Jump to content

Independents Can Learn From the Big Chains?


Recommended Posts

Mildly surprised this wasn't already posted here.  I really enjoyed Tom's piece in today's food section simply because I think he took on a topic others generally don't.

I'm personally not a fan of the big chain restaurants and never go to them because I think they're

- usually unhealthy

- usually not very tasty, interesting or thoughtful in terms of menu and cuisine

- introduce other societal problems ranging from environment and labor to economy and health

That said, I absolutely agree with Tom's thesis: there is much that the better independent restaurants we tend to celebrate here can learn from the likes of Cheesecake Factory, Outback Steakhouse, Applebees and the others.

And, one final point, I've always thought the good/bad restaurant debate when applied to lower cost, "value" eateries like Applebees is a trojan horse.  There are obviously many "good" independent lower cost spots as well--many of them ethnic and we're fortunate to have so many good options here.A

Anyway, I'm interested to learn what others here thought of the article.  Carves out a bit of new ground in food journalism imho.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I read nearly the entire section this morning, something that doesn't happen very often.  The overarching theme seemed to touch on making various food and drink-related options more accessible to everyone, be it restaurant fare, wine, or farmers' market goods.  Maybe an Amazonian shift?  Or too soon to tell? 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good article.  The "next step" for such an article would be to talk about why those places succeed - i.e., what is it about the guests that makes TGI Fridays the #1 chain?

I'll tell you.   And I've said this elsewhere on this site...it isn't any great revelation.  The key is that consistency wins because most people like predicability and will avoid almost ANY unpredictability.

Interestingly, I'll go so far as to hypothesize that this has very little to do with the food itself.  When (if) they cook at home, sometimes the corn is sweet, sometimes not.   They're OK with that and have some tolerance there. The bar isn't super high in the kitchen.   So what predictability do they want?

  • That the staff act a certain way.  Again, not perfect but predictable.  A crumber breaks that (what the %$%& are you doing?) and would make some of them feel uncomfortable, as they don't know how to react in an unpredictable situation...and they're in public.
  • That the words (menu, ads, etc) present an expectation that's then met.  An unknown word doesn't create an expectation, it creates an unpredictable scenario that must be avoided.  ("Kimchi?  Does that still have the head attached?"). 
  • That the process is predictable.  Sit - menus - drink order - food order - refills - dessert - check.  The article mentions the extensive training and the one main key is that it keeps the predictability high.  For example, an "amuse bouche" completely breaks this apart. ("I didn't order this, will it be on my check?  What is amusing about it?  What is it?  Why so little of it?")
  • The purpose of their meal is not...their meal, rather it is the going out.  To meet friends, to dress up, whatever the occasion...the food doesn't matter as there will always be another meal in a few hours.   But there's only one friday night per week, or chance to chat with Aunt Sally, etc.  So our judgement of the TGI Friday's food is a little like providing detailed criticism of the water at the water park.  Who cares?  is the water wet and refreshing?  Yes?  Then you're done and can focus on why you're really there!  Talking about the salinity and pH balance is just stupid.  There's validity in this view for most.  Predicability at places like TGI Friday's supports the reason for their visit - a chat with Aunt Sally or whatever - not the food.

So what makes us different (not better, just different)?  Two things:

1. We have a higher tolerance for unpredictabillity.

2. We have a lower tolerance for quality (defined as nearing the ideal), particularly with the food.

So we'll assume the risk of ridicule if, say, we don't take our shoes off at a restuarant where's that's the norm - in exchange for a chance at a higher quality experience.  We don't see our (possible) faux pas as horrible, rather as a learning experience.   Lots of people would sooner die than be embarrased (or even just appear to be confused or lost) in public.

I'd venture a guess and say many of us act like TGI Friday's patrons in other aspects of our lives.   I go each summer to the Jersey Shore - I could cancel 3 such trips and instead go to some fantastically perfect beach in the South Pacific...but the plane ride might be bumpy, or the language/currency might become an issue.  Or I might not have the right outfits, or I might forget a basic need.   With the Jersey Shore I know precisely what I'm getting and it is just fine.  The perfect beach just isn't worth all that...ever.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I read nearly the entire section this morning, something that doesn't happen very often.  The overarching theme seemed to touch on making various food and drink-related options more accessible to everyone, be it restaurant fare, wine, or farmers' market goods.  Maybe an Amazonian shift?  Or too soon to tell? 

Agreed - I don't think it is too soon to tell per se, rather this has been going on forever.  There was a whole continent with many generations of Europeans, but only one (Columbus and his crew) was eventually willing to sail 'over the edge' into the unknown.

Amazon is a great example of achieving success by removing the unknown.  They could just list products...rather, they provide pictures, allow reviews, suggest like offerings based on past purchases, give rankings....all designed to remove the risk (or perception thereof) of making a buying mistake.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Agreed - I don't think it is too soon to tell per se, rather this has been going on forever.  There was a whole continent with many generations of Europeans, but only one (Columbus and his crew) was eventually willing to sail 'over the edge' into the unknown.

Woah, woah, woah.  I don't dispute your thesis that 'fear of the unknown' may prevent a lot of people from exploring restaurants other than familiar chains, although I think there are a lot of other factors involved, including price and convenience.  But, it is a huge leap from there to disparaging the entire European continent for not 'sailing over the edge.'  There is quite a bit of evidence that the Vikings set out across the oceans well before Columbus.  And, I don't think that 'fear of the unknown' was the biggest factor for those few countries that did not eventually send explorers/colonizers over the high seas.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Woah, woah, woah.  I don't dispute your thesis that 'fear of the unknown' may prevent a lot of people from exploring restaurants other than familiar chains.  But, it is a huge leap from there to disparaging the entire European continent for not 'sailing over the edge.'  There is quite a bit of evidence that the Vikings set out across the oceans well before Columbus. 

Hehehe - I didn't think that would take long to shoot down... :)

The Vikings had an advantage - no Olive Gardens.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't ascribe any seismic shift in the Post's food writing based on this one week.  One of the most common complaints in Tom's chats (although I suspect lots of them are trolls who stumbled their way over from the comments sections on the political blogs) is, "You only ever review this high-falutin' food, when will you review restaurants for REAL AMERICANS!".  Or something like that.

I think this package of articles, and especially TS' contribution, nicely addresses what is a pretty big gap between their coverage and the interests of a not-insignificant portion of their readership.  They lay out what separates the chains from the food they focus on and, more importantly, WHY that is the focus.  The touches about how independent "good restaurants" can learn from the chains is a nice twist, and it softens the overarching message: we don't write about chain food because with very few exceptions it just isn't interesting or dynamic enough.  Column inches about predictable food would be, well, predictable.  I do like the discussion about how chains are feeling the heat and adapting to appear a little less cookie cutter (but in ways that wouldn't drive away their base)

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't ascribe any seismic shift in the Post's food writing based on this one week.  One of the most common complaints in Tom's chats (although I suspect lots of them are trolls who stumbled their way over from the comments sections on the political blogs) is, "You only ever review this high-falutin' food, when will you review restaurants for REAL AMERICANS!".  Or something like that.

And if you've ever had to organize dinner for a large group of people, you'll see the same thing.

I had a bunch of friends coming in from around the country. I was excited to have them try to something new - or at least local - and I kept getting "Why can't we go to Chili's?" and other such questions.

It took me taking the menu from Old Ebbitt and showing them that they'd be paying the same price there as a chain to get them to go. Everybody had fun. Still, it took arm-twisting to get it to happen.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't ascribe any seismic shift in the Post's food writing based on this one week.  One of the most common complaints in Tom's chats (although I suspect lots of them are trolls who stumbled their way over from the comments sections on the political blogs) is, "You only ever review this high-falutin' food, when will you review restaurants for REAL AMERICANS!".  Or something like that. ...

Interesting.  I've never really paid attention to the chats.  :ph34r:

Dave McIntyre's column was particularly interesting this week, discussing how the "wine nerds" make wines feel inaccessible to a lot of people, a point I've tried to make in the past, although he did a much better job of it than I did.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.  I just used "interesting" three times.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

 I just used "interesting" three times. 

Interesting!

And my theory on wine nerds - not having read the article and knowing some reside here - is they are simply a self-justification mechanism.  When you invest a lot of time, you expect a payout - and so the nerds leverage their knowledge/investment to "discover" great wines, drive up the prices of rarities and form a language and culture that require the next person to invest years/decades to understand... and of course, once they do, the cycle continues as their investment of time and money needs to be justified.

There's nothing particularly wrong about this, any more than the rules of a sport are "right" or "wrong" - it is just a subjective way to spend time and money.  A hobby.  And with each hobby, there's usually an elite that the wannabes aspire to.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting!

And my theory on wine nerds - not having read the article and knowing some reside here - is they are simply a self-justification mechanism.  When you invest a lot of time, you expect a payout - and so the nerds leverage their knowledge/investment to "discover" great wines, drive up the prices of rarities and form a language and culture that require the next person to invest years/decades to understand... and of course, once they do, the cycle continues as their investment of time and money needs to be justified.

There's nothing particularly wrong about this, any more than the rules of a sport are "right" or "wrong" - it is just a subjective way to spend time and money.  A hobby.  And with each hobby, there's usually an elite that the wannabes aspire to.

Dave has used an everyman shtick for years while remaining the single biggest "wine nerd" there is (and I don't think he denies it). :)

Here's the article.

It isn't the nerds driving the prices up, btw; it's the label-chasers. The true nerd is still drinking quite nicely under $20.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Dave has used an everyman shtick for years while remaining the single biggest "wine nerd" there is (and I don't think he denies it). :)

Here's the article.

I always enjoy his column, and I think that he is one of those people who genuinely wants more people to understand and enjoy wine, and he makes a concerted effort to see that happen.  An elite who wants more people to join the club, as it were.  Others are more interested in exclusivity, and that slant also shows in their writings.  I guess I like Mr. McIntyre because he doesn't talk out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to helping people learn about better wines.  He walks the walk.  If that's something he does for the sake of boosting readership, I'd prefer to stay in the dark about it.  Thanks.  :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Others are more interested in exclusivity, and that slant also shows in their writings.  

Honestly, the people who are interested in exclusivity tend to be somewhat ... "superficial" in their knowledge. Not always (there are some hardcore, extremely rich, wine snobs out there (many of whom got fucked) who know a *lot* about a limited universe), but usually.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What a scoop.  Little to no consideration though for the absolutely fundamental foundation of chain restaurants and their stock in trade:  nutritional sustenance from food to the masses. (Weight Watcher approved  grilled red herring notwithstanding).  In a time where helmets and seat-belts are mandated, these entities are the premier self-inflicted scourges of humanity.

The $12.69 Applebees appetizer sampler has 2300 essential calories, 150g fat, 45g of saturated fat and a prodigious 6000mg of salt.  Might as well have asbestos, lead, tobacco and bareback promiscuity options.  On the plus side, the chains have enough purchasing power to provide free bread and some are cheeky enough to put salt shakers on the table.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

 bareback promiscuity options. 

Sounds, well, ........interesting.

The key is that consistency wins because most people like predicability and will avoid almost ANY unpredictability.

This is the key to the success of formula chains.  I like to think of it in terms of bell curves.  If you could rate the quality of all independent restaurants along the x axis,  it would run a very wide range, from execrable to divine.  A very broad bell curve.  Do the same thing for formula chains and it is a much narrower curve -- hardly any really good and hardly any really bad, everybody clustered in the middle.  The mean of the chain curve might be higher or lower than the independent curve, but no matter.

Most ordinary people, not being readers of this board or Chowhound nor avid readers of restaurant reviews, correctly perceive that if they patronize an independent they may get a great meal experience but also may get a really bad meal experience.  If they patronize the formula place they know they'll get a decent meal which is good enough for them and, most importantly, it comes with a guarantee of no downside surprises.  That's what formula chains are really offering -- manufactured familiarity if you will, no really bad downside.  That's why they reinforce the familiarity with a consistent look -- same logo, same store design, same uniforms, same menu, etc.  It says "you know there are no surprises here; you're safe."

Link to post
Share on other sites

What a scoop.  Little to no consideration though for the absolutely fundamental foundation of chain restaurants and their stock in trade:  nutritional sustenance from food to the masses. (Weight Watcher approved  grilled red herring notwithstanding).  In a time where helmets and seat-belts are mandated, these entities are the premier self-inflicted scourges of humanity.

The $12.69 Applebees appetizer sampler has 2300 essential calories, 150g fat, 45g of saturated fat and a prodigious 6000mg of salt.  Might as well have asbestos, lead, tobacco and bareback promiscuity options.  On the plus side, the chains have enough purchasing power to provide free bread and some are cheeky enough to put salt shakers on the table.

Most chains are now pretty good about pointing out calorie counts on the menus.

How often do you see that at non-chains?

I remember asking a chef friend of mine a while back for some basic cooking tips...he laughed, and said take the amount of butter and salt that you thing is reasonable, and double it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What a scoop.  Little to no consideration though for the absolutely fundamental foundation of chain restaurants and their stock in trade:  nutritional sustenance from food to the masses. (Weight Watcher approved  grilled red herring notwithstanding).  In a time where helmets and seat-belts are mandated, these entities are the premier self-inflicted scourges of humanity.

The $12.69 Applebees appetizer sampler has 2300 essential calories, 150g fat, 45g of saturated fat and a prodigious 6000mg of salt.  Might as well have asbestos, lead, tobacco and bareback promiscuity options.  On the plus side, the chains have enough purchasing power to provide free bread and some are cheeky enough to put salt shakers on the table.

So he didn't write the article you think he should write? So what? You're not his assignment editor. It's been done to death by others, anyway; hearing from Tom Sietsema on the nutritional issues isn't going to make any difference from anyone who already think he's out of touch with the average diner. And he certainly isn't ignorant of the economies of scale; the bigger point is that independent restaurants could learn some lessons in terms of staff training and ingratiating themselves with diners that cost little but make for a better experience (and yeah, I get that providing a quality bread basket isn't cheap). I would bet that this piece arose from his take-down of La Tagliatelle, when he visited Olive Garden as a point of comparison and found some things to admire.

It took me taking the menu from Old Ebbitt and showing them that they'd be paying the same price there as a chain to get them to go. Everybody had fun. Still, it took arm-twisting to get it to happen.

Of course, Old Ebbitt is part of the Clyde's group, so it qualifies, at least locally, as part of a chain. But I do wonder if some of the local independents or small chains that we love to hate on do in fact pick up on the qualities that Tom highlights in the article. He notes how the GAR group, Matchbox, and a few others, have used the same consultants as the big chains to improve their staff training and operations. Where independents seem to balance out the equation is in providing more personalized service and perks to regular clientele.

Regarding predictablility, I think it's also important to remember that chains often do a better job of handling families than do other independent establishments, and many kids often do better when they're not confronted with the unfamiliar. And when travel involves other stresses and choices--going to funerals or weddings, managing a limited budget, etc.--that predictability can be welcome, one less "choice" one has to make.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

What a scoop.  Little to no consideration though for the absolutely fundamental foundation of chain restaurants and their stock in trade:  nutritional sustenance from food to the masses. (Weight Watcher approved  grilled red herring notwithstanding).  In a time where helmets and seat-belts are mandated, these entities are the premier self-inflicted scourges of humanity.

The $12.69 Applebees appetizer sampler has 2300 essential calories, 150g fat, 45g of saturated fat and a prodigious 6000mg of salt.  Might as well have asbestos, lead, tobacco and bareback promiscuity options.  On the plus side, the chains have enough purchasing power to provide free bread and some are cheeky enough to put salt shakers on the table.

What are the nutritional facts on the "tastings of hams, terrines, and pates" at Range?  Or the "veal sweetbreads, country ham, chanterelle?"  I'd be willing to bet they're pretty high on the calorie, fat, and sodium counts.

I'm no big fan of chains, but I'm also no big fan of the commonly held misconception that eat at an independent equates to eating more healthily.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

 The key is that consistency wins because most people like predicability and will avoid almost ANY unpredictability.

I remember reading (or maybe seeing) a David Chang interivew a year or two ago and when asked what his favorite restaurant was, or what the gold standard in the restaurant was, he said, "Cheesecake Factory".  And he wasn't being sarcastic or snarky.  He went on to describe the great service and the consistancy across the board.......food, service, the facility itself.  He said that he wanted his places to have that consistent level of excellence.

That's the gist of it, my memory may be faulty.

Link to post
Share on other sites

There's something to being a maverick. I get it. The image of the bad boy (sometimes girl) anarchist chef has been ingrained in our zeitgeist by shows like Top Chef and anything Gordon Ramsey/ Anthony Bourdain. But the whole "screw the man, fuck the establishment" comes at a price if you refuse to take advantage of some benchmarking and best practices that are well established.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to revise my earlier statement.

If you ask a 'regular joe' why they don't go to independents, I believe the root answer will be fear.  Fear that they do something wrong that is offensive to another culture, that they are handed a menu (or a waitperson) that they don't understand, that they won't like what's being served, etc.  I bet it is rarely about "quality" in the way we tend to think of it.  

The result is that restaurant chains present a very predictable offering.

Sounds, well, ........interesting.

This is the key to the success of formula chains.  I like to think of it in terms of bell curves.  If you could rate the quality of all independent restaurants along the x axis,  it would run a very wide range, from execrable to divine.  A very broad bell curve.  Do the same thing for formula chains and it is a much narrower curve -- hardly any really good and hardly any really bad, everybody clustered in the middle.  The mean of the chain curve might be higher or lower than the independent curve, but no matter.

Most ordinary people, not being readers of this board or Chowhound nor avid readers of restaurant reviews, correctly perceive that if they patronize an independent they may get a great meal experience but also may get a really bad meal experience.  If they patronize the formula place they know they'll get a decent meal which is good enough for them and, most importantly, it comes with a guarantee of no downside surprises.  That's what formula chains are really offering -- manufactured familiarity if you will, no really bad downside.  That's why they reinforce the familiarity with a consistent look -- same logo, same store design, same uniforms, same menu, etc.  It says "you know there are no surprises here; you're safe."

I agree with all you've said here.  I believe the quality curve (where we tend to focus) is hardly a blip on the average diner's mind when choosing a chain.  And that's not as much because the chain stays in their narrow bell curve (though that helps)...rather that other fears unrelated to the food have a much stronger force.

Of course, Old Ebbitt is part of the Clyde's group, so it qualifies, at least locally, as part of a chain. But I do wonder if some of the local independents or small chains that we love to hate on do in fact pick up on the qualities that Tom highlights in the article. He notes how the GAR group, Matchbox, and a few others, have used the same consultants as the big chains to improve their staff training and operations. Where independents seem to balance out the equation is in providing more personalized service and perks to regular clientele.

Regarding predictablility, I think it's also important to remember that chains often do a better job of handling families than do other independent establishments, and many kids often do better when they're not confronted with the unfamiliar. And when travel involves other stresses and choices--going to funerals or weddings, managing a limited budget, etc.--that predictability can be welcome, one less "choice" one has to make.

Yes to everything - EXCEPT THE PERKS!!

That appeals to us.  Perks do NOT appeal to the average joe diner.   Here's why:

A Perk is something that a diner gets in appreciation of being a regular.  Great - but the average joe diner might see this happen "Hi Bob, sit down, let me get you a sample of our new chowder to start!" and wonder why the other person got this and they didn't.   A fear is coming true for them...they are a 'lesser diner' or maybe they didn't do something right...or whatever.  The common demoninator feeling is that the average joe diner is on the outside and there's an inside.

I'm not saying that an occasional comped drink is bad.   But the chains go to great lengths to ensure all diners are made to feel like they are on the inside, that they are doing exactly the right thing and that all "perks" are available to them.

Perks increase the divide.   They don't minimize it.

I remember reading (or maybe seeing) a David Chang interivew a year or two ago and when asked what his favorite restaurant was, or what the gold standard in the restaurant was, he said, "Cheesecake Factory".  And he wasn't being sarcastic or snarky.  He went on to describe the great service and the consistancy across the board.......food, service, the facility itself.  He said that he wanted his places to have that consistent level of excellence.

That's the gist of it, my memory may be faulty.

I think I read in another recent thread that Don is a big David Chang fan.   Do I have that right?  :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

There's something to being a maverick. I get it. The image of the bad boy (sometimes girl) anarchist chef has been ingrained in our zeitgeist by shows like Top Chef and anything Gordon Ramsey/ Anthony Bourdain. But the whole "screw the man, fuck the establishment" comes at a price if you refuse to take advantage of some benchmarking and best practices that are well established.

There's a market for that too - it is just MUCH smaller. right?   Some places can thrive on bucking the trend, even being somewhat anti-customer (like Chef Vola's in AC).

Eola is an example of how hard it can be.   Great room, great cooking, great staff - but as someone else pointed out - "Eola" sounds a bit like Ebola.  And Offal sounds...awful.   And how many average people know what a tasting menu is, or what to do with one, or what all those things were on the menu?   Not many.  So what was left was the niche of the niche...and sometimes that's not enough.  Maybe other factors caused them to close but...it seems they created such a tiny window for success to begin with.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes to everything - EXCEPT THE PERKS!!

That appeals to us.  Perks do NOT appeal to the average joe diner.   Here's why:

A Perk is something that a diner gets in appreciation of being a regular.  Great - but the average joe diner might see this happen "Hi Bob, sit down, let me get you a sample of our new chowder to start!" and wonder why the other person got this and they didn't.   A fear is coming true for them...they are a 'lesser diner' or maybe they didn't do something right...or whatever.  The common demoninator feeling is that the average joe diner is on the outside and there's an inside.

I'm not saying that an occasional comped drink is bad.   But the chains go to great lengths to ensure all diners are made to feel like they are on the inside, that they are doing exactly the right thing and that all "perks" are available to them.

Perks increase the divide.   They don't minimize it.

I can see your point, but it seems like perks, if done right, are not provided so overtly as to create that divide. The issue has more to do, I think, with a restaurant's understanding of its customer base. The chains cater to a broad base--they're engineered that way!--while the independent may have a more localized customer base, which in turn lends itself to a more personalized service (which is more important to their building loyalty than perks). But there are many of the latter that certainly could learn a thing or two about that sort of "democratic" welcome. The most successful restaurants, chain or independent, are likely those who have a clear understanding of its core customers and consistently meeting their expectations (while remaining sensitive to those outside that core).

I remember reading (or maybe seeing) a David Chang interivew a year or two ago and when asked what his favorite restaurant was, or what the gold standard in the restaurant was, he said, "Cheesecake Factory".  And he wasn't being sarcastic or snarky.  He went on to describe the great service and the consistancy across the board.......food, service, the facility itself.  He said that he wanted his places to have that consistent level of excellence.

That's the gist of it, my memory may be faulty.

I don't recall this, but Atul Gawande did an interesting piece in The New Yorker a year or so ago where he used The Cheesecake Factory as an example of a process of building consistency and quality that could be transferred into providing health care. He cited a salmon entree he found delicious, then went to the company headquarters to see how they developed their dishes and trained their staff. Much of it had to do with repetition, with building a sort of muscle memory, so that their were fewer errors and complaints.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I can see your point, but it seems like perks, if done right, are not provided so overtly as to create that divide. The issue has more to do, I think, with a restaurant's understanding of its customer base. The chains cater to a broad base--they're engineered that way!--while the independent may have a more localized customer base, which in turn lends itself to a more personalized service (which is more important to their building loyalty than perks). But there are many of the latter that certainly could learn a thing or two about that sort of "democratic" welcome. The most successful restaurants, chain or independent, are likely those who have a clear understanding of its core customers and consistently meeting their expectations (while remaining sensitive to those outside that core).

Agreed.

Last summer I went to a beach bar/restaurant on a Friday evening with my wife.  I wore nice shorts and a golf shirt, typical beach wear and the same outfit I'd worn to church the weekend before.  At the door, I was told "no shorts allowed" and turned away.  OK...I've never been to the place, so I went home (a 15 min drive away) and put on long pants and went back.

We get inside and I see maybe 5 to 7 guys, in different groups around the 150 or so customers, in shorts.

Well, F that.  I'll never return.  And I'm pretty sure they don't care that I don't.  And I'm still scratching my head as to what the point of all that was.

Kind of an extreme example but I think smaller independent places can slip over this line unintentionally.   Also unintentionally, chain places don't usually cross this line, as their personnel turns over often and the clientel tends to not be that loyal (or don't want to be treated as loyal - I get stuff from McDonalds drive thru way more often than I should, and the day they acknowledge me directly is the day I know I've crossed a line and need to stop going as often :)  )

Link to post
Share on other sites

When I read this article, the point that I took away from it is that you really can learn from almost anyone/anyplace if you actually get off your high horse for a second.  I already knew this, but it was good for me to reread it, think about it and try to keep it in the forefront of my mind instead of buried somewhere in the back.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What are the nutritional facts on the "tastings of hams, terrines, and pates" at Range?  Or the "veal sweetbreads, country ham, chanterelle?"  I'd be willing to bet they're pretty high on the calorie, fat, and sodium counts.

I'm no big fan of chains, but I'm also no big fan of the commonly held misconception that eat at an independent equates to eating more healthily.

Cured meats and offal are excessive on their own by virtue of their raw physiology, the  not-so-cheap ingredients and the salt needed to process them.  They aren't really meant to be center of the plate sustenance.  Only an unhinged glutton with bloated coffers and a gout fetish would make a complete meal of salted ham, terrines, pátés (for 4 people).

Pork belly rillettes  (100g portion)

Calories 508

Total Fat 53g (19 saturated, 25g monounsaturated)

Sodium  470mg

Hams (30g portion each)

Calories 60g

fat 3g (1g saturated, 2g monounsaturated)

Sodium 500mg

Garlic pork sausage (100g portion)

Calories 230

Fat 16g (5g saturated, 7.8g monounsaturated)

Sodium 642mg

Páté en Croí»te (120g portion)

Calories 404

Fat 24g (5g saturated, 5g monounsaturated)

Sodium 580mg

Sweetbread (4oz portion with 1oz country ham)

Calories 320

Fat 9g (11g saturated, 12g monosaturated)

Sodium 530mg

By comparison, the nutritional values of any 3 of the above combined have better nutrition than most of what is served at the chains and is likely the case with a majority of independent restaurants profiled in this forum. That, I am willing to wager.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

By comparison, the nutritional values of any 3 of the above combined have better nutrition than most of what is served at the chains and is likely the case with a majority of independent restaurants profiled in this forum. That, I am willing to wager.

It is not hard to eat healthily at chain dinnerhouses; most of them have decent things on the menu, e.g. "heart-healthy" selections or just salads and so on, as long as you keep the gloppy dressings on the side and apply them sparingly.  Fast food places, OTOH, not so much; cooking food to inventory leads directly and ineluctably to the fry basket, and in the depths of that oil lies much of the dietary problem this nation has created for itself.  That and the self-serve soda dispenser with its boundless supply of 193 oz. cups.

Often the things that are "bad" for us are also "good" for us.  Liver is cholesterol central, but also about the most nutritionally complete food out there. Milk is also nearly complete, but too much whole milk, cream, cheese, etc., well, we all know that's not such a good idea.

I recall many years ago hearing a story about a British group that tried to come up with the cheapest possible nutritionally complete diet.  They came up with a diet consisting exclusively of kidneys and cabbage.  Think about that.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I recall many years ago hearing a story about a British group that tried to come up with the cheapest possible nutritionally complete diet.  They came up with a diet consisting exclusively of kidneys and cabbage.  Think about that. 

I'd really prefer to think about other things.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
...

I'll tell you.   And I've said this elsewhere on this site...it isn't any great revelation.  The key is that consistency wins because most people like predicability and will avoid almost ANY unpredictability.

...

Was going to reply just to this (^) in partial agreement; basically to say I buy the predictability idea but only as one of a few factors and likely not the dominant one.  But then...

Woah, woah, woah.  I don't dispute your thesis that 'fear of the unknown' may prevent a lot of people from exploring restaurants other than familiar chains, although I think there are a lot of other factors involved, including price and convenience...

....I saw this (^) from LauraB which, when added to the predictability idea, wraps it up well for me.  I think it has mostly to do with pricing and ignorance with the former misunderstood due to the latter.  Ignorance doesn't have to be a judgmental or bad word. It's descriptive.  We're all ignorant of many things to which we haven't been exposed or about which we've never learned.  An appreciation of "good food" and its component parts (fresh ingredients, excellent technique, creative composition, etc, etc.) has to come from somewhere (childhood, college, independent study, whatever).  Without that, Applebees truly is "good."  Again though, pricing is the trojan horse here since it is very much possible to eat well and inexpensively at least relative to chain restaurant pricing.

...The issue has more to do, I think, with a restaurant's understanding of its customer base. The chains cater to a broad base--they're engineered that way!--while the independent may have a more localized customer base, which in turn lends itself to a more personalized service (which is more important to their building loyalty than perks). But there are many of the latter that certainly could learn a thing or two about that sort of "democratic" welcome. The most successful restaurants, chain or independent, are likely those who have a clear understanding of its core customers and consistently meeting their expectations (while remaining sensitive to those outside that core)...

Yep, that's (^) exactly it in one sentence or less.

When I read this article, the point that I took away from it is that you really can learn from almost anyone/anyplace if you actually get off your high horse for a second.  I already knew this, but it was good for me to reread it, think about it and try to keep it in the forefront of my mind instead of buried somewhere in the back.

And, this (^) too--what I originally appreciated about the article in posting it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

....I saw this (^) from LauraB which, when added to the predictability idea, wraps it up well for me.  I think it has mostly to do with pricing and ignorance with the former misunderstood due to the latter.  Ignorance doesn't have to be a judgmental or bad word. It's descriptive.  We're all ignorant of many things to which we haven't been exposed or about which we've never learned.  An appreciation of "good food" and its component parts (fresh ingredients, excellent technique, creative composition, etc, etc.) has to come from somewhere (childhood, college, independent study, whatever).  Without that, Applebees truly is "good."  Again though, pricing is the trojan horse here since it is very much possible to eat well and inexpensively at least relative to chain restaurant pricing.

Sometimes, yes.  There are certainly people who have never been to a great restaurant or had a great meal.

But I disagree that is the case, especially with adults and especially around cities (which is the majority of the US population).

I toss my mother out as an example.  She's been to some of the finest places in DC but her preference is Carraba's or Cheesecake Factory, maybe a Clyde's outlet if she's feeling really fancy.  She'd never pick beyond that if it were exclusively her choice - even if she were hosting other people.  And she could afford the places.   And she knows good food - it just isn't worth "all that" (money, effort, risk, thought)

With all due respect, this notion of "if they could just try it they'd realize how wonderful it is..." just doesn't apply widely.  I've stated why above - it comes down to the things we think are wonderful (novellty, uniqueness, specialty, extravagance, experience, etc, etc) are precisely the things that they want to avoid.

I therefore think ignorance isn't the root here - I think many have at least had a passing aquaintance with fine food and the kinds of places we hold in high regard.  They just aren't interested in living/dining that way.

And like you, I'm not being perjorative here.  They just prefer something else.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

And she could afford the places.   And she knows good food - it just isn't worth "all that" (money, effort, risk, thought)

The article touches on this rather extensively, and I think you can't overlook how much value consciousness plays a role here.  As much or more so than novelty-aversion or other psychological explanations in my opinion.  Chains can offer a LOT of food for a relative bargain.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with friends in college waaaayyyy back when Domino's first started offering their thin crust pizzas.  At the time any style was the same price: thin crust, regular or deep dish.  In the world of Domino's crust options the thin crust was clearly the best tasting one, with the deep dish option the worst by a large margin (this is not debatable :) ).  One friend would ALWAYS order deep dish though.  One night when pressed for why he always made agreeing on an order such a pain in the ass, he said, "Deep dish is such a better value!".  Even though he agreed that the thin crust tasted better, there was no getting over the price-per-pound value that deep dish offered; you could stretch that pie into more meals. Long discussion ensued, but for him it still came down to calories-per-dollar trumping everything else.  I don't think you can easily overlook this mentality among the dining public.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Sometimes, yes.  There are certainly people who have never been to a great restaurant or had a great meal.

But I disagree that is the case, especially with adults and especially around cities (which is the majority of the US population).

I toss my mother out as an example.  She's been to some of the finest places in DC but her preference is Carraba's or Cheesecake Factory, maybe a Clyde's outlet if she's feeling really fancy.  She'd never pick beyond that if it were exclusively her choice - even if she were hosting other people.  And she could afford the places.   And she knows good food - it just isn't worth "all that" (money, effort, risk, thought)

With all due respect, this notion of "if they could just try it they'd realize how wonderful it is..." just doesn't apply widely.  I've stated why above - it comes down to the things we think are wonderful (novellty, uniqueness, specialty, extravagance, experience, etc, etc) are precisely the things that they want to avoid.

I therefore think ignorance isn't the root here - I think many have at least had a passing aquaintance with fine food and the kinds of places we hold in high regard.  They just aren't interested in living/dining that way.

And like you, I'm not being perjorative here.  They just prefer something else.

I wasn't clear.  I'm not at all disagreeing with predicatability as a cause. I just don't think it's dispositive.

My point around ignorance is that it explains why some (never "all") don't appreciate or like better quality food.  Not more expensive restaurants or food.  Simply better, which can be had cheaply or expensively.  To really appreciate--and thus like and prefer--anything, it's not just a matter of being exposed to it ("passing acquaintance").  It's as much about being educated and inspiried. I didn't write what you quoted:  "if they could just try it they'd realize how wonderful it is..." since that's just about exposure and doesn't account for education and inspiration, both things that could easily be 5000 word essays. How we become educated, formally and informally.  Who or what inspires us to act or prefer something. It's a point as relevant to art or sport as to food and wine.

So, pricing (the value point made by a few posters upthread) and appreciation are the two explanations that most capture it for me.  Your predictability comes into play if I don't fully appreciate something.  Then I favor that which I do appreciate because it's consistent, predictable, simple, well priced, whatever. Do I care more about ingredients and technique or about price and familiarity?

Maybe a better conversation had the old fashioned way than through a website.  Especially since it's all subordinate to what one poster above wrote concerning really understanding a "core customer" and meeting/exceeding that customer's expectations.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The article touches on this rather extensively, and I think you can't overlook how much value consciousness plays a role here.  As much or more so than novelty-aversion or other psychological explanations in my opinion.  Chains can offer a LOT of food for a relative bargain.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with friends in college waaaayyyy back when Domino's first started offering their thin crust pizzas.  At the time any style was the same price: thin crust, regular or deep dish.  In the world of Domino's crust options the thin crust was clearly the best tasting one, with the deep dish option the worst by a large margin (this is not debatable :) ).  One friend would ALWAYS order deep dish though.  One night when pressed for why he always made agreeing on an order such a pain in the ass, he said, "Deep dish is such a better value!".  Even though he agreed that the thin crust tasted better, there was no getting over the price-per-pound value that deep dish offered; you could stretch that pie into more meals. Long discussion ensued, but for him it still came down to calories-per-dollar trumping everything else.  I don't think you can easily overlook this mentality among the dining public.

Absolutely. Different strokes and all that.  For those that prioritize calories-per-dollar, they don't prioritize ingredients, creativitiy and technique. Why?  Lots of reasons but, in many cases, it's because they've never learned or been inspired to appreciate the latter.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Sometimes, yes.  There are certainly people who have never been to a great restaurant or had a great meal.

But I disagree that is the case, especially with adults and especially around cities (which is the majority of the US population).

I toss my mother out as an example.  She's been to some of the finest places in DC but her preference is Carraba's or Cheesecake Factory, maybe a Clyde's outlet if she's feeling really fancy.  She'd never pick beyond that if it were exclusively her choice - even if she were hosting other people.  And she could afford the places.   And she knows good food - it just isn't worth "all that" (money, effort, risk, thought)

With all due respect, this notion of "if they could just try it they'd realize how wonderful it is..." just doesn't apply widely.  I've stated why above - it comes down to the things we think are wonderful (novellty, uniqueness, specialty, extravagance, experience, etc, etc) are precisely the things that they want to avoid.

My father was rather set in his ways and particular, but, more often than not, if a friend of his wanted to try a new place and valued it, my father would try it out and often liked it.  This was true of one friend in particular, who probably did more to get my father to expand his food boundaries than anyone.  He's also someone I would term an "opinion leader," in the sense of his opinion of something swaying other people significantly, the kind of person marketers want to get in the door and want to have leave happy.  Independents rely on this kind of word-of-mouth and peer/community approval much more than chains do.  This man always liked to be the one to discover a place and pass that on to other people.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to vote for predictability.  My Dad's parents' favorite restaurant was the Picadilly, a cafeteria-type place.  They wanted to see the food before they chose, and surprises were not appreciated.  I also have spent a bit of time in the field in foreign countries where the post-modern, first-world concept of collecting experiences is uncommon.  As one example of many, when I was in Brazil, we got the same breakfast and lunch every single day, and everyone was always thrilled with the food.  Not, "this is pretty good" happy, but "this is wonderful, wonderful food" happy.  Two of us Americans were sent into town to do the shopping one week, and we decided to mix it up a bit with a different type of bean (black instead of red) and some vegetables including a different variety of squash.  Nobody commented on the food that week, not a single word, and we didn't get sent to the store again.  It's funny in retrospect, but I think we probably terrorized some very nice people with what we considered to be very minor tweaks to the same menu.

Just to go a little further with this argument, consider that fear of the unknown was very likely evolutionarily advantageous in the past when the unknown could be quite dangerous, so selection would favor the more conservative eaters over us crazy people who choose the new and different.  Considering that food is ingested, and an unknown ingested item can, literally, be lethal, it's no wonder food culture is slow moving, and it makes perfect sense that so many people think adventurous eaters are nuts.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...