Why People Eat at Chain Restaurants

I don’t understand the hate heaped on chains and Sysco. All chains are not created equal. If you consider high to low chains vary dramatically. I love Slapfish. Better fish there than I have had at many independent restaurants. Cafe Rio is a great alternative for American style Mexican food.

Filet o fish reaches a different level when you have an extra filet put on. This weekend we headed to the second house. Got there too late to go to anywhere else but the late night fast food chain drive thrus. Went to McD and that double filet o fish hit the spot. The menu hacks they do now allow for some interesting combos.

When you get dropped into some random town late at night, more often than not there’s not a single independent restaurant open. At that hour often the only choices you have are a chain or room service.


Another level of what?

I was just at Chuck Brown Day in DC, and the crowd sets up early with tents and folks cooking their own food. Sometimes it’s just for them, but more often they sell to whoever approaches. I had totally rocking fried fish filets with onions and peppers. It blew me away. I doubt I will ever be able to order one of those fast food fish filet sandwiches ever again. Not that I had any plans, but seriously, I am saving my fried fish calories for that event next year.

Now that I’ve had a chance to think further, as to not totally shit on chains, I’ll admit that I have really enjoyed Bahama Breeze over the years, though I have not been to one since well before Covid. Always enjoyed that their selection was not cookie-cutter, but “different”. I mean, they had a goat curry on their menu (at least of my last visit 3+ years ago. When you walked in, it screamed “Chain!” but the menu is unique. In three visits, I had goat once, [seemingly] fresh fish tacos once, and a lovely chimichurri steak once. They also made great cocktails that did not skimp on the liquor-- their Painkiller was a true Painkiller.

They have 40 locations nationwide while a place like Applebee’s has nearly 1,700. Does that matter quality-wise? I don’t know. Maybe I’m due for a visit. Nearest location is 30 minutes away.


Another vote for Bahama Breeze. When I used to work at conventions in Orlando, chains were pretty much the only option on that part of International Drive. I found BB to be reliably good – far better than the usual suspects in that area, such as TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, Yard House, etc. I admit that’s a low bar, but still…

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If you’re near the Jelly Bean factory, check out La Guagua, good Latin American pastries; must try the coconut pudding.

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Where is that?

ETA found it! Nearer the factory than the Nut Tree, but it’s all “707”!

309 Marina Center, Suisun City, California 94585, United States

I was at a nice winery in the Suisun Valley last week.

BackRoad Vines at Village 360
4949 Suisun Valley Road, South Garden
Fairfield, CA
(707) 759-0185

There is also a new market off of Orchard that I shared about here.

And of course, there are farm stands, here and in Yolo.

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I recently had two restaurant experiences, one at a chain, and one at a “one-off”.

The chain was dine-in at Panera. They had no paper menus. I had to order from a kiosk with a terrible user interface. (Sorry, I repeat myself.) It wanted a cell phone number to text me when my order was ready. I had no cell phone. So it said to take a buzzer. But there were no buzzers there. So it said they would call my name when it was ready. They did, but the music was so loud I couldn’t hear the names well, and ended up making two unnecessary trips to the pick-up window. Then it took three more trips, because they did not have trays, so it was one trip for my meal, one for Mark’s, and one for drinks. Oh, and a fourth trip for butter. The portions were a bit skimpy, and while tasty enough, Mark say the mac and cheese was too rich. At the end we had to bus our own table, and the busing station was piled so high with dirty dishes, it was hard to add ours. (Oh, yes, another two trips.

No, we did not add a tip. For whom? There was no server, and no table clearer. The total for two somewhat small meals was about $20.

The other was an independent Sichuan restaurant were we got take-out. I called and ordered from the paper menu we got the previous time. I showed up, the food was ready, and the extras (fortune cookies, duck sauce, etc.) were in bins at the cash register to take as wanted. We got three main courses, an egg roll, a spring roll, and rice, and got three substantial meals for the two of us. It was $50 before tip, so it was about 15% cheaper per (larger) meal than Panera. (And here I tipped, because unlike Panera, they don’t have a large dine-in crowd, but a server still has to be on duty.)

So why should I pay more for a noisy, inconvenient, smaller meal that (IMHO) did not taste as good?


When I want some good fried shrimp here in New Mexico, I go to Pappadeux’s, a well run chain. If I lived say in Florida, there would be more options for fried shrimp. If I want enchiladas, I always choose local here in New Mexico and there are hundreds of options.
I have friends who love Chic Filet like it’s almost a cult. I’m not a fan of their fried chicken so asked if they hard a vegetarian sandwich. Sure, they said. When we got back to the office, I opened my sandwich which was a slice of tomato and a piece of lettuce!


This has been such an interesting thread, particularly as it has made me think about what a chain is (debates in business can range from 3 to a requirement of at least 20 of same name/concept business), and which ones I eat at and why. And with that, some thoughts about my own choices:

  1. A local bakery chain in Edinburgh will get my custom because the baked goods are really really nice and quite a treat (Twelve Triangles, for anyone interested). I was delighted when they opened a branch in my part of town.
  2. In the same vein, I love Dishoom. And not for the reasons Steve from DC describes (bland, unchallenging–whatever that means since I don’t find it particularly challenging to eat there).
  3. I do pick up a sandwich at Pret-a-Manger, and it is often my go-to when at work in a village where mom and pop options tend to be more bland options although a new bakery-- possibly a chain since it has other locations?-- is proving quite nice for the takeaway option).

It’s really quite situational though. If I were going out for a nice meal, it’s unlikely I’d choose a chain restaurant but then it would depend on the chain (see #2). If I’m out to grab an easy option that is reliable in quality where there are few options, hat’s a reason for going. (Independent/ mom & pop aren’t always great, it depends on the locale and for whom they are catering too.) It is a captive audience thing.

And that leads to the question I think some are addressing here more than anything: Why do people eat at (mediocre) chain restaurants when they are spoiled for delicious choice (according to the knowledge those of us who love food and have scouted areas and done deep dives)?


Excellent points, and a good reminder to myself to think beyond US chains. Nordsee is a pretty good German fish/seafood chain that sells fresh fish & shellfish, as well as fried everything, sandwiches & salads for takeout or ‘dine in’ – it’s pretty bare bones. Their shrimp salad (mixed salad with your dressing of choice & a nice amount of poached shrimp on top)used to be my go-to for work lunches, and their seafood salads were a nice treat for xmas or NYE.

Maredo is an Argentinian steakhouse chain that used to be reliably good, but it’s gone downhill at least a decade ago, although it might depend on the location.

If 3 is the minimum for a business to be considered a chain, then yes, I’ve def been to more chain restaurants/bakeries/cafés than I thought.

I think you are 100% spot on about the mediocrity of most (largeR) chains.

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In this thread i have not called any food bland, but I did say that people have fears of challenging food - by which I mean food that would expand their horizons. Just like people have a really hard time listening to music they are not accustomed to or reading long books or even watching foreign films if they’ve never done it before.

For example, buffalo wings are ubiquitous and certainly not bland. People are more comfortable going to a chain like Buffalo Wild Wings than seeking out the local competition.

It’s the ‘larger’ part that gets tricky. At a certain point, a chain of restaurants becomes much MUCH more of a logistical problem than a culinary one. The quality metric switches from “the best you can manage” to “the least expensive / most convenient while still being acceptable”. If you want 1500 Applebees locations or 10,000 burger joints to all put out CONSISTENT results with widely varying levels of staff knowledge that appeals to the broadest possible audience, you will necessarily rely on manufactured product, automated systems, and dishes that are solidly ‘average’ for the population you serve.

This is in contrast to the local bakery that’s opened up two more stores in other parts of town, where a high level of quality control is still possible and there are specific individuals directly responsible for various bits.


For many Canadians living in the suburbs and mid-sized cities far from Toronto, chains (like Milestones, Moxies, Kelsey’s) are where they might be able to order red curry chicken, poke or pad thai. The chains were the first place I saw fish tacos offered in Canada, outside Toronto. Probably not that authentic, but a little more adventurous than a local mom & pop that serves burgers and greasy spoon breakfasts. It really depends on where you live, in terms of what indies or chains offer.

I had been more of an indie person- and when visiting my cousins west of Edmonton, in suburban sprawl land, the options were indie Chinese Canadian, indie Greek-owned family restaurant serving breakfast, steak, club sandwiches, or the chains you see in most suburbs and mid-sized cities. It was more exciting for cousin to try a new chain, than revisit an old favorite. They still visit the standbys, but it is nice to try something new.

There are so many types of chains now. I’m pretty happy about the Japanese chains that have opened in Canada.

Yup. Ole & Steen is an excellent example of fantastic baked goods in a now multinational chain.

ETA: WOWZAH. More than 100 locations worldwide. Obviously, I’ve not been to all of them, but the one near Bryant Park has been consistently great.

+1 for the double FoF!!!

During the two years I lived in Vancouver, BC, I noticed the McDonald’s touchscreen kiosks easily let you customize your sandwich with the extra fish patty with no hassle.

Since moving back to California, it seems to have disappeared, which means, if I want it, having to talk to a HUMAN (ugh) who probably will not understand what I want and will need to get a manager or something, to the point where I say screw it and go for the 10 piece nuggets instead.

Honest to god, most of the local McD’s in my neighborhood seem to have been hit the hardest by the great Resignation and COVID shift to app ordering. They seem to be down to 1 competent employee per restaurant, and that employee isn’t always on shift.

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The employees at each location make such a difference! I was surprised how good my Filet O’Fish was, from a rural McD’s in Madoc, Ontario, compared to a few experiences at the now closed location at Toronto’s Union Station (captive client base, I think)

I remember stopping at a tiny McD’s in Lake Placid, with 53 other customers ( our busload of travellers ). It took 90 minutes to get our orders out.

My son has autism and lives with other guys who also do. One of them picked Twin Peaks for his birthday. The staff was very friendly and helpful, and the food was extremely good. Plus, as it is a sports bar chain there were half a dozen football games, and every seat could see them all. A great time was had by all. I still wish they let the wait staff dress as they wished.


I am sorry, my friend, but a “double” Filet-O-Fish is, well, just so wrong.

The real beauty of the Filet-O-Fish is the pure synergy created by that mushy soft bun, the perfect smear of sweet tartar sauce, exactly half a slice of American bright yellow cheese, and an oversized squarish fish stick. Throwing another oversized squarish fish stick in the shape of a square would throw off the cosmic synergy that the the great Ronald McDonald intended when it created the sandwich on the 8th day of the week.

Now, if we were to add a hash brown in there … well, the great Ronald would smile upon us all.


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Well then, in news that will REALLY bunch up your intimate apparel, I will reveal that I get my FoFs….

… without tartar sauce!!!

Hate it. The little chunks of pickles and vinegar tang turned me right off as a kid, so I grew accustomed to getting it without, and the habit has stuck.

I will not apologize. BK’s slogan was always “Have it your way.” Turns out McD’s would do that too. You just had to ask.

As to the double, the ratio just FINE. Overly sweet under toasted bun? Check. Plastic cheese? Double check. Square slab of salty, not-quite-crispy fishy goodness? Double check. Frozen coke? Check. We’re all good here!


I don’t like tartar sauce, either.
Lemon or vinegar on my battered/breaded fish.

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