Last summer, I helped my grandmother sort through all of the bereavement gifts and notes she received after my grandfather died. She opened one sympathy card and pulled out a Longhorn Steakhouse gift card.
“I don’t know where a Longhorn is. Here, you take it,” she said as she handed me the card.
I thanked her as I slid the card in my wallet. I was lowkey excited because this gift card was about to fund several lunch trips to get their signature cheeseburger and garlic parmesan fries I love so much.
Unlike most self-proclaimed food lovers, I like chain restaurants. I grew up on them, actually.
My parents divorced when I was five. My mom’s weight of having to work a full-time job, picking up a child from day care and making sure we both ate was often alleviated by trips to McDonald’s or delivery from Steak-Out. We’d celebrate ballet recitals with trips to Red Lobster. As I got older and she climbed the ranks at work, we’d found ourselves in Pappadeaux after church or Maggiano’s after a trip to the hair salon.
I didn’t realize it at the time but she was feeding my appreciation for dining out and making me a chain foodie. I preferred swinging by somewhere like Jason’s Deli or calling in an order at O’Charley’s to pick up on the way home opposed to standing over a stove and trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. I never processed that these were chain restaurants, places that food lovers loathe, but instead just convenient places to eat. I’m sure that is one reason why my mom opted for these restaurants, too.
I mean, really. Chain restaurants really aren’t that horrible. Beyond just being on every corner like a Walgreens, they have their benefits. Chain spots are extremely predictable—the prime rib bowl I get near the job will taste exactly like the prime rib bowl by my house. And even if they offer a special dish or drink, I know that every location will offer the exact same dish prepared the same way. You don’t get that all the time with standalone or non-chain restaurants.
Photo by Ashleigh Whitby
Also, most chain restaurants are extremely affordable—I can get a meal for under $15 without any issue. Lunch rates are even better and usually can turn into two meals. Going to a chain place on a date isn’t that bad either. My mantra is if he can’t accept you at your 2 for $20, he doesn’t deserve you at a five-star eatery.
Overall, I get their appeal. For me, chain restaurants have been an influential part of my life just as much as the Spice Girls and Girlfriends. They’re pillars of the community that often get disrespected, while consistently providing an efficient meal. If it weren’t for my introduction to Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches as a child, I might have been hesitant to even entertain different cuisines as an adult. I could’ve ended up being one of those people that are perfectly content with just bringing in boring leftovers in Tupperware containers to heat up on their lunch break while a world of different foods exist blocks away. But thank goodness for my mom and local chains, for that isn’t my reality.