People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization.
Indeed, it has been a rough past few years for casual chains, whose customer base has been dropping. But some of their presumed negatives are also part of their appeal. The promises of speed and sameness can be downright welcome when you’re hungry and near a highway exit, on a business trip in a strange place or home for the holidays. Knowing that you can wake up to the same fluffy pancakes from Denny’s whether you’re in Miami or Minneapolis, or sit down to the identical warm breadsticks at Olive Garden, no matter which of its 800-plus branches you find yourself in, speaks to the chains’ charm offensive: no-surprise comfort.
But not all chains are created equal. That’s why Tom Sietsema, restaurant critic for the Washington Post, spent several months grazing through the menus of the 10 casual, full-service restaurant chains that have the highest sales, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. (For the record, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is No. 1, with $4.4 billion in annual domestic sales, although its parent company’s profits have been slipping.) Just as he would for a star-rated critique, he visited each chain multiple times.
Click here to see how he ranked the chains, in order from least favorite to most, along with letter grades.