I am going to confess something really, really uncool: I genuinely love eating in most chain restaurants.
There was once a time in my childhood when dinner at a chain was how my family celebrated a birthday or someone’s graduation. That’s just what you did. Chains were relatively inexpensive compared to the more hoity-toity restaurants in town, so my parents could feed the whole lot of us — and not worry too much about the noise or mess we would create. My first serious high school boyfriend even took me on a “fancy” date to Olive Garden!
But as an adult, I’ve realized I sincerely like the cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster and the blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse. I like them so much I’d rather get cheesy biscuits for dinner than some hip new place on a food blog that only six people know about. Look, I know the portions are huge and unhealthy and the behavior of corporate chains can put Mom and Pop restaurants out of business. Chains are by no means perfect. I also think there are aspects of chain restaurants that Mom and Pops would do well to emulate — as any cringe-inducing episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” illustrates. After the jump, here are six things I ironically love about eating in chains.
1. No unhappy surprises. The worst part of going out to dinner is when the menu has changed because ramps are in season and they no longer serve that squash tortellini you liked. But you came for the squash tortellini. At a chain, you’re never surprised. The menu is always the same, so I know EXACTLY what I’m getting. I know if I go to an Olive Garden in Boston or Austin, the buttery breadsticks and lukewarm fettuccine alfredo will be exactly the same. It’s strangely comforting.
2. Coupons! I’m broke as a joke, so of course I don’t want to spend a lot of money to go out to eat. There’s always some sort of promotion going on at a chain. Free breadsticks and salad? YES! Half price apps after 10pm? YES. 2 for 1 deals? YES. Don’t even get me started on happy hour.
3. They sing to you. Whether you’re in a Cold Stone Creamery or an Outback Steakhouse, you can count on a waitstaff who will warble “Happy Birthday” while you smile awkwardly and try to avoid eye contact with all the tables around you who start clapping when the song is done. And you’ll get a slice of cake. What’s not to like?
4. Nostalgia. If you grew up in the ‘burbs like me, you probably spent a fair amount of birthday parties at Friendly’s or TJI Fridays. On the rare occasion that I go to one of these restaurants as a grownup — say, with my nieces — I have fond memories of being a kid who thought those big ice cream sundaes were da bomb. (“Da bomb” was how we said “cool” back in the ’90s.)
5. No pretentiousness. Says Winona, “People don’t go to Red Lobster or Applebee’s because it’s hip or cool. You don’t have to worry about a hipster waiter sneering at you for pronouncing something on the menu wrong. Adults can wear bibs without fear of judgment. Chain restaurants are like little pockets of earnestness in an increasingly cynical world.” Co-sign.
6. The portion sizes. A bowl of soup the size of a toilet bowl? A bread stick that could break a window? God bless America!
7. Waitstaff flair. I know that wasn’t the point of “Office Space,” but there something totally endearing about flair.
Do you share my love of chain restaurants (mmm, cheesy biscuits) or are you gagging right now? Share all your feelings in the comments.