The Idiot's Guide to Drinking at Chain Restaurants

Comedians and fast-food connoisseurs Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell discuss the ins and outs of imbibing at the thousands of places where nobody knows your name.
October 1, 2016, 6:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Alan Levine

To make it in the entertainment business, you gotta be hungry. Suffice it to say, comedians Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell, veterans of Comedy Bang! Bang!, @midnight, Love, and The Birthday Boys, have better-than-average appetites. Their weekly podcast Doughboys—a tentpole of the independent radio compound helmed by Rick & Morty and Community creator Dan Harmon—chronicles the duo's game attempt to unironically rate and review this sprawling nation's innumerable fast-food and chain restaurants.

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In between bites, MUNCHIES hooch correspondent Jesse Farrar caught up with the 'boys to discuss the Ins and Out of imbibing at the thousands of places where nobody knows your name.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Thanks for talking with MUNCHIES again, guys. Since your last interview with us, a lot has happened in the Doughboysverse. We rode the emotional rollercoaster of the Doughlympics, there have been various meetings of note, and the show has almost ended a handful of times. Do you guys feel like you're just hitting your stride? Mitch: Hmm, "stride" is a funny word. I think we're in it. Whether we like it or not, we're deep into the show. Nick: Yeah, it's kind of like when guys serving in 'Nam would say they're "in the shit"—that's how we feel. We're in the shit. We just gotta deal with it.

In your experience, what makes for the best drinking experience at a chain restaurant? Who does it best on a large scale? Nick: In terms of scale, that word made me think of Buffalo Wild Wings immediately. Because they have a very wide selection of beverages, and while a lot of their cocktails can be on the sweet side, they also have a lot of beers—a lot of draft beers—which is nice. Mitch: I agree with Nick that Buffalo Wild Wings has a fun selection of beers, but we went to Dave & Buster's the other night, and they have a lot of bad drinks. But they have a lot of fun drinks, too. They have some crazy, fun, indulgent drinks that adults don't get to have fun with, or would be too embarrassed to order at a real bar. Nick: They've got like a Patriotic Sno-Cone. It's like when Taffer rehabs a bar, and he's got their new specialty cocktail that's served in a glowing skull. Dave and Buster's has all that gimmicky shit. It's kind of fun even if it is too sweet, just because it's got so much flair to it.

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Lately, BWW has been advertising that they have "the perfect number of taps", the logic being that too many taps will mean less fresh beer, and too few will mean a lacking sample size. Does that track with you at all? What's the perfect number of taps for you guys, if such a thing exists? Do you even look? Mitch: I do think about that a lot. There's this place in Los Feliz, and they have a huge selection of beers, but the beers end up tasting sour or something. I love a place that has a huge drink variety, but you have to be on top of the taps. It's an important thing. Maybe Buffalo Wild Wings does have the right number of taps. Nick: When I see a legion of taps, unless it's a brewery or a brewpub, I get a little wary. It becomes The Drunkard's Gamble, where the tap isn't cleaned or the amount of carbonation is off. There's so many things that can go haywire when you have 64 or 128, some insane number of taps. The other thing is, I get paralyzed by indecision when there are that many options.

Mitch, I know you've been vocal in your support of the Mai Tai. Is that your go-to adult beverage at chain restaurants? A sort of boozy litmus test? Mitch: If a place says they're great at mixed drinks, and I try a Mai Tai, and it's not great, I will think, "You guys are all bark". It's not a complicated drink, but it is a hard one to do well. I don't 100% judge a place by that, but if it's supposed to have great mixed drinks, I will. It is probably my favorite cocktail, though, and I think it has rubbed off on Wiger a bit. Wiger: My go-to classic cocktail is a margarita. It's nice when a place can execute a classic drink. My wife loves martinis, and that's another good barometer to gauge the mixology skills of a chain restaurant. But at chains, I'm more likely to order off their specialty cocktail menu, because those are the things they're really drilling their bartenders on, and you can expect them to execute with consistency.

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A common theme with chain restaurants seems to be that their cocktail menu, if offered, is full of overly sweet or syrupy concoctions. What's up with that? Are they just slow on the uptake? How many months away are we from craft cocktails at Chili's? Wiger: I wouldn't be surprised if they are under-pouring some of these drinks, but also they're not giving you premium brands. They're giving you bottom-shelf, mid-tier liquor, and it's easier to cover that up with a bunch of sweetness. But also, some of the people who dine at chain restaurants are maybe only social drinkers, and not be as into the taste of alcohol. Mitch: I don't know whether it's they don't have the craft bartenders at these places, or the audience is just casual drinkers, like Nick was saying. But it's also just fun to have a big, dumb, syrupy drink and they probably save some money on them. I don't go to Bubba Gump for good food—I don't think I'm going to have a great meal at Bubba Gump—if I'm there, I do want to have a Corona margarita drink or whatever the hell I'm going to get. It just goes with the atmosphere.

Any advice for restaurants looking to add or improve their beverage selections? Put your Taffer caps on for a second—what is the average chain restaurant not doing that they could and should be doing right now? Nick: One thing that I'd like to see more of—I feel like California Pizza Kitchen does a decent job—is guiding you on their menu with what would pair with what dish. The average consumer maybe doesn't have much awareness besides white wine with fish or chicken and red wine with red meat. I think if there was a little bit of suggestion on the menu that would be helpful, and it would also give a bit of synergy to ordering a specific drink with a specific dish, etc… Another thing I'd like to see someone take a shot at from a beverage standpoint is: I don't feel like I've seen the wine-bar concept on a chain level. Is anyone really trying that? Maybe Carrabba's or Olive Garden are pushing their wines a little more, but the idea of a place where it's going to be friendly and inviting, and unintimidating. Make a wine bar for the common man…that could be a concept that could succeed, especially if you find some food that pairs with it.

Olive Garden is offering $0.25 wine samples now, by the way. Nick: Are they really? So you could just go and pound shots of Cabernet for 25 cents a pop. Mitch: Nick's idea sounds like it could be a gigantic failure. ALL: [laugh] Mitch: If there's one thing that we've found out about chain restaurants, it's that it's hard to predict what will and won't work. Trying not to be something that you aren't is the most important thing.

Words to live by. Thanks for your time, guys.

New episodes of Doughboys air every Thursday on FeralAudio.com. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and follow along on Twitter @doughboyspod