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Where Will You Be Dining Tonight?

Updated on July 1, 2009

When you dine out, do you eat at a chain restaurant?

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Stuck In A Routine

So, you’re on a family road trip and you’re starving. Your gps informs you that if you get off of the highway at the next exit, you’ll have your choice of several restaurants. As you pull off of the highway, you see a bunch of chains and one family owned eatery. Though you’re intrigued by this restaurant, you decide to play it safe and go to one of the chains. You have just made a bad decision. I will explain why in the following ten reasons.

  1. Familiarity Isn’t Always A Good Thing

    One of your kids is a notoriously picky eater. For some reason, he adores such and such dish from the chain you are now stepping into. As you’ve never tried ordering him the same dish from a different place, you keep going back here. Or let’s say you’ve never been one to stray from a routine. Your family has always gone to this particular restaurant for all special occasions. Now that you have your own family, you still go here because it’s familiar. When you’re on vacation, it is the time to try out different places and push yourself out of your comfort zone. By going to this restaurant, you are just paying a different meal tax for the same thing. While you’re away, dare to be daring. In other words, fight the urge to go to your comfort restaurant and force yourself to give the family owned place up the street a try. You may be surprised at what it’ll do to your taste buds.

  2. Same Seating Chart. Different State.

    Nearly all of the restaurants that I have been to that belong to a particular chain are built the same way. This means that a party of five will always be seated in the same style booth in the same style room regardless of where the restaurant is located. On the other hand, if you go to a non-chain restaurant the hostess is more willing to let you pick where you want to sit. You aren’t automatically placed in the booth in the back because your child may talk too loudly. You are more often than not welcome to sit at that table by the window that your spouse was eyeing from the parking lot if you would like to. At these family run restaurants, there is no district manager that trains hostesses to place people into molds.

  3. Such Service!

    On a related note, I’ve found the service in chain restaurants often leaves something to be desired. As they work in the same environment that you are eating in, they are stressed and the smile they are wearing is probably fake. They usually are working at the restaurant not because they like what the chain stands for, but because it pays the bills. You will find that at a family run restaurant the servers are polite and charming. They are not rushing you out and understand that you may want to linger longer than you probably should. They are usually a member of the owner’s family and understand that bad service reflects badly on the ones they love. For this reason alone, I would pay more to dine at a family run restaurant than a chain restaurant any day of the week.

  4. Is This Food?

    No matter how deeply you wish it, the food that is pictured on the menu of a chain restaurant will never look that way on your plate. The cooking staff is underpaid and either doesn’t have the knowledge or doesn't have the time to prepare your food the way they should. At a family run restaurant, the food may cost more, but it will be worth every penny. The chef takes pride in the food he puts out usually because he owns the restaurant. I rarely leave one of these restaurants regretting that I stopped in.

  5. The Specials Aren’t Special

    When you order the special of the day at any chain restaurant it most likely is beginning served under this same title at every other restaurant in the chain. It is usually made a special and priced more reasonably because the chain is trying out a new item and wants you to be their guinea pig. The same cannot be said of most family run restaurants.

  6. Questionable Clientele

    I do not consider myself to be a snob. However, it is clear that a certain group of people tend to gravitate towards chain restaurants. These people are usually loud and obnoxious. Worse though, they treat their server like a slave. They believe this restaurant to be the best of the best because they have never ventured elsewhere. They wouldn’t think of going to a non-chain establishment because they know they would get tossed out. I realize that not all customers are like this and that such customers do wander into family run restaurants too. Yet, I usually only encounter them at chain restaurants and, once you meet one, you know it right away.

  7. Extreme Wait Time

    As chain restaurants are everywhere and are familiar to nearly everyone, the wait time is unthinkable should you want to dine at one on the weekend. Lucky for people who enjoy non-chains, the wait time is quite a bit shorter. People seem to forget that quality food is an option when chain restaurants are present.

  8. Mysterious Fine Print Of Coupons

    Have you ever gone to a chain restaurant with the purpose of using your 2-4-1 coupon only to find when the bill comes that one of the entrees didn’t qualify? I have the worst luck at chain restaurants. They will have sent me a coupon for something and, when I try to use it, the waitress will call over her manager to inform me that somewhere in the fine print it says that this transaction can’t be completed. It’s so frustrating to eat nasty food only to find out you have to pay for it. Though coupon misunderstandings do take place at family run restaurants too, the owner usually honors the coupon because he/she values your business and has no one to answer to, but themself.

  9. Do You Feel Sick Too?

    Without fail, when I dine at a chain restaurant, I get sick. I don’t know if it’s undercooked food or an unpleasant dining experience, but the bathroom becomes my best friend from digestion on. The same is rarely said of family operated establishments.

  10. Are You SURE You Don’t Want A Drink?

    Though many of the chain restaurants do it, TGI Fridays is the worst. During my college years, the hostess would open the menu to the alcoholic beverages page and make a suggestion. Being that I always had to drive along way home (and because I’m cheap), I rarely ordered a drink. Not to be preachy, but I think these chains, in their lust for money, either are unaware of or don’t care about drunk driving statistics.

As you may surmise, when I’m given a choice between a chain restaurant and a family run one, I always pick the latter. While I do see the price difference between the two types of restaurants, quality is worth a little extra. The next time you’re given a choice, I suggest you try out a local favorite. If you don’t like it, I give you permission to go back to your normal routine.

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