Thursday, September 23, 2010

Signs That You are in a Terrible Chain Restaurant

During my daily blog review (I check several on a daily basis), I ran into one from U Street Girl about ChiDogO's, the Chicago-style hotdog place opening up near 14th and U. I had no idea that Chicago-style hotdogs were even a thing (I mean, they already have pizza), so I checked out their website.  Sheesh I haven't seen so much red and yellow in one place since I was in Chi Omega in college. After reviewing the menu, I have concluded that this new establishment is the Jumbo Slice of hotdogs. I haven't found any info on their intended hours of operation, but I'm assuming they will be catering to (cough cough exploiting the captive audience) of late-night, drunken eaters.

U Street Girl's commentary about the name pretty much sums up my sentiments...ugh. But it did get me thinking about a blog post I've been mulling around for a while...are there ways to know, instantly, that you've unwittingly walked into a crappola chain restaurant?

Here are my initial thoughts:

The name is a little too punny. I mean, I love puns. But ChiDogO's? My sense of humor is questionable, and even I know that's terrible. OK you're not a chain,

The decor theme is simply "Americana." You know the type. A Mickey Mouse figurine is on the wall, right next to a picture of Marilyn Monroe, which was hung over a fake oldtimey photo of farmers, which is adjacent to a reproduction of something by Jasper Johns, and oh what the hell let's add in some 1950's black and white checkering somewhere.

It's like a 9-year old European child's idea of America threw up all over the interior of this restaurant. ("Oh also, let's add a sweet picture of the Simpsons in here!") There is no cohesion, no overarching theme or relationship to the food...just hodgepodge.

There are too many options on the menu. Like, there is no way that 'authentic' Thai lettuce wraps, chicken curry, rustic pasta primavera, and ceviche are all prepared well by one kitchen. Pretty good chance you're getting a lot of pre-mixed, pre-packaged ingredients that are being heated up back there.

There's a theme to the cuisine...and no one who grew up in the pertinent culture would ever eat there. I mean, how often have you seen someone take their Italian grandmother to an Olive Garden?

You see commercials for them on TV. I cannot think of a single restaurant TV commercial I've seen that wasn't a chain. Bonus points if a jingle is involved.

They distribute coupons. Maybe you'll eat this crap if it's discounted? On that note, I did recently receive a coupon for Ruby Tuesday's, and look forward to eating there ironically.

They take their mascot a little too seriously. OK, you have a rooster on your sign. That's cool. What's not cool? That his name is Cocky the Rooster, he wears a cowboy hat, makes multiple goofy appearances on the menu, narrates all your radio ad's, and occasionally makes in-person appearances. That Cocky the Rooster is a multitasker. I heard his album drops this fall.

The dessert costs $5, and it is the most beautiful piece of pastry-work you've ever seen. Yeah...that beautiful Oreo pie? That Key-Lime pie with the elaborate lime and whipped cream construction? That perfectly gooey lava cake? That was mass-produced by a machine, frozen, and shipped to the restaurant in a box, where a 'pastry chef' cuts it into slices. Oh but don't worry, all the slices will be even, because there are pre-made indentations showing said 'chef' where to cut.

Can I tell you a story? I once worked at a restaurant claiming to specialize in cheesecakes. They made NONE of them. Every single flavor and variation was made elsewhere and shipped to them, where the Cheesecake Chef (complete with white coat and jaunty chef hat) stood in the very public chef station, cut them into slices, and topped them with whipped cream. The boxes were not allowed to be brought into the highly visible, glass-walled chef station. Clearly, the intent was to imply that each cheesecake had been freshly made on location. What a sham.

The food is not exotic, but there are still pictures of the menu item on the menu itself. OK, if you're running a restaurant that serves cuisine potentially unfamiliar to the general public, I give you a pass. Maybe the consumer should see a picture of Stir-Fried Grasshoppers before they order it. But, I know what a cheeseburger is. I don't need to see a picture of it.

A frequent offender here is often the drink menu. Super choco-mudslide-kahlua smoothie-a-colada? Trust me, the complicated, layered drink you see in the picture is not what your $2.13 an hour bartender is making for you. Oh and now you have diabetes. Congratulations.

The menu overuses hyperbole. Someone decided that the name of every menu item must overuse descriptors. Why order Chicken Fajitas, when you can order "Super Sizzlin' Texas-style Mexicali Chicken Fajitas!" How about "Rockin' Rustic 4-cheese Ravioli with Multi-Herb Fresh Spring Pesto*?"

(*Don't worry, no herbs were harmed in the making of this pesto. It's been chemically re-engineered from sodium bicarbonate and contains no herbs, thus requiring no refrigeration. It may also cause cancer in lab rats).

If you see the following words on a menu, run. You're in a crappy chain..... Slammin' (no G. There's never a G.) Dynamite, Twisted, Decadent, Jammin', the letter "N" used to denote "and," such as "Shrimp 'N Chicken," Irresistable, Fiesta, Steakhouse when used to describe anything other than a steak, Sinful, etc

The wine list consists of only Sutter Home, Kendall-Jackson, and--maybe if you're lucky--Yellow Tail. OK that is a snobby comment, but I'm not going to pay $20 for a $5 bottle of wine. Bonus points if they serve Franzia.

The menu refers to people who do not actually exist. Grandma Medici's Florence-style basil marina? You just took a name of an Italian historical figure and added Grandma in front of it, didn't you?

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