Monday, December 12, 2005

On the plus side, he did resist the urge to make Cracker Barrel jokes

Chain restaurants: more than a good article topic, it's another opportunity to demonstrate your cultural isolation and sense of elitism! All I can say is -- if "Applebee's is the revenue leader among casual-dining chains, with $3.88 billion in sales in 2004, compared with $2.4 billion for Friday's and $1.47 billion for Ruby Tuesday" -- more people seem motivated to eat at those places than make fun of them.


Swedish Girl said...

Applebee? Ruby Tuesday? Those haven't reached London yet...

Although we have our fair wack of coffee franchises...

and I have to say that Nero espresso is really nice!

But what do I know. I'm just a child of Starbucks.

darkcoffee said...

My goodness, the Post writer certainly has her po-mo elitist references in order -- Harvard clubs, Susan Sontag. I think the truth may be that the average Chiles customer is MORE sophisticated than Ms. Sontag was until she went to the Great Applebies in the Sky, and are fully aware that the kitsch in these places is a humorous commentary on kitsch and meant to evoke not nostalgia but the weirdness of living in the present. This, of course, never occurs to Washington Post writers, who are much too smart to be right about anything. Most people might not know who Joseph Cornell is, but they are aware that they're eating in something like a rip-off of a Cornell box when they go to a mid-scale chain, and they understand that they're part of the "piece." We chain restaurant eaters are all a bunch of art snobs chowing down is what we are!

Zen Wizard said...

If I had to name a common denominator in those three leaders, it would be two factors:

1) Layout--the dining sections "revolve" around the bar, making the higher-markup drinks the central feature of the restaurant, also reducing the "Table for one?" potential stigma by leaving Lonely Guy/Gal the option of "ordering from the bar."

Also, the bar area is relatively well-lit, and the tables are relatively dimly and seductively lit. So during the "pick-up" phase, we can see what we are getting, and during the "foreplay" phase, we can move to a dim table so our potential failures won't be as heavily publicized.

2) The menu is Lowest Common Denominator Americana: Joe Nouveau-Riche is not intimidated by anything he can't pronouce (thereby making a fool out of himself like when he said, "Whore's DeVore" for "hors d'oeuvres" at the last Xmas party); and he won't get anything that he is unfamiliar with and has to send back--like KimChi Squid with the tentacles still hanging out that is so spicy you need a pitcher of beer to eat just one of them, and the smell comes out your pores for a week.

(I.e., he KNOWS what "Steak fajitas" and "Cobb salad" are. When you are hungry and trying to impress your date, "surprises" are not always welcome. Stated another way, when I'm both hungry and horny, I might not be as receptive to the concept of how much of a Philistine I am as I would be in my more satiated moments.)

Regarding layout, I used to room with a guy who was a manager at Friday's when they first came out in the late-Seventies/early Eighties, (we were going to Ohio State) and this format was NOT just casually thought out!!

For Friday's sake, it's too bad you can't copyright the layout of a neighborhood bar--though there was a case in Florida where Hooter's sued another restaurant that had scantily clad waitresses, fried food "appetizer"-type entrees (what the Spanish call "tapas"), sports on a wide screen TV, and a "possessive" type name which I can't remember, like "Knocker's" or something like that. Of course it wasn't THAT tacky, but it was something like that...

Speaking of single entendres, I am told by my Spanish friends that "Chi-Chi's" quite literally meant, "breasts." Or I guess, "Breasts'" Like the breasts OWN something. (Could J. Howard Marshall have willed something to JUST A BREAST, if he'd have wanted to? Stated another way, could he have LEFT-TIT in his will?? [rim shot] I'll be here all week...) That chain is now defunct, but maybe they were "pioneers" in their time.

("Men are subliminally attracted to breasts." My little brother would have NEVER thought of that!)

Irene Done said...

I don't know if I can accurately describe these chains but they do follow a certain formula both in decor, menu and advertising. And they may not reach London as they tend to flourish in smaller towns -- "exit ramp to exit ramp."

My complaint with the article isn't that this formula is beyond ridicule -- Office Space is hilarious -- but that the writer never gets past that. Or past ridiculing the people who frequent these places. Where does the decor formula come from? Wouldn't minimalism be cheaper? That might have been more on-topic than Susan Sontag (whose novels are, say it with me, "self-indulgent, overrated crap.") Thank you, Crash Davis.

It's telling that I learned more from commenters here than from the Washington Post. Joseph Cornell? Of course. Brilliant.