What's wrong with chain restaurants?

More

Plenty, according to some of my readers. My take on the subject is that chain restaurants aren't bad. They just aren't good, either.

Chain food reduces the volatility of your dining experience. You rarely have a really great meal, a memorable meal, at a chain. (Your date throwing up his Shrimp Fra Diavolo does not count.) But you also rarely have a really bad one. People have forgotten about all the really bad restaurant food there used to be--and still is, in places that don't have the density or income to support chain restaurants. People look at the rich individually owned markets of the few big cities that have them, and the great family owned places in their own area, and conclude that chain restaurants must be dragging America's food tastes down.

I beg to differ. The chains are putting a floor on quality; any family owned restaurant that cannot provide at least as good food and service as a chain has gone out of business. The average family owned restaurant is probably better than a similar chain, but that doesn't mean that if the chains went away, we'd have better food. We'd have a lot of soggy pasta and awful hotel buffets--remember those, small town America? Not an improvement.

And for a more mobile country, chains make a lot of sense. If you travel a lot, search costs start to matter. In other words, there's nothing wrong with chains. Because the best thing about chains is that if you don't like them, you don't have to eat there.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Crazy Tech Idea Could Become Real?

"There could be great intelligence enhancements, like infinite memory."


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In