Thursday, July 1, 2010

To Chain or Not to Chain

My first week in Kansas has been joyfully busy. I finally got my new bedroom painted, had coffee with an editor (and meeting with three more tomorrow), and enjoyed a Saturday afternoon learning about the sport of curling, though I spent most of the lesson’s first hour falling on my butt! I also got my favorite vanilla Diet Coke at a Sonic drive-in, a chain restaurant I haven’t been to in years since there are only three in New England, none of which are in New Hampshire.

As I was making the drive west, I realized there were many restaurant chains I haven’t been to in a very long time, and some not at all. I had breakfast one morning at Denny’s and dinner another day at Cracker Barrel, both of which were not in my part of New England. And I’ve never been to a Steak n’ Shake, but there are signs for them everywhere!

How do you feel about chain restaurants? It seems that in the “foodie” world, “chain” is a bad word. When I interview restaurant owners, most always point out how their menu selections and business practices are “not like a chain restaurant,” with the implication being that chains are inferior.

Overall I prefer to eat at local places to support the people following the dream of restaurant ownership and keep my money in the community. I like that the menu was created by the chef in the kitchen, often times utilizing local ingredients, instead of at a corporate headquarters. I would rather go to a local Italian restaurant than an Olive Garden, and a local pub instead of T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. However, on the flip side, I do enjoy a quarter pounder with cheese or a chipotle chicken snack wrap from McDonalds, and a salsa roja tortada from Taco Bell. And a local chain restaurant is usually a franchise owned by someone in the area.

To chain or not to chain—that is today’s question. Do you enjoy chain restaurants or avoid them? What are your favorite restaurant chains and what do you order?


  1. Overall, I'd have to agree that I appreciate local restaurants more than chains. However, especially while traveling, the consistency of a chain can be welcomed... you know what a BigMac will taste like, no matter where you are. Occasionally, I find that comforting.
    And, sometimes, the chain will hit upon a product so completely unique that people will seek it out, as in your Sonic example. I get drinks at Sonic (happy hour!) at least twice per week and probably don't appreciate them as much as if I lived in a Sonic-deprived country. Just yesterday, I was telling a friend how much I was craving a Jamba Juice. Unfortunately, there are no Jamba Juice stores in Kansas. And, finally, you are very correct in considering local ingredients... it's difficult to find good seafood in Kansas, but I've had steaks locally that I thought were just ok, but my out of State guests thought they were the best they ever had. So, a person is probably smart to make their food choices with an eye toward the local menu.
    I know I already said "finally," but my last thought is that I am certain I will never find a "Guber Burger" at McD's or the other chains. The only chance to experience something truly unique is by giving the anti-chain a try... sometimes it's a hit, sometimes it's a miss, but it's always an experience to share.
    (Dang, now I want a Guber Burger....)

  2. Schondo, you are so right about not seeing a Guber Burger at McDonalds or any other burger chain. They’re not that daring! Humm, I’m going to be around Sedalia this weekend…wonder if I can squeeze one in!