time we saw the server was when he dropped off the food. It's a fast food experience with a 20% tip requirement. Hard pass.


On the upside, the 6 locally owned places have grown into almost a dozen locally owned places, and about half of them are reliably good every time, so yay. That said, the day the ihop opened here, I could have wept tears of joy. I mean, it's no waffle house, but damn y'all, there is nothing wrong with a place that will bring you sugar, bacon and coffee all at the same time, 24 hours a day.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:35 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Sure the food rubric's important but for me it's all about, am I going to be subjected to mandatory television in there? Looking at this list I'd probably only choose these five
9. IHOP
7. Red Lobster
4. Olive Garden
2. Denny’s
1. Cracker Barrel
Hmmm, maybe not Denny's, and it's been a while since I've done Red Lobster, depends on the location I'm sure but the last time I tried an Applebee's with my parents we made a U-Turn immediately upon entry because so many goddam screens playing the game. Why does everywhere have to be a sports bar now?
posted by Rash at 5:40 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


And yes, I wish we had a local Waffle House, as well. Unlike everywhere else, their's are what I call 'small-grid' waffles, which make up for the lack of healthy options on the menu. And still no TV, last time I was there.
posted by Rash at 5:45 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


There's one Legal Sea Foods in DC and 26 in MA

Legal was founded in Cambridge, even!

I found this article to be fun, and I knew I'd find plenty of chain hate in the mefi thread about it.

Honestly, I don't think there was actually that much "chain hate" at all?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:51 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


FUCK CHILI'S

Denny's and Cracker Barrel over Chili's? Nope.

I like Denny's. You can have Cracker Barrel and the 'publicans that hang out there offended by those gay people that have the temerity to eat there.

FUCK CHILI'S

My son was accosted this past Saturday in the Chili's restroom in Boise, Idaho. He went as happy as rest of the birthday bus gang to get some eats, then left for the restroom. While he was finishing, some drunk asshole came in and cold-cocked him. Knocked him onto the edge of the sink, left him unconscious on the floor, and to add the joy of the season, stomped on his ankle. He'd never even met the guy prior.

When my son came to, and wobbly hobbled out of the restroom, face bloody and shirt disheveled. FUCKING CHILI'S told him HE was making a disturbance and needed to leave or they'd call the police. He was so out of it he couldn't think, so left. Bastards didn't even ask if he was OK or offer to call a cab, LET ALONE an ambulance.

Primary Health wouldn't touch him and told him it was ER only in cases of assault. Police are automatically called. I know there are places the police are jerks, but we have good folks* here in Boise. Fellas heard his story, and said they'd have to confirm the injuries with photos, and did he want to press charges. Cop One took a look at his knuckles, and said, "Man, that sucks, you never even got a swing at him? That, and the shattered ankle, takes it out of the realm of two dudes scuffling in a bar, and into serious assault." He and Cop Two have called several times since Son's surgery, just to say, "Hey, dude, you OK?" Eight screws, a plate, and ten weeks of missed work. It hurts.

Really, really hurts that his grandfather died this week, and Son was hurting so bad he couldn't stay for the full service today.

Yes, there will be lawyers involved.
Yes, everyone I can possibly contact with my meager amount of social media will know exactly what happened and how Chili's really cares about people.
Yes, as soon as this is settled, there will be a report to Yelp, the BBB, and I personally will be getting into some faces as well as writing letters to the CEO.

FUCK CHILI'S and their damn 🌶️🌶️

* Today I was with Mr. BlueHorse heading to the church, and he was driving 60 in a 45 zone, worrying we were going to be late because we had to pick up grand-kids first. Cop stops him. Mr. BlueHorse just looked at him and apologized, "Sorry officer, no excuse, my Father just died and Son is banged up, and I'm kinda not all together today." Cop took him at his word, expressed his sympathy, told him to slow it down and be safe. None of the rigamarole or any jerking around.

We have good people here in Boise, other than the FUCKING USELESS CHILI'S MANAGEMENT

PS Chili's has mediocre food.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [31 favorites]


I like chain food, actually, because we rarely got restaurant food when I was growing up - wholesome, economical food from scratch since we were broke but had the time to cook - and now I live in a city, still don't eat out often but have a wide array of non-chain spots nearby. So chain food is novel and exciting to me - I love Red Lobster, where I eat about twice a year when visiting family. I would absolutely go to Olive Garden but all my friends have either health or strong preferential dietary reasons why it would not work. Probably Perkins and Steak'n'Shake are my favorites, but I have't had either for several years.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've never been to any of these (Canadian). I mostly want to try Cracker Barrel. It looks cozy and I want to eat a cheese biscuit breakfast.

I simply don't relate to any of these because I didn't grow up in America but everytime I return to Canada I have to go to a Swiss Chalet.


Next week I am forcing my family to go to Swiss Chalet with me for the Festive Special. I am PSYCHED. I might even get a sundae.
posted by Stonkle at 6:36 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


humboldt32: "I spent my High School days and nights at Chili's Cupertino back before Chili's was what it is now. I don't know how many nights we spent eating free chips and salsa and free refill Cokes."

I spent my High School Friday/Saturday nights at Beefsteak Charlie's, all the beer, wine or sangria you could drink (if you ordered an entree) and all the shrimp and salad you could eat (with an entree). Telling an 18 yo boy, a legal drinker, that if you order a burger or steak you can drink beer all night long was/is insane of that place. Even if you ordered an entree and never ate it, with all the beer we were drinking for "free" we would have come out ahead of going to the neighborhood bar.

My first girlfriend became my first girlfriend after a night of drinking at Charlie's and then awkwardly sucking face in the back seat of my friend's Trans Am. Oh how I miss the 70s!

What I imagine for the teens, is that in states where there are legal dispensaries, that within a block but hopefully next door there is an IHOP or joint (pun intended) that serves cheap stoner breakfast food.
posted by AugustWest at 6:42 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


The IHOP in Harvard Square is an interesting thing.

See, in the Boston area everything shuts early. It's starting to get a little better now, but when I first moved here in '04 and for at least five-six years after that, there was nowhere to eat past midnight. There just wasn't. In fact, due to various regulations, clubs and bars and things generally used to shut at one a.m., with their kitchens closing at midnight. (This has now been extended to two a.m., but there still aren't all-night clubs in this city, and the kitchen hours haven't changed.) If you got in from a late flight through Logan and wanted to grab something on your way home, welp, sucked to be you.

Except for the IHOP. Because IHOP is twenty-four hours and that's part of their whole schtick as a chain, and somehow they got themselves a truly choice piece of real estate in Harvard Square.

... city regulations prohibit restaurants from being open twenty-four hours. Even twenty-four-hour groceries have to have some of their counters closed late at night to comply with the law.

The IHOP figured out what the absolute minimum for compliance is, and consequently, they are the only IHOP I am aware of that is not open round-the-clock. They go dark between 3:15 and 4 a.m. every day.

You'd think this wouldn't be much of a business hit, but their customer base is in fact giant groups of college students going to eat after the bars close, and back when my social life was more Harvard-centered there were multiple occasions when a group I was in tried to go to IHOP and it was shut. On particularly balmy summer nights there are sometimes lines outside waiting for the doors to unlock again.

The food is unreservedly terrible, but at 4 a.m., who cares?
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I am surprised that a place like PF Changs was not on the list. If you add their sub, Pei Wei, I would think they were a top grossing chain.
posted by AugustWest at 6:55 PM on December 15, 2017


Another nice thing about chains is that they're generally very child-friendly, and sometimes I want to eat something someone else cooked without having to find a babysitter. And the way you teach children to be able to eat a "nice" restaurant is by taking them to family places and teaching them to behave like civilized humans.

There are always local places that are great with children, but it takes some time to find them (and they often have more limited hours than the chains). If I go to a Chili's, my kids aren't going to get a stink-eye for being children, they have a nice kids' menu, the wait staff are always trained on catering to families with children and appear with extra napkins and remember to put hot plates where the baby can't reach and so on, and nobody's real fussed if the kids drop food on the floor or spill their drinks.

And since my kids have plenty of practice from chain restaurants (and our local diner), I can now fairly reliably take them somewhere nicer (as long as it takes reservations and I time it well so they aren't waiting forever for their food) and they can pick something from the menu and order politely and eat like fairly reasonable humans who know how utensils work.

"I like chain food, actually, because we rarely got restaurant food when I was growing up - wholesome, economical food from scratch since we were broke but had the time to cook - ... So chain food is novel and exciting to me - "

Yeah, I'm similar. It was a big, rare treat growing up, so it still tastes like a special occasion to have an Applebee's burger or whatever. There are better burgers, but those don't taste like childhood memories!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


Whopperburger was noted for fast service, and in a few minutes the waitress set down the Quimbys’ dinners: a hamburger and French fries for Ramona, a cheeseburger and French fries for Beezus and her mother, and hamburgers with chili for her father.

Ramona bit into her hamburger. Bliss. Warm, soft, juicy, tart with relish. Juice dribbled down her chin. She noticed her mother start say something and change her mind. Ramona caught the dribble with her paper napkin before it reached her collar. The French fries – crisp on the outside, mealy on the inside—tasted better than anything Ramona had ever eaten.
posted by Stonkle at 7:18 PM on December 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


Oh, Swiss Chalet in Canada. They have a funny rather crisp style of chicken that isn't to my taste. Otherwise they're fine.
posted by ovvl at 7:41 PM on December 15, 2017


Stonkie, thank you so much for quoting that passage, which has stuck with me, too, ever since I read the Ramona books when I was a kid.

The Quimby family is going through some stressful times, financially. They're scrimping. They go to a hairdresser school to get cheap haircuts for the kids. And then one night everyone comes home and they realize no one plugged in the Crockpot that morning, so dinner's not ready. And the parents make a snap decision that, despite it being a little more than they can comfortably afford right now, they're gonna go to Whopperburger and have a fun relaxing tasty meal.

I still think about that, when I think about the comfort of fast food and fast casual dining.
posted by brainwane at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


A friend converted to Judiasm as an adult and started practicing what she called Kosher-lite. Kosher-lite, as my friend defined it, entailed following the major dietary tenets, like avoiding traif, but did not require her to, say, double up on dishwashers and sinks. Kosher-lite also meant she could eat whatever was offered when a guest at other people's homes. And once a year she treated herself to her favorite sandwich: a BLT at Cracker Barrel. It was that good.

I confess to a certain fondness for BWW's Asian Zing wings; it may be because it's the first place I ever tried wings, having reached adulthood oblivious to their charms (ribs too, an omission since rectified). However, food quality and quantity varies immensely from location to location, although they're all loud and dark. Service is annoying; for example, the servers who take your order don't follow any kind of pattern vis-a-vis how they write down the information, so the food runners have no idea where each item goes. And, for some reason, none of them manage to bring you your check in a timely manner, forcing you to find the manager and beg and, when that fails, to threaten to walk the check. Nonetheless, BWW is great for people trying to follow keto diets while on the road and it's nice that you can split your order and have two different sauces.

My late father-in-law lived to triple digits but only ate out at three restaurants, all chains: Steak and Ale ("the salad bar place"), Texas Road House ("the peanuts on the floor place") and Red Lobster ("the good martini place"). Mr. Carmicha and I were thoroughly sick of all three, but recently circumstances conspired to find us at a Red Lobster (plus one to the crab recommendation) and we were overwhelmed by nostalgia.

By the way, there's a Red Lobster next door to the Apollo Theatre, which is a real shame.
posted by carmicha at 8:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ok, I'm a food snob, or just generally a snob but a couple years ago a friend wanted to go see Chappie and for some reason he decided pick the Mall of America cinemas outside of Minneapolis. I've only been to the MOA a few times because of the aforementioned snobbiness. Anyway, he picked a chain restaurant/bar none of us have been to called Dick's Last Resort. It's in the bad section of MOA - yes, there is a bad section. And apparently the whole schtick with this place is that they serve you bad food while being incredibly rude and obnoxious. That is actually a thing. For some reason it was packed with people being made to wear paper hats and mocked. I am still confused about this. Its like BDSM for middle-America.

Maybe someone can explain the appeal.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:37 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Unrelated to anything important, a few days ago I learned that Arby's has a secret menu, and on that menu is something called the "Meat Mountain" which is basically one of everything that had a face crammed into a bun. And of course I went and google image searched this term "Meat Mountain" I think I spent about five minutes just laughing at how absurd it really was.

But also finding myself kind of hungry and searching for where the nearest Arby's might be, and, well, there has to be a German compound word that describes the odd feeling of laughing at something ridiculous and obviously not ok and yet still wanting to shove that ridiculous thing in your face.

And, well, the experience could probably be easily replicated by simply eating an entire pack of hot dogs, or two.

More importantly, Meat Mountain is actually a place, a small summit somewhere in North Slope, Alaska.
posted by loquacious at 8:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm old enough to remember when you could smoke in a Denny's basically everywhere. And therefore it was of course the default place for a bunch of suburban goth and punk kids to hang out at all night, chain smoking and drinking awful coffee until dawn. My local Denny's even had a full bar in the back, an exceptionally dark and dingy looking tavern stuck somewhere between the bad end of an old bowling alley and the reassuring corporate beige of the 80s.

I don't think I'll ever be able to walk into a Denny's for the rest of my life without suddenly craving a clove cigarette or catching a psychosomatic whiff of second hand smoke.

At the time I always wondered how they put up with us and the roving band of weirdos that'd pile 10-12 deep in a booth that'd never end all night, with who knows how many split/individual checks for little more than an endless cup of coffee or maybe a greasy sandwich.

In retrospect, though, we were the only people there spending any money at all during those kinds of hours. Heck, even most of the servers and staff came from the same pool of night owls, stoners and weirdos, so we at least brought in some easy tip money and kept them from getting too bored.
posted by loquacious at 9:07 PM on December 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Also, I'm old enough to remember when you could smoke in a Denny's basically everywhere. And therefore it was of course the default place for a bunch of suburban goth and punk kids to hang out at all night, chain smoking and drinking awful coffee until dawn.

Our high school split into late-night places based on nerdy affiliations. IHOP was for the drama geeks, and yes everyone smoked until late after the shows. The band kids went to Shoney's. Once everyone went away to college, we realized that Waffle House was way better.
posted by lazuli at 9:22 PM on December 15, 2017


" And apparently the whole schtick with this place is that they serve you bad food while being incredibly rude and obnoxious. That is actually a thing. For some reason it was packed with people being made to wear paper hats and mocked. I am still confused about this. Its like BDSM for middle-America. Maybe someone can explain the appeal."

These are wildly popular with foreign tourists to the US. Since the stereotype about Americans (especially in service jobs) is that they're over-friendly to the point of obnoxiousness, I'm not totally sure what's so "American" about a rude restaurant, but tourists love them.

The late lamented Ed Debevic's is the classic of the form. (I don't know exactly what's fun about it, but nevertheless it was fun.) It's important they have a real Americana vibe for the tourists ... Ed's was a 50s diner, I think Dick's is a "rowdy roadhouse" idea?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's interesting that so many of you don't have these nearby. I live in a medium-density residential area in the middle of a city (Milwaukee) and most of these are under five miles from my house. The rest are between 7 and 13 miles away.

The only one I ever go to is Applebee's, because of the cheap drinks and the fact that I can just walk home if necessary. I know I've eaten there in the past year but I can't remember a single thing I had. The reviewer is correct that Cracker Barrel is the best of the bunch, and if that were the same distance as Applebee's, I'd gain a lot of weight. Sadly, it's the furthest away from me at 13 miles, and it's not good enough to merit driving that far just for dinner.
posted by AFABulous at 9:37 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Waffle House customer in South Carolina cooks his own Texas bacon cheesesteak melt as employee sleeps

[real], for the record, if anyone else thought it was an onion article. dang!
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I went to my first Buffalo Wild Wings recently (in Brooklyn, natch) and I was super pleasantly surprised. Startlingly good wings, and I was there as a guest of someone reviewing it for a literal wing blog. I think it deserves to be several spots up.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:54 PM on December 15, 2017


(There’s also an Applebee’s nearby, which some friends and I really wanna check out soon for some Bad Decision Dollar Long Island Iced Teas)
posted by Itaxpica at 10:55 PM on December 15, 2017


We got a Pei Wei a while back, and I didn't care for it, but my coworkers loved it. We stopped going to any other Chinese place, because we could just go to Pei Wei instead. Then Pei Wei closed and they refused to go to any other Chinese place because it reminded them of how much they missed Pei Wei.

In conclusion, I hate Pei Wei.
posted by ckape at 11:28 PM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


These are wildly popular with foreign tourists to the US. Since the stereotype about Americans (especially in service jobs) is that they're over-friendly to the point of obnoxiousness, I'm not totally sure what's so "American" about a rude restaurant, but tourists love them.

That explains the Faneuil Hall location.

Misc thoughts:

Applebee: "I would like a double maker's mark/rocks." Waitress: "We don't serve doubles" o-kaaay...

Eat n Park: Looked good. Menu reminded me of the old Friendly's chain. They also did a good grilled cheese.

Waffle House: Never been. The ONE time I almost did, the cop in front gave us directions to Denny's. IIRC, it was Asheville after Xmas Jam... #14 in ought-two? When the "Customer makes his own Texas bacon cheesesteak melt" story broke, I did check out that sandwich. I'd eat it.

Center City Philly: There's also an IHOP in Center City Philadelphia, on Walnut Street between Broad and 13th. Back in the 80's/90's after a show at the Spectrum, we rolled up and found the Broad Street Diner. The food was ok, but the horrible lighting gave the gravy for the turkey sandwich a weird color. Subsquently, we would just grab a cold can of coke on the way to the car, and wait until we were over the bridge in Brooklawn.

Which brings me to:

IHOP: I live in Albany, NY. 3 hours to the city, 3 hours to boston. Last time I was on a plane was New Year's day 2000, coming back from WSP's NYE 2K shows in Atlanta. Then 911 changed air-travel, and I've been lucky that with my 11 and 13 year old daughters, it's a one-day road trip to get to WDW. So, the wife and I team-drive for a day. And I've found IHOPs to be very convenient for that "Breakfast Stop". IIRC, they give you a pot of coffee on the table.


" I would rather gamble on a dodgy diner than any of these."

My local diner closes at 3pm, but opens early. Breakfast/Lunch. Officially, Dan's Place II, but we remember before Dan passed on, it was universally referred to by the name from the first location of Dan's Place, "Dirty Dan's Greasy Spoon"

Chilis: (reads BlueHorse's story) OMG, FUCK CHILI'S

Swiss Chalet: Looks good ( /me googles ) RIGHT OVER THE NY/CA BORDER. 4 hours for a meal? No, but it looks worth the ride.


Arby's: I like their Chicken Cordon Bleu and curly fries, but too filling these days for me.

Buffalo Wild Wings: late night after checking into the marriott courtyard next door, walked over. Turns out they don't do the Beef on a Weck thing, so I had a single order of something. Meh.

tl;dr: I got opinions.
posted by mikelieman at 12:28 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I read this before getting out of bed. Can’t believe it made me hungry.
I’ve probably only been to these chains a total of 10 times combined, but I lived in DC for two decades, and I think I’ve been to two of the locations he reviews.
Actually, what it made me hungry for is Hard Times.
posted by MtDewd at 4:03 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


Hard Times? Like our Hard Times here in Minneapolis? If so, you should get out here in the next few years, as I am positive that the university has its eye on that block for conversion to luxury student housing. My understanding is that one older guy owns all that real estate right along there, he's a hippie sympathizer and will never sell...but he won't live forever. The East Bank used to be nice too, but then they basically bulldozed Dinkytown and it's all mini-Target, Starbucks, luxury housing and student restaurants (some of which are not bad, I mean, but it's not what it was)

With sit-down chains, even though they're supposed to be super standard a lot depends on how good the manager is. As I've said elsewhere here, my parents live in a town that has very few independent restaurants, and most of those are sandwich places. Red Lobster is the "nice" restaurant in town, and honestly, it's well run and everything is cooked about as well as you're going to get in that kind of chain. For instance, if you order vegetable sides, they aren't steamed to mush, things aren't over- or under-done, everything arrives at the table hot, sauces may not be what you'd call refined but they are neither runny nor gummy. The place is pleasantly run and the staff are effective. As I say, since chain food is kind of a childhood-nostalgia treat (like Eyebrows describes upthread), I basically like going there.

It turns out that they will also do take-out, which has been a godsend as my mother's health has declined - my dad is my mother's full-time carer, her needs have increased recently and they've gone from having fast food a couple of times a month to probably once a week, or twice in a bad week. It's not thrilling from a health stand-point, but it makes things a lot easier and they eat an absurdly healthy, balanced diet the rest of the time.
posted by Frowner at 5:35 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


There's an interesting fetishization of "local" restaurants and I don't know if it's just that in the dense urban areas that Metafilter probably skews towards there are enough restaurants of all sorts that you have enough of them, period, that plenty are bound to be well-executed. But I've spent much of my life in mid-sized towns (and now live in a rural area bordering on small towns, about 20 minutes from large towns/small cities, and an hour from big cities) and there are a lot of places where the local restaurants aren't that good either. My hometown has a plethora of local pizza joints, unremarkable pub food, mediocre diners, etc. but struggles to get or keep anything even vaguely "foodie worthy." The pizza joints, I'll add, are top-notch, but there's only so much pizza you can eat in one lifetime. The food at the half-dozen local "bar and grille" places is coming off the same Sysco truck as Applebees.
posted by drlith at 6:22 AM on December 16, 2017 [13 favorites]


Since moving from Seattle, I realized I missed a total of five things about it, in order:
  1. my barber (Jared at the Scotch Pine, seriously, he was amazing and I never had a bad haircut from him)
  2. the public transportation.
  3. Mawadda Cafe, a little Mediterranean food place run by an Iraqi expat in Hillman City which had amazing food, including the best shwarma I ever had
  4. Dick's Drive-In
  5. Shari's
Dick's is a burger place that's cheap, fast and good, mostly because the menu is really limited, and Shari's is kind of like Denny's, but PNW-specific and has great pies.

Where I am now in NJ, there's crap for public transportation (which is why we want to move somewhere else in NJ!), and the only fast food places are a BK and a Wawa. There's a pizzaria (this is NJ, after all) and a Chinese restaurant, and a bagel place, and an Italian bakery, and (oddly) a burrito place that is not Taco Hell (apparently a NJ local chain called Bubbakoo's Burritos, which is actually pretty good), but still.

(also, damn, Seattle, why can't you people do decent pizza? I mean, a good chili dog, I can understand why, but pizza? Really?)
posted by mephron at 6:42 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Like our Hard Times here in Minneapolis?

Not exactly. Definitely not vegetarian, at least for me.
This is my model when I make chili. I think I'll make some tonight.
posted by MtDewd at 6:44 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I travel for work and while I've eaten in many really good local restaurants, I've also has some really bad/bland experiences. So despite avoid them at home I've started heading to sit-down chain restaurants when I'm on the road. And they're....okay. Get you in-and-out fast and I haven't had something that was off. But the portions are huge and I have to argue about not getting a to-go box (even when I do take something back to the hotel i never touch it so i just gave up). And trying to "healthy" when you're at a chain restaurant in Ann Arbor or Little Rock is not really an option if you also care about flavour.

One of my weirdest chain restaurant experiences was going to a job-site in Hawaii. I was in the 'burbs, staying in a hotel attached to a brand new mall, and the whole neighbourhood felt more like southern California than anything (driving directions to job site: "take a left at the Costco, if you pass the Target you went too far." I don't begrudge Hawaiians for wanted the same restaurants and stores that the Continental US gets, but having my first night's meal there in a California Pizza Kitchen instead of somewhere more "authentic" made me feel both like a huge tourist and a local somehow.
posted by thecjm at 6:45 AM on December 16, 2017


when you're at a chain restaurant in Ann Arbor

MeMail me next time you're in town, we'll find you a good place to eat.
posted by Preserver at 7:13 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Applebee: "I would like a double maker's mark/rocks." Waitress: "We don't serve doubles" o-kaaay...

I assume they got sick of mopping up Thomas Friedman's vomit and just established a chain-wide ban on doubles.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


MeMail me next time you're in town, we'll find you a good place to eat.

Thanks for the offer. But sometimes when the airlines loses your luggage and you're hungry and tired and your hotel is across the street from Briarwood Mall, you end up eating at Briarwood Mall
posted by thecjm at 7:25 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


We have good people here in Boise, other than the FUCKING USELESS CHILI'S MANAGEMENT

Weirdly, the only chili’s I’ve ever eaten at was in Boise, and while my experience was nothing like your son’s, it was terrible enough to never go to another.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think [BWW] deserves to be several spots up.

In my experience, they have constancy problems, even within the same location from night to night. I've definitely had bad wings there and even at best, it wasn't worth going back to once I stopped working second shift in an area where it was the only place with an open kitchen near my office for my lunch break. The spicy garlic sauce was good on collard greens though.

I hate Pei Wei.

The amount of salt they put in certain dishes is ungodly, even to a salt addict such as myself.

It's interesting that so many of you don't have these nearby. I live in a medium-density residential area in the middle of a city (Milwaukee) and most of these are under five miles from my house.

I suspect some people would be surprised how many of these are nearby them in cities. They're easy to tune out or not notice if they're not interesting to you. I'm in a moderately trendy city increasingly notable for innovative and fancy restaurants and there's at least four chains on the list within a 1 mile radius of my house. There's just very little overlap between the crowd that goes to the interesting ethnic restaurants and farm to table places and micro breweries and $12 hipster cocktail places and them.
posted by Candleman at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2017


"They also did a good grilled cheese."

If there's a food item that's harder to fuck up than a grilled cheese sandwich, I don't know what it is.

Honestly, I'm happy to cop to food snobbiness, so I'll just put mine out there: These places suck.

No, I'm not looking down on the rural folks who live in those areas; I understand they don't have many options, but that doesn't make the crappy food any better. These places are also major contributors to obesity in America. That's not doing any favors for the folks who eat at them.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have them nearby where nearby means around 5 miles. But five miles where I live is a 15-20 minute drive through city streets, onto a highway, off of a highway, and down a congested strip-mall-lined six-lane hellscape road. On the map, they look close. In reality, they're not really. I know where I could go to go to any of these places if I wanted to, I do see them all the time when I go out to the nearest mall (just had to go out there yesterday, the Rockler Woodworking store is in between a Chilis and a Bob Evans). But I'd have to go out of my way. I can go get some Chipotle or Wendy's or take your pick of chain pizza within 5 minutes, though. Oh! Or Bucca di Beppo. That's a whole other class of chain restaurant that I'm not sure what to call. But we've got places like that (also e.g. Tilted Kilt) in the city, for sure.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2017


The thing that people often tout about this kind of chain - the promise of reliability and identical quality no matter where you go - has not been my experience. These places can be decent or terrible depending on the management. The Red Robin near where I lived in Charlotte, NC was always packed, with hour-plus wait times, a license to print money. The Red Robin near where I live in Wellington, FL opened and closed within three years. Every time we went there they got someone's order wrong, sent out cold french fries, had indifferent waitstaff. We kept going because near our house, and easy default option which would serve kid milkshakes, dad burgers, and mom booze. But every time we went we'd say "it's amazing that this place stays open" - and soon enough, it didn't. The big mall in Wellington has also killed a Buca Di Beppo, a Romano's Macaroni Grill, and a Ruby Tuesday's - all places packed to the gills in Charlotte. I have a decent IHOP and a terrible IHOP both within three miles of my house.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:34 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I never eat at Cracker Barrel normally, but coming back from a business trip, there was nothing but chains along the highway, and the idea of warm pancakes on a cold night was irresistible. I actually don't think their bacon is crispy enough, though, so I ordered just pancakes and a drink. And it was amazing and exactly what I needed.

The downside of business travel generally is not being able to eat anywhere but chains; there might be interesting places in town but you're not going to have time to find them. In Houston, I was introduced to a small local chain called Salata was basically Chipotle but for salads. Pretty good when you can't take the smell of fried meat and bland veggies anymore.
posted by emjaybee at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


MtDewd: "Not exactly. Definitely not vegetarian, at least for me.
This is my model when I make chili. I think I'll make some tonight.
"

I used to live in Alexandria, and about every six months, I'd think, "I could go for some Hard Times." And then I would go and never fail to be disappointed.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


"If there's a food item that's harder to fuck up than a grilled cheese sandwich, I don't know what it is."

But not impossible. I can't remember if it was at IHOP or a local diner, but I had a friend order grilled cheese for just that reason, only to have it served with the cheese on the outside.
posted by Akhu at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I assume they got sick of mopping up Thomas Friedman's vomit and just established a chain-wide ban on doubles.

Oh, did he used to write for Applebee's, too?
posted by weed donkey at 9:14 AM on December 16, 2017


I miss Shari's. Shari's is good. It's the sort of chain that feels comforting rather than mechanical.

I had something of a spiritual epiphany while sitting alone in a Shari's, on a Christmas Eve, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a slice of pie. It wasn't the food, or even the restaurant, that caused it, but I'll always have a soft spot for Shari's.
posted by meese at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


When I visit family and friends in Ohio we'll often meet up for lunch at the Olive Garden. The unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks lunch is about $8 and is really good value. The soup, particularly the Zuppa Toscana, is delicious, the salad is fresh and the breadsticks are to absolutely fucking die for. But I've never eaten Olive Garden pasta, as it always looks like a microwaved ready meal to me.

I've only ever eaten at an IHOP once, the one on Northern Boulevard in Queens. It was purely so I could say I'd eaten at The International House of Pancakes. The smallest portion of pancakes you could order was the size of an actual cake. It was like eating an entire Victoria Sandwich for breakfast. Just one pancake would have been more than enough. All I remember of it now is the overwhelming sickliness of the fruit 'compote' and fake cream.
posted by essexjan at 9:20 AM on December 16, 2017


I suspect some people would be surprised how many of these are nearby them in cities. They're easy to tune out or not notice if they're not interesting to you.

I work a few blocks away from an intersection that hosts an Applebees, an IHOP, and a Denny's, as well as a Burger King and maybe an Arby's, and I drive through that intersection multiple times a week, and it took me several years to register that any of those restaurants were there, because I just wasn't looking for them. It's amazing what your eye can skim over sometimes.
posted by lazuli at 9:27 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


There's also a local diner at that intersection that makes an amazing tuna melt but always has Fox News playing on the big tv inside, so I'm conflicted about giving them money.
posted by lazuli at 9:28 AM on December 16, 2017


I vastly prefer Village Inn over either of Denny's or IHOP (though Denny's is the better of those two), if for no other reason than pie. (or carrot cake. they make a really nice carrot cake)

Cracker Barrel getting an A and top billing on this list tells me more than I needed to know about the assumptions behind this list. Cracker Barrel is food for white people that still think Black Pepper is an exotic spice. I'd literally eat at Buffalo Wild Wings before I'd eat at Cracker Barrel, and I've gotten food poisoning from Buffalo Wild Wings.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:08 AM on December 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Texas roadhouse is amazing and when I lived in Connecticut, I would happily drive an hour just to eat a steak there. All of the other restaurants on the list are completely mediocre.
posted by Veritron at 10:10 AM on December 16, 2017


but there's only so much pizza you can eat in one lifetime.

Challenge accepted.
posted by Splunge at 10:26 AM on December 16, 2017 [9 favorites]


Oh, did he used to write for Applebee's, too?

Well, the gag is that, in the early half G.W. Bush era, Friedman's schtick was lecturing the out-of-touch coastal elites about Real America, where Real America is represented solely by people he met at the Applebee's salad bar. He mostly gets his Real America info from (suspiciously white) cab drivers now, though, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that not everyone got the reference.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


So, the list as presented filters out fast food and pizza places. Here, for reference, are the top 25 restaurant chains in order of sales (top 50 list from original source, but it's a slideshow).

1) McDonald’s ($36.4 billion)
2) Starbucks Coffee ($17.9 billion)
3) Subway ($11.3 billion)
4) Taco Bell ($9.4 billion)
5) Burger King ($9.3 billion)
6) Wendy’s ($9.1 billion)
7) Dunkin’ Donuts ($8.2 billion)
8) Chick-fil-A ($7.9 billion)
9) Pizza Hut ($5.8 billion)
10) Domino’s ($5.3 billion)
11) Panera Bread ($4.9 billion)
12) Sonic Drive-In ($4.5 billion)
13) KFC ($4.5 billion)
14) Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar ($4.4 billion)
15) Olive Garden ($3.9 billion)
16) Chipotle Mexican Grill ($3.8 billion)
17) Buffalo Wild Wings ($3.7 billion)
18) Arby’s ($3.7 billion)
19) Little Caesars Pizza ($3.7 billion)
20) Dairy Queen ($3.6 billion)
21) Jack in the Box ($3.5 billion)
22) Chili’s Grill & Bar ($3.5 billion)
23) IHOP ($3.1 billion)
24) Papa John’s Pizza ($2.9 billion)
25) Cracker Barrel Old Country Store ($2.9 billion)

Denny's is 28, Outback is 29, Red Lobster is 31 (right below 7-11), Texas Roadhouse is 32, Waffle House is 46 (between Culver's and Bojangles).
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2017


The soup, particularly the Zuppa Toscana, is delicious

One of my favorite homemade soups is just knockoff Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana. There are a million recipes for it online, but the basics are hot Italian sausage + kale + potatoes, in chicken broth + cream, flavored with garlic + onion + bacon. I usually omit the cream and add white wine, and I often omit the bacon just because the sausage can carry the soup on its own. It's truly excellent. Hell, I kind of want to make it tonight now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:43 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I can't call myself a connoisseur of big chain restaurants, but I get the impression that a lot is dependent on the specific store you're going into

Yeah, in my city we only have three Denny's left, they are in very downmarket areas, and the last one I went into was dirty. I have good memories of Denny's but I avoid them here.

My family is WASA (white anglo saxon agnostic) so Cracker Barrel is not in our tradition at all. I might've been in one once? And was baffled and overwhelmed by all the stuff and got woozy looking for the bathroom because of the visual overload.

The chain restaurant on the list I've been to the most recently is Red Lobster, because of relatives on my husband's side of the family. I had a pretty decent fish and chips there, but I usually order steak or chicken because I mostly hate seafood. Anything I get is edible, not disgusting and about as good as Olive Garden, I would say, but I've sworn off Olive Garden for the past 7 years ago since I got a meal that made me barf.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2017


But not impossible. I can't remember if it was at IHOP or a local diner, but I had a friend order grilled cheese for just that reason, only to have it served with the cheese on the outside.

Man, I had a coworker that took forever to train. Coworker wasn't a dummy and had a degree and stuff, but just wasn't quite cut out for quick food service. And he was forever doing totally weird stoner shit like this in the middle of a shift. There were so many of them that I can't even remember them all now. But they were almost always so much "what?" that anyone on shift would have to come see what he did now.

One of the lesser ones was - upon being reminded that we cut all sandwiches in half for plating - was carrying that instruction blindly over to hot dogs, which, dude, wtf, when have you ever been served a hot dog cut in half, bun and all? You have seen a hot dog, no? You have previously made dozens and dozens of them before this without cutting them in half... but now you're cutting them in half!?

I've also seen him steam milk nice and hot for iced coffee drinks, which works about as well as you'd think. Or doing stuff like piling on all the lettuce and veggies on a sandwich before grilling it.

These mistakes rarely made it to customers on my shifts because I had to constantly check his work on orders, but occasionally they'd make it out, and I knew they'd often be coming right back with something totally weird and wrong with the order. Like, I could feel it with the kitchen eyeballs on the back of my head like "Oh shit, that sandwich combo just went out, and I didn't get a chance to at least look at it, and That Guy made all of it and we're slammed busy, and he's acting extra faded already..."

Point is is that there always seems to be at least one doofus on autopilot in a given kitchen.

This is how those things happen. After 5+ hours of shift and who knows how many dozens or hundreds of custom sandwiches and someone is on autopilot thinking cheese goes outside the sandwich.
posted by loquacious at 12:57 PM on December 16, 2017 [9 favorites]


If you had 3 Waffle Houses equidistant from you, you would not rate them equally.

There's the one I don't go to anymore when I don't want to bring my mood home and it's rather easy to leave it there with someone else and pick up some baubles for being the provoked one. But I know this now: Anybody who bumps into you in that narrow corridor to the restrooms will take offense and try to kill you. You can be silent and flat against the wall and still they come, totally pissed about something else and now you've said nothing and are not flat enough against the wall.

There's the one I go to because the regulars are funny. Snorting dark roast out your nose funny. I like them but there is little care in the food. It's good company but the food is sub-par but it's safe and I am too old to be grappling with pissed-off college boys.

And there is one I go to when I'm hungry because the guy that actually cooks the food gives a shit and comes right up to the table to ask me how he did. He's not just asking, he really wants to know.

Who invented this thing about chains being consistent?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I can't speak to the food quality at Chili's because the last time I was there, I went to the bathroom and found only hand sanitizer where soap should have been. I drank my blue razzleberry margarita ("What flavor margarita do you want?" asked the server. "Just a regular margarita!" I said) and did not touch any of the appetizers my friends ordered.

It might be interesting if we could ever figure out how many cases of "food poisoning" are actually norovirus that spreads via staff and customers touching food after going to the bathroom and using hand sanitizer instead of washing.
posted by witchen at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm remembering a TV interview from like 15 years ago with a guy who wrote a book about trying out the best and worst of various experiences in America. He mentioned going with his son to a Red Lobster, in casual clothes, and getting the stinkeye from folks who had dressed up to go to what was, for them, a fancy meal -- as in, this ain't no damn Denny's.
posted by brainwane at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I find I like the idea of these fast-casual chain restaurants more than I like the actual food. I love the decor (I really do! I also love boring hotel rooms) and the unlimited diet coke. The dishes always sound great, which makes sense because they are engineered to appeal to a pretty broad (at least in the US) palate: salty, sweet, fatty food. And I have a pretty pedestrian palate, I have to admit (I like a lot of different cuisines, but I usually like the most basic thing in any cuisine: pho, pad thai, enchiladas, pasta with marinara, etc).

I live in a neighborhood in Seattle that has actively resisted chains, and though I travel a lot for work, it's usually to city-center areas or overseas, so I don't spend a lot of time in areas with a lot of these chains. So whenever I have a chance to go to one, I get pretty excited. And it's always so disappointing. The food is always too salty, and too fatty, and often tastes just kinda ... stale. The meat is always overcooked and dry. My problem with these places isn't that the food is too bland/white bread, it's that it just isn't that well-made, usually. And it's not even usually cheaper than comparable local places that put more care into the preparation.

Last winter I was in Florida with my mom and her best friend and we discovered that none of us had ever been to Red Lobster, and we all really wanted to try it, so off we went to gorge ourselves with shrimp and lobster and cheddar biscuits. It was all disappointing and we all felt vaguely ill afterwards (salt overdose?). The cheddar biscuits were good though!

Like some others here, I have a real soft spot in my heart for Perkins, probably because there was one down the street from my college and it was the only place open all night. Minnesotans really know how to cook hash browns.

Mawadda Cafe, a little Mediterranean food place run by an Iraqi expat in Hillman City which had amazing food, including the best shwarma I ever had

Ooh, thank you. I have driven by that place hundreds of times, and often idly wondered if it was any good - now I will be sure to check it out.
posted by lunasol at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


the top 25 restaurant chains...
Is Panera fast food?
posted by MtDewd at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2017


Capricorn, the Texas Roadhouse in Bowie (where I live) is pretty decent for a chain place, but it’s often crowded and can be NOISY. My kids love it, and they have some good specials if you can make it there before 6 on a weeknight. They’ve also been very supportive of community organizations, such as our volunteer fire department.
posted by wintermind at 8:22 PM on December 16, 2017


My inlaws go to Dennys everyday. It's ruined the place for me. Visiting and going is an experience I have to prepare for. I find Cracker Barrel to be exceptionally bland, though the store attached is fun. I like the Boston iced tea at Red Lobster, and the peach tea at Olive Garden had a frozen peach (cool) then later a canned frozen peach (still cool) and now is just peach tea like you can get out of one of those Coke Drink-U-Lon 9000 machines (boring).

IHOP is fine for breakfast but I don't really like breakfast food and can't tell the difference from any other similarly priced breakfast place. They are all way overpriced, except Waffle House, but the only notable thing about Waffle House is the jukebox which is filled with songs about breakfast. I'd never go there sober.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:59 PM on December 16, 2017


Related: I enjoyed this book, which is set at a Red Lobster.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:01 PM on December 16, 2017


Is Panera fast food?

The one that I go to certainly isn't even remotely quick.
posted by octothorpe at 5:11 AM on December 17, 2017


I've been to Outback twice. The second time the waiter asked if we'd like to start with a Bloomin' Onion. I said no thanks, my gut's still working on the one I had nine months ago.
posted by booth at 7:15 AM on December 17, 2017


At Panera you order at the counter and you pick up your food and bring it back to your table, so it's fast food in structure even if not in speed.
posted by ckape at 11:21 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Panera is what's called "fast casual." It's self-service or limited-service like fast food, but food is made to order, usually from a broader menu, instead of pre-prepped from a limited and highly automated menu. Cost is between fast food and sit-down casual chains.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:34 PM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I can definitely see (and agree with) Denny’s being rated higher than seemingly “upper scale” Applebees and Chili’s. These type of mid-grade chain restaurants are the ones I try to avoid like the plague. Overpriced for what they are (you definitely get a sense you are paying for the marketing and decor), food isn’t terrible but pricey for a bland, uninteresting, unmemorable meal.

On the other hand, ever had a “Moons Over My Hammy” after a long night at the bars? Pure bliss.
posted by The Gooch at 4:22 PM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think the thing about these restaurants is that it's actually not that hard to find reasonably-priced, not-too-adventurous cuisine that is better than what they serve up in many areas. You don't have to live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, and I'm not talking about fine dining or cuisines that are unusual to the American palette. I mean burgers or pasta or omelettes. The suburb I grew up in had chains; it also had independent restaurants that made similar sorts of food that was priced similarly and was better.

That said "many areas" is not "all areas." As my last comment indicates, there are *some* places where it's basically fast food, fine dining or Chili's. But I've traveled fairly extensively through the US, and in my experience this is not the norm.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:05 PM on December 17, 2017


komara: "I don't really know what my point is. I guess it's to say that this line from the article rings true:

But some of their presumed negatives are also part of their appeal. The promises of speed and sameness can be downright welcome when you’re hungry and near a highway exit, on a business trip in a strange place or home for the holidays.

or at least it rings true for 20-year-old me who would indeed have hopped off the interstate for an O'Charley's, and with glee. Now the thought makes me sad.
"

I remember something I read years ago - maybe Dave Barry? - that people like chains when they're somewhere they don't know because they're reliable. A local place could be wonderful, or it could be awful - with a chain, you KNOW it will be mediocre.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:21 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


The only time I've been to an Outback Steakhouse was when I took an Australian ex-girlfriend to one to see what she'd think of it. She did not think much of it. The only restaurant on this list I've eaten at more than once is Denny's, so I guess that would be my pick?

> Cracker Barrel is food for white people that still think Black Pepper is an exotic spice.

That was my family growing up! I always tell people the hottest spice we had in the house was black pepper (although my dad was fond of putting horseradish on stuff, and I'm pretty sure we also had a bottle of tabasco in the fridge).
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I remember something I read years ago - maybe Dave Barry? - that people like chains when they're somewhere they don't know because they're reliable. A local place could be wonderful, or it could be awful - with a chain, you KNOW it will be mediocre.

If that's why chains work - and I'd buy it - this may be yet another sector that has been "disrupted" by tech. Because today you can look at a local place's Yelp reviews. Yelp ratings are far from perfect, but a good one is a pretty reasonable assurance that a place will not be awful. So you get the potential upside of the local places, with limited exposure to the downside.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Didn't we have a whole big thing here about how obviously all Yelp reviews are 100% lies and if you don't know that you deserve to be pranked and served frozen food?
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:21 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you do a bit of research, you can find places a bit further from the exit.

I rolled up and down I95 in June, and Google Maps was the bomb. 1/2 hour before dinner, use Maps' search to find a local place, not much further from the exit than the baseline choices, with great reviews. Take an hour off for dinner, and enjoy a nice quiet meal... Then fire up "Waiting for Columbus" on the mp3 player and drive on through the night.
posted by mikelieman at 1:59 PM on December 18, 2017


There's also a local diner at that intersection that makes an amazing tuna melt

For me the key is to get the tuna HOT, not just melt the cheese. I bite in, and there's a mouthful of cold tuna in there? Showstopper. IF they did it like that, without me having to ask/beg them, I'd give them my money, but I'd also troll the news.

Not HARD trolling, soft-trolling like

News: Chick-Fil-A opened sunday at hartsfield/jackson to feed people

Me: Oh, their food is overrated, but it's nice to see them give up time with their family on the sabbath to make and give away food to feed the hungry at the airport. Because it would be wrong to take money to provide Christian charity on Sunday, right?
posted by mikelieman at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


> If you do a bit of research, you can find places a bit further from the exit.

A few years ago some friends and I drove from Toronto to Cleveland and on the way down we pulled off I-90 for lunch somewhere; the restaurants in the plaza closest to the exit were three or four chains and a sit-down Mexican restaurant we'd never heard of, so we tried that and sure enough it was some tasty eatin'.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Didn't we have a whole big thing here about how obviously all Yelp reviews are 100% lies and if you don't know that you deserve to be pranked and served frozen food?

That may be sorta true, but in the aggregate I've found that they're accurate-ish (as in, a place with good Yelp reviews will seldom be horrible, though it may or may not be particularly good). This doesn't apply so much outside the US though - in many countries Yelp doesn't seem to be used very widely.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:36 AM on December 19, 2017


I remember something I read years ago - maybe Dave Barry? - that people like chains when they're somewhere they don't know because they're reliable. A local place could be wonderful, or it could be awful - with a chain, you KNOW it will be mediocre

I can understand this viewpoint to an extent. Traveling can be stressful enough; having a predictable meal is one less thing to worry about, I suppose. That said, it is totally foreign to my own way of thinking.

I have to travel constantly for work, all over the U.S. and Canada. If I were to list off all of the places I’ve travelled to in 2017, it would give off the appearance of having had a really exciting year, but the fact is I rarely get to really “see” any of the places I visit beyond the inside of a lot of offices and maybe some hotel conference centers. The one thing I can do to feel like I am having a unique experience in the different places I am visiting is to make sure I have dinner at a local, non-chain restaurant.

Now I agree with the poster upthread who noted that there can be a tendency to “fetishize” mom ‘n’ pop restaurants, as it being “not a chain” is an automatic sign of high quality, when the fact is I’ve had my share of mediocre meals at locally owned places. But I am entirely uninterested in traveling to Boston just to find out what their local Marie Callender’s is like or going to Portland just to try their take on an Applebees.
posted by The Gooch at 9:33 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Panera Bread:

I was there with a former friend who asked they use real mayo on her tuna salad sandwich, not the low-fat, because she’s allergic to olives and it uses olive oil.

And they totally forgot to mention they use the low-fat mayo in the pre-mixed tuna salad, so we ended up at the hospital anyway. not a win.
posted by mephron at 6:03 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm living in a small-ish town and there are more than a few chains I'd prefer over local restaurants. There are some local shops that have been excellent but even with recommendations we frequently leave disappointed. The Asian food here, minus the one excellent Indian place, is laughable. I am happy that a Red Robin is opening locally -- it's the one chain that we didn't have that I missed. I was also introduced to Texas Roadhouse here, which has surpassed Outback (and Longhorn) as my favorite non-fancy steak eating establishment.

I never appreciated Shari's the way it deserves until I left the PNW. I'm sorry, Shari. Had I known I would forever be searching for a high-quality basic breakfast place, I would have treated you with more reverence.
posted by emkelley at 7:17 AM on January 12, 2018


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