Avoid Chain Restaurants, Mostly!

January 4, 2015

Our daughter is home for the holidays. I use “home” in the broadest sense, for she’s here and there, around and about in Tucson plenty.

A few nights ago there was dinner with some friends. The crew ended up at a local outpost of a popular chain. (No need to name it.) A cocktail, burger and fries came to $30.00, including tax and tip. There was also a 45 minute wait for a table!

Now, this is a beer joint and I saw the mediocre remains of the dinner, in a box in the refrigerator. Burger and fries down the disposal. Wrapper and box in the recycle can.

So I wondered, why do so many people frequent overpriced, average chain restaurants? I have theories, of course, along with some recommendation for better dining.

There is surely the comfort zone that comes with chain dining. If you’re traveling and you want safety, go to a place just like a place you go to at home. Not very interesting, and probably not very good, either, but safe for sure.

Safety aside, the person who looks for a chain restaurant when he or she is traveling probably looks for a chain restaurant at home. And the $30.00 cocktail, burger, and fries came from a place in a mall, in the heart of Tucson, not likely in the path of travelers. So, there must be something more involved here than safety.

I have a question/theory about elections. Digression yes; connection for sure. Who likes the fact that they voted for the person who won the election? And was it because he or she liked the winner, or liked voting for the winner. I have a theory—and no social science “chops”—which says there are many among us who simply want to be on the winning team, whichever team that may be. The team may be better or worse, but it’s the team with a majority of the points/goals/votes.

And the connection with my subject? I think people go to places which are, in their minds, popular. Quality matters very little; if lots of people go there, the place must be good! Long lines generate longer lines, for good reasons or not. Likewise, having voted for the candidate who wins, validates some voters. I’m alright, for the man or woman I voted for was elected.

Some chains do produce good food and good value for sure. Whether we should “go local” always is a separate issue, but this post is not a screed against chains. Those I like include—not an all-inclusive list—Claim Jumper, Fleming’s, Houlihan’s, and the Fox Restaurants chain.

Chains aside, here are a few recommendations for “local” dining. My favorites include Kingfisher and Pastiche. Vivace is a “go to” for special occasions and lunches, and its casual relation Scordato’s Pizzeria makes a great gin martini, fine, pizzas, and very nice salads. My friends at Hacienda del Sol and Zona 78 produce great food, always. Then, of course, there’s Downtown Kitchen, Janos Wilder’s place. (Janos is an exceptional Tucson talent!) There are, of course, many more, and I’ve ignored the entire Mexican food world, which is a world unto itself.

Now, some of my suggestions are not inexpensive. But some are, and while chain restaurants seem cheap, too often by the time I leave I’ve spent a small fortune for lousy food. (I’ll save my Red Lobster in Yuma experience for another day.)

I travel. Not lots, but sometimes. I’ve had great success finding great choices through Chowhound.com. Most posters are informed and interested in making sure I have a great experience, whatever my plans and my budget.

Dollars and time are finite; neither of them should be wasted. Just the other night I had a discussion with someone about eating in San Francisco, and about how it’s a shame not to eat well at every meal. With a bit of effort and energy, this problem can be avoided!


One Response to Avoid Chain Restaurants, Mostly!

Leave a Reply