Olive Garden: Should you really take the whole family?

An Olive Garden house salad. Via Flickr user darktek13.

An Olive Garden house salad. Via Flickr user darktek13.

I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants and eateries, but before any commenters call me a snob, I’ll admit that I can see the appeal.

McDonald’s, Steak ‘n Shake, Waffle House, even Krystal. I get why people go to them. Though the food quality isn’t superb, it’s temptingly inexpensive and quick.

Cheap and fast is one category of chain restaurant that I get it. Sometimes, you want a quick bite that doesn’t cost more than a few dollars.

But then there’s the other category of chain restaurant: fairly expensive. That’s the one I don’t understand.

Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, and the Cheesecake Factory are not the most expensive places out there, but they seem unnecessarily pricey given the quality of the food. When I think of Olive Garden, I think of over-buttered bread and salad drowning in cheese and croutons. Outback has mediocre steak and an overrated fried onion appetizer. Cheesecake Factory, that holy grail of chain food that is honest enough to have “factory” in its name, is all over the map — literally. Its book-like menu has almost every cuisine imaginable.

The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” applies here.

All of this would be forgivable if not for the fact that these menus aren’t dirt cheap like McDonald’s. Take an Olive Garden dinner for two people, according to the chain’s online menu: an appetizer is about $8, an entree hovers around $15, and I’m guessing a typical drink is $2.50. That comes to $43 for two people, and with a 15 percent tip, they just dropped almost $50 for dinner.

These prices are par for this type of chain restaurant. That tab probably won’t lead to house foreclosure, but it’s not a cheap meal either.

I can see why people might go to Olive Garden or Outback if they’re out of town, in unfamiliar territory, and don’t have time to search for a decent restaurant. What I don’t understand is why people at home go to chain restaurants if the food is mediocre yet fairly pricey.

Why not go to a local place that will give better, more interesting food for the price?

It’s a conundrum I can’t quite solve.

Instead of Olive Garden, hungry restaurant-goers could eat at a local Italian place. Instead of getting the chicken tacos at Cheesecake Factory, people could go to a Mexican restaurant.

It wouldn’t be any more expensive, and if you read a few Yelp reviews before you go out, you could reasonably figure out whether a restaurant is good or not.

So, tell me: What is the appeal of pricier chain restaurants?

  1. Thomas Nuffan said:

    mmm…unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks…

      • Thomas Nuffan said:

        Of course as you stated, it is not “top quality” anything and everything, but sometimes you cannot beat all you can eat for less than $8.

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