Death of the Chain Restaurant – No, I’m not a “Hipster”

I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, where typical big name chain restaurants are in abundance. These days (and for the last six years), I live less than two miles from the center of downtown St. Paul, where it’s pretty difficult to find a national chain other than fast food. I’d have to drive back into the suburbs to eat at a TGI Fridays, Chili’s or Olive Garden.

I LOVE to eat out. In fact, it’s probably what I spend more money on than anything else (well, other than cigarettes, but don’t worry. There’s an “I Quit” post not too far in the future. *sigh*). I don’t try new places often, probably because I am a creature of habit, and once I’ve found something I love it’s comfortable to keep going back. There’s a small ring of three or four places I frequent because of the good food, comfort factor and decent service… but none of them are chains. I realize that ragging on chain restaurants will make a few of you think I’m some sort of “hipster.” I assure you, that could not be further from the truth. I don’t drink PBR, own a pair of aviator glasses, or smoke American Spirits.

This weekend, I was willing to accept some adventure when my husband suggested a place he had recently checked out called Ward 6. What really caught my attention was his mention of “adult milkshakes.” Haha… no. Your dessert doesn’t come with sex toys, but this little gem on St. Paul’s east side crafts an excellent combination of ice cream and alcohol. The menu was small, but I’m ok with that when your offerings include poutine, lemon parmesan risotto, and a burger delicately placed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. In addition, they had a list of fun cocktails (not all of them were “girly”) and the service was great. If the waitress can’t give a menu recommendation, you’re in the wrong place.

And this is why I rarely find myself a patron of the following establishments:

Dennys

Nope. I don’t ever recall entering this establishment sober either. In fact, it would seem there is a prerequisite of either being drunk or elderly in order to enter the building. God forbid you end up here on a Tuesday, when kids eat free. Nothing makes an already questionable dining decision more enjoyable than having a random four-year old crawl under your table. Everything on the menu is one Grand Slam after another, or the latest gimmick advertised. Seriously, WTF is a Hobbit Meal? The last time I went in here I remember being seated, but having to wait for menus because they had run out. That was at least ten years ago. I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d find myself in a Denny’s again. Even after six beers, I know the result will be a toilet full of regret a few hours later.

OCB

Buffets are a hit or miss. OCB is ALWAYS a disaster. Last time I found myself here was during an epic hang-over midway through my college years. I recall picking over the selections, wondering if perhaps I could concoct a bloody mary out of the pickles and olives in the salad bar and the fifth of vodka in my trunk. Maybe that’s what they need to bring to the table. If OCB stayed open late and served booze, I guarantee a bunch of college kids would pack this all-you-can-eat dumpster and consume mass amounts of gelatinous mac & cheese. Instead, I keep seeing advertisements as to how they’ve “improved” their menu in an effort to bring in new clientele. I’m sure if I walked into OCB again, I’d still be confused as to whether it’s a buffet or a diabetic support group.

Ruby TuesdayApplebee'sTGI-Friday-Logo

Is there a difference between these three places? They all have the same shitty burger/salad/pasta selections. They try to revamp their menus by adding something they consider “exotic”… like putting pineapple on a burger, or strawberries in a salad. Then, they advertise the hell out of their “original” creation like it’s never been done before. The number of Applebee’s have drastically diminished in recent years, and I only know of one Ruby Tuesday within driving distance. There still seems to be a large quantity of TGI Friday’s in my area, but I’m still leery every time I order a drink… after that debacle in which they were busted for passing off low-end booze as top shelf liquor (you can read that story here).

logo_Red_Lobster

Here is where everyone makes the Cheddar Bay Biscuit argument. Did you know that you can buy those in the grocery store and make them at home? Now you don’t have to eat sub-par seafood to get your biscuit fix. I must admit, the “Endless Shrimp” promotion is a guilty pleasure of mine. What really grinds my gears is getting your check and realizing that the shitty margarita you ordered was $9, yet you somehow managed to drink three of them. The service is always slow here too (at least at the location near me). The last time I was in here, it wasn’t at all busy, yet I only saw my waitress once after someone else brought our food. Maybe she was trying to help me avoid ordering another shitty margarita.

chili-large-logo

This place has electronic devices secured to all of it’s tables. While these things allow you to play games on them (I think you have to pay, although I’m not sure), I happened to notice that the device allows you to pay your bill as well. This is probably a good thing for a place like Chili’s, since their service is almost as lacking as their boring menu. In fact, I read an article recently that focused on Chili’s and other similar establishments using tablet computers to essentially replace the wait staff. I’m sure this is in an effort to streamline their operation, but it won’t be long before a Cylon is mixing your watered down six-ounce margarita and spilling it in your lap instead of a pregnant seventeen year old. At least the margaritas are 2-for-1.

It’s not like I’m saying I hate these places (well, except for Denny’s and OCB), but I only end up at any of the above mentioned when I’m out with my suburban living family members. It won’t be long before at least one of these chains end up going the way of other failures like Don Pablo’s, Bennigan’s, and Ground Round. And when was the last time you saw one of those?