Q: Why didn’t you review Waffle House?
A: Waffle House isn’t considered casual dining: It’s classified as family dining. For civilians outside the industry, the best way to understand the distinction is: Family dining restaurants serve breakfast; casual dining restaurants serve beer. So I didn’t go to IHOP, Cracker Barrel or Waffle House. And the casual dining sector is limited to full-service restaurants, so I didn’t go to Chick-fil-A either.
Q: What’s it like eating three chain restaurant meals a day?
A: The experience wasn’t nearly as painful as I anticipated. Chain restaurants are now required to put calorie counts on their menus, so I was well aware of how much I was ingesting each day. But lots of exercise between meals, along with a daily schedule of no breakfast; early lunch; small dinner and big dinner, seemed to do the trick. My biggest worry was missing out on local culture by eating at national restaurants, but the trip was a useful reminder that food isn’t the only way to get to know a place.
Q: Is there anything I should know before eating in a chain restaurant?
A: Never order the shrimp, which are routinely brutalized by chain kitchens. If you’re in the mood for steak, the sirloin is always better than the filet. And don’t get too excited about dessert, unless cheesecake or chocolate cake is your thing: Chains are weirdly uncreative when it comes to the sweets course. Finally, it’s worth knowing that chains will accommodate more special requests than prima donna chefs: It’s fine to ask for salad dressing on the side, or less oil on your fish.
Q: Did someone say Ziosk?
Studies show nothing annoys casual dining customers more than having to wait for the check, so Ziosk tabletop payment systems are standard in casual dining chains. The systems are also stocked with games, but it costs $1.99 to play. I never anted up.
Q: What’s the best thing you ate?
In no particular order: Chili at Chili’s; the Outlaw Ribeye at LongHorn Steakhouse; tuna poke at Red Lobster; tiramisu at Olive Garden and green beans at Texas Roadhouse.
Q: What's the worst thing you ate?
I've really tried to put it out of mind, but I hope I never again encounter a garlic Parmesan boneless wing from Buffalo Wild Wings.