What is about a chain restaurant that makes them so popular? Its usually not amazing food, or the most healthy option and they don’t promote eating local. But they are still wildly popular and can be found in even the smallest of American cities. I think its the consistency. In a world of chaos and change, these restaurants, no matter where you visit look and feel the same. Your favorite item is on the menu whether you’re in Texas, Washington or Colorado. While we often love the unknown we crave the comforting and familiar.
During college I attended Semester at Sea, a program that allowed us to visit 10 countries in 4 months from a cruise ship. This trip was paradise for a foodie like me, authentic cuisine around every corner. Yet, when we docked in Japan our last stop of the trip, I was ecstatic to see Starbucks and McDonald’s. I was a bit ashamed to be in Japan and wanting these American staples, but half through my latte in the white cup with green lettering, and those salty fries I felt less homesick. To me it tasted like home, and after months away its exactly what I needed.
Growing up in Highlands Ranch, CO our family favorite restaurant was Chili’s. Much to my father’s dismay the women in the family would often out-vote him for our post-church Sunday meal. Over time any member of our family could order for each other. We all knew exactly what we’d get, and it was great every time. There wasn’t one in Seattle so we used to drive 45 minutes to Bellevue, WA just to sink our teeth into a Old Timer and skillet queso (which may have been the beginning of the end for my queso addiction). We were so sad when it closed a few years ago, but when I moved to Austin I was reunited with our favorite joint.
Its no surprise that last night when I was starving and wanting to watch the Saints vs. Vikings game I ended up at Chili’s in the bar. Although what I order has changed, no more queso or burgers, I opted for grilled chicken with lime citrus marinate, veggies and black beans. While I support local restaurants, and continue to crave one of kind hole-in-the-wall joints, I have this appreciation for the American chain restaurants and memories of good meals, great times and amazing company that they bring me.
Whats your family favorite?