It is easy to diss chain restaurants in a current social environment that doesn’t have many good things to say about corporatism. Chain restaurants represent corporate greed in the minds of many consumers who would rather go hungry than choose a chain restaurant over a locally owned enterprise. But believe it or not, chain restaurants do have a very real appeal that keeps them in business.
A chain restaurant offers something that a locally owned, single location restaurant cannot possibly offer. What is that? Familiarity. Yes, you can be familiar with a locally owned restaurant by virtue of dining there regularly, but go to any other city and there are no guarantees that locally owned restaurants you find there will be similar to your favorite establishment back home. Those other restaurants will certainly not be identical.
Therein lies the appeal of the chain. A TGI Friday’s in the Chicago suburbs is going to be nearly identical to one located in the Houston area. You will find the same menu, the same ambiance, the same pricing structure, etc. This sort of familiarity is important to a lot of people.
Dining Out Can Be Scary
People can argue all day long over whether or not chain restaurants offer the same kind of quality you get from a locally owned establishment. Let us just assume that chain restaurants cannot. Let’s assume that locally owned restaurants always provide superior food. That means very little to consumers who are not normally adventurous about their food choices.
Let’s face it, dining out can be a very scary thing to people for whom food is more functional than anything else. While foodies relish in trying new things, everyone else prefers recipes they know for certain will not cause them to rethink their ordering choices.
The problem with locally owned restaurants, at least for some diners, is that you don’t know what you’re getting unless you’ve been there before. So that very first visit to a locally owned restaurant can be a nerve-racking experience. The same thing is true for chain restaurants, but the appeal of the chain is that it gives you a place to eat even when you are away from home.
Familiarity at the Local Level
There is a way to achieve familiarity at the local level: taking that locally owned operation and expanding it to multiple locations within a confined area. Salt Lake City’s Taqueria27 is a good example. This is a restaurant with several locations around town all serving the same Mexican food.
People know that regardless of the Tacqueria27 location they choose, they can get the same great Mexican food in Salt Lake City. This obviously doesn’t help people who don’t live locally, but at least it does provide familiarity to Salt Lake City residents.
Chain Restaurants Have Their Place
The desire for familiarity is one of the things that keeps chain restaurants going. That is not a bad thing. While you can certainly make the case that locally owned restaurants provide a different kind of experience that you cannot get from chains, you can also make the case that chain restaurants have their place within the rather broad dining space.
Restaurant chains may be dominated by corporate think. They may not offer the same kind of intimate and personal experience you get at a locally owned restaurant. But for people who want to know that they will be dining in a familiar environment and ordering from a familiar menu, restaurant chains are the way to go. They eat at chains because there are no surprises. There is nothing wrong with that.