So what about the Franchises and my Bias?

Ed Levine notes something that I’ve been thinking about of late. Namely, where’s the love for the good franchise restaurants?

Let’s face it. Chain restaurants in big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco get a bad rap because, well, they’re links in a chain. That’s not to say that more often than not, the food at chain restaurants leaves something to be desired. But the category as a whole doesn’t get a fair shake from critics.

It’s true that the odds of finding a good dish at a chain restaurant are against you. Menus are often geared toward the lowest common denominator and the highest profit margin, neither of which lend themselves to good meals.

But slim does not equate to none, which means that there are places out there worth the money. I can remember a few good meals at Legal Seafood (a chain found on the East Coast), and while McCormick and Schmick‘s isn’t my first choice for a good meal, it does do in a pinch.

See, right there! Did you see the way I hedged my bets there? “…isn’t my first choice”…hmmph. Why can’t I admit that I had a good meal when I was there? It was a work sponsored event after all, so I didn’t even have to pay for it! Am I that much of a snob that I have an inherent bias against these places? Even Levine’s post is parse carefully. “Houston’s doesn’t suck” he writes in the title. It’s only later that he writes “All in all, a solid one-star meal carefully conceived and executed. Honest food made by people who care.”

Here in Seattle, franchises are the exception and not the rule when it comes to dining out, at least in the downtown area and the immediate vicinity. We have two McCormick and Schmicks, a Fado Irish Pub, a P.F. Chang’s, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and several Brew Pubs. And, lord help us, we have a Cheesecake Factory, which, bias or no, is just horrible. That’s not many, when compared to other places I’ve lived. Seattle does have a vibrant local restaurant scene, and for all of the places mentioned above, I feel that better options are available. That’s not to say that these places are bad (except for the Cheesecake Factory. That place IS bad), and yes, good food can be found at these places.

But there’s also this feeling of a.. I don’t know…sterile environment?…that accompanies these restaurants. I suppose that’s where my bias comes into play. I’m far more comfortable with my money going to an individual rather than an institution. I’m not saying that my point of view is right or wrong, simply that it is.

Let’s see if I can write anything good about a franchised place without couching it with carefully selected words:

McCormick and Schmicks has a really good…

…umm

…aw hell, who am I kidding? The only meal I can remember from McCormick and Schmicks are the mahed potatoes I had after surgery way back in the year 2000. It was memorable, not because it was great, but because it was better than the hospital food I had been eating for the previous two weeks.

So I’m biased. Sue me.