Lunchtime poll – the consistency of chains
January 27th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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Yesterday the New York Times Diners Journal's daily "What We’re Reading" post (with which we are ridiculously obsessed and over which we weep when we [frequently] don't make the cut) pointed us to a 2009 (but new to us) video on Americans’ perceptions of the chain restaurant industry.

The National Retail Foundation and partnered with to ask consumers to sum up what they like about national chains like T.G.I. Friday's, Chili's, Panera Bread and Cracker Barrel. Their overwhelmingly consistent response? Consistency - as manifested in atmosphere, service, menu items, pricing and even uniformity in food size.

We get it. We totally do. Sometimes we're out on the road, low blood sugared, beset with ennui - something's gone awry, and we just wanna get fed with no major surprises. There are even a few items (helloooooo Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit!) for which we beeline when we're in geographical range. But beyond that, in many ways consistency is rather the antithesis of what we're looking for when we spend our money to dine out. Yes, things should be consistently GOOD, but new choices, flavors, dishes, cuisines and ingredients - that's thoroughly linked to our love of the non-chain places.

Previously - Poll: Maintenance meals

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Filed under: Buzz • Casual • Chain • Lunchtime Poll • Restaurants

soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. Thinking things through

    I refuse to eat at most chains unless I am dragged there (and there are a few I will never eat at, even if dragged). Basically because the food is consistently BAD. I stopped allowing myself to be dragged to McDonalds over 20 years ago, well before I considered any health concerns, simply because I disliked everything on the menu.

    The one exception to my rule is Panera's Bread, and now that I have discovered their hidden menu for later in the day, I'm glad to patronize them when in a rush to various places. (I also eat a few non-hidden items, and enjoy them.)

    However for the sheer pleasure of dining out, and trying new foods as a part of the travel experience, home grown restaurants are my thing. Yes, certainly you will run into some real bad spots, but with a bit of intelligence and observation, you can find some truly pleasurable winners to dine ate.

    As far as consistency goes, those much touted McD's french fries: Back in the day, I noticed grave inconsistencies between batches - some were soggy, some were hard as rocks (and none of them were anywhere near as good as a good honest and thick steak fry). From watching others eat them today, I don't see that that has changed over the years.

    June 22, 2013 at 10:09 am |
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    June 22, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I'm going to guess your location.

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      June 22, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  3. WKilgore

    I chose OTHER as my reason because my choice to go to a chain restaurant has little to do with anything other than just to eat something different. I have picked up cooking as a hobby when I was 13 years old and have created my own master pieces in the comforts of my own home. I have also found that cooking healthy and on the gourmet level is actually quite simple if you just educate yourself. Often when I take my family out to eat the common remarks from my family are, "Dad, I like your version better." This not only re-enforces my love of cooking but also shows/educates my children on eating healthy at home. So choosing a chain restaurant for dinner is just something we do for fun!

    January 29, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Kilgore is the backup center (for now) of the San Francisco 49ers. You just learned something new today.

      June 22, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  4. RabiaDiluvio

    I don't usually go to chain restaurants except when I have my children with me. We find that chain restaurants are consistent enough that I KNOW I will find something for the picky kids to eat and I will find something to make me happy as well.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  5. ajimk

    Reading about people who frequent chains makes me happy I had a dad who would laugh at me if I suggested we go to somewhere like the Olive Garden. I love that I grew up eating locally and eating well.

    January 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  6. cat

    Generally I stay away from chains, but every now and then, I get a craving for a few of them (Chik-Fil-A, Panera Bread, and a few others, like Bonefish Grill –which doesn't seem like a chain). When dining out in my own city–which has a big selection of both chains and local places–I tend to frequent the small, local restaurants, even if I pay a bit more. Usually, the food is better and fresher, and I like the feeling of supporting a family business that's been around for years. But I do certainly understand the consistency of chain restaurants–especially if you have a picky child (or adult) who only eats certain things. Also, if I'm traveling, I'll stop at a chain–but that's usually on the actual drive/airport wait, not when I'm at the destination itself.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  7. Leb

    If I eat at a non locally based chain, it's for one reason... I need something fast, and I don't really care what it is. With the exception of Dairy Queen (I have a Blizzard sweet tooth), I just don't really like fast food or most chains. Local restaurants change their menus by the season (especially those that emphasize organic ingredients), so you're more likely to have a unique dining experience every time.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  8. Manda

    When my family travels we always end up eating at chains like Sonic, Steak & Shake, and Red Lobster. This is because we don't actually get those chains where we live (even though Red Lobster is advertised to us every 3 commercials). Personally, I'm not a huge fan of chains, and would rather try local food....But I'm only 1/4 the vote.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  9. HappyCamper

    I stay away from the chains, there are too many local places with better food, better service, and better prices. In my experience, the local places are far more interested in doing their best to convince customers to return regularly. It's a no-brainer to patronize the local places rather than the chains.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  10. LooneyBin

    Chains are designed solely for creatures of habit. Supporting local business is much better for you and your town. $0.55 of every dollar spent at a local business goes back into the local economy as opposed to $0.15 of every dollar at a corporate business. Restaurants are no exception to the rule. Buy local, eat local, and you'll end up ultimately helping yourself.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jerv

      Ah, very good, thank you for the info.

      January 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • slupdawg

      I like your figures, but where did they come from?

      January 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  11. Wolfpack

    I eat at chains for a change. We normally eat at our favorite places that are local and, more importantly, close to our house. Every now and then it's fun to just go in Chili's, or some place like that, and eat a bunch of fatty appetizers.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Sgt.noneya

    I like chain rest.but HONESTLY there just part of the countrys needs to start from scratch and learn whats its like not to be financially raped everytime you step outside your home.i thinkk we'll be just fine with freakin robin or chilis where A FREAKIN CUP OF COKE IS 2 BUCKS..ripoff

    January 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  13. Jenn

    I like that most chains have nutritional information online. It's easier to eat well when you know how many calories and fats are going into your body.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  14. Worf's Baby Mama

    I was about to make some snobby comment about not eating at chains but I realised that I eat out at chains more often than I think. I don't do places like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, TGIFriday's, etc, because I find the food to be barely one step above fast food restaurants. But I do eat at chains like P.F. Chang's, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and California Pizza Kitchen. I also admit to Chipotle and Chik Fil-a every few months.

    Most of the time when I eat out, it's something local but every now and again I will go to a "high-end" chain or a mid-grade chain that hasn't been beat down on every corner. You find Applebee's and Chili's everywhere, but places like Fogo de Chao don't have that "neighbourhood" feel to it. I try to avoid that, at least.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Jerv@Worf's Baby Mama

      "Senseless Scribbling of an Idiot" Very interesting. Is this for your personal whimsy?

      Where did you get your name from?

      January 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • slupdawg

      Good point. There are some chains that provide excellent food. Compare Ruth's Chis to Aplebee's. Would anyone consider Lidia's a chain because she has a few eponymous restaurants? If so, then the bar set for chains must be raised considerably or divided up qualitatively

      January 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  15. works4aliving

    Chains are not always consistent – depends on where you live and the pool of employees available for hire. That goes for the managers as well as the lowly sandwich-makers!

    January 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
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