In Defense of Chain Restaurants

Chain restaurants aren’t as bad as you think they are. They’re worse. And that’s wonderful.

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May 29 2014, 2:23pm

My intense love of chain restaurants comes from a pure place, wholly devoid of irony. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of patronizing the Red Lobster in the parking lot of the Salinas, California, mall where people had a proclivity for getting stabbed. (What can I say? My childhood was fairly bleak.) Some of my happiest adult memories are of drinking frozen margaritas, stuffed with more sugar than alcohol, on wasted weekday afternoons. (What can I say? My adulthood has been fairly bleak.)  

I have memories of road trips through God’s America, that endless expanse of natural beauty punctuated by strip malls that runs between the coasts, where the dining options are as limited as the radio options. Memories of my former roommate and I driving, through snowstorms, to Buca di Beppo, where we’d drink multiple Long Island iced teas and fishtail home. As a matter of fact, the staff there became so used to our presence that one magical evening our waitress leaned down and, with a glimmer in her eye, told us, “This meal’s on the wait staff, 'cause you guys are such great regulars.” (OK, maybe that anecdote is more depressing than happy. But it’s not entirely unhappy. Do you know how much I drank that night? For free?)

Many of my peers, however, don’t view these establishments with the same reverence as I. They look down their non-prescription horn-rimmed glasses, mouths filled with locally sourced eggs Benedict, as I scrape the last remnants of marinara sauce out of the ramekin. Fools, the lot of them. They have much to learn. Allow me to take them (and, by proxy you) to school. I will do so via an attention-span friendly list, so as to make it easier for you to read in between bites of chicken fingers.

They Are Comforting in Their Universality and Mediocrity

There is a comfort in familiarity, which is why we crave it. It’s why we watch the same films over and over. It's why we have a favorite pair of pants, and why we continue to fuck our wives, instead of cum-crazy coeds that do more than just lie there and get pounded (Would it kill you to at least pretend to be excited, Denise?). The universality of chain restaurants caters to this particular module of our lizard brains. No matter which one you patronize, there you are—vacantly staring at SportsCenter while eating those sliders you’ve come to tolerate so much.

They Have Fun Things to Look at on the Wall

Patronizing a chain restaurant is like visiting a museum… for free! Granted, it’s a museum filled with the previous generation’s garbage, but still, aren’t all museums? That Rembrandt fellow may have been the Thomas Kinkade of his day. You don’t know. Enjoy the “art”; just don’t make the same mistake I did and start thinking about the lives of the now-deceased human subjects of the ancient portraits hanging on that Cracker Barrel wall. It will fill you with ineffable sadness, which will prevent you from finishing your biscuits and gravy.

They Have All the Dipping Sauces You Could Possibly Ask For

In America, dipping sauces are worth more than their weight in liquid gold. They are, for better or worse, currency. We would sell Manhattan for a few beads of ranch. In a way, we already have. Thanks, Giuliani.

They Reward You For Your Patronage

Lemme get this straight, TGI Friday’s. You’re gonna give me free TGI Friday’s… just for eating at TGI Friday’s? This gout pays for itself! When I die, the only form of identification on my person will be a Give Me More Stripes rewards card, because it’s the most precious, rewarding thing I had going for me in this world.

They Possess No Pretense About Their Unethicality

Everything, up to and including the artisanal offerings at your favorite organic bistro, is unethical in some fashion. Unless you kill or pick what you eat yourself, you have no idea where it came from—that being the case, it probably evolved from horrific origins. Being a vegetarian is all well and good, but migrant farm workers are still treated like shit. So get off your high horse and eat some farm-raised tilapia. You can’t win, so why try?

They Have Bottomless Refills

The only thing better than a 200-calorie soft drink is five 200-calorie soft drinks, consumed in quick succession. Unless, of course, they’re Pepsi products. At the risk of alienating the Pepsi Generation, I must say Things Go Better with Coke.

They Have Killer Happy Hours

Happy hours are perfect rewards for people who shouldn’t be rewarded, i.e., people who have literally nothing else to do but drink at 4 PM on a Wednesday. Some chains even have two happy hours, so you can take a nap you didn’t earn between them.

They Allow You to Feel the Smug Satisfaction of Seeing Your High School Bully Still Working There Every Time You Come Back to Your Hometown to Visit Your Parents

Fuck you, Stephanie. That’s what you get for calling me a dyke ten years ago. (Although, in your defense, I’m still at least 55 percent dyke.)

When You Talk Shit About Them, You’re Just Being Classist

Listen­, just because you can afford to eat organic doesn’t mean those good Chrstian folks in America’s Heartland shouldn’t be able to enjoy a 2 for $20 meal of colon-crushing steak. Your money doesn’t make you better than them! Your politics does.

If You Claim to Dislike the Taste of Fried, You’re Only Lying to Yourself

Take a bite of that app, big boy, and get a hot, greasy, borderline painful explosion of oil in your mouth. Pretty decadent, eh? Your new nickname is Bacchus. You've earned it.

They Have Reasonable Prices

Um, we’re in a recession here, sheeple. So don’t come crying to me when you overdraw on your bank account at brunch. You could have spent half as much on four times as much food.

They Give You Free Shit on Your “Birthday”

Lie about your birthdate at a chain restaurant and prepare yourself to acquire all the sombreros your garage, and all the cheesecake your colon, can hold. Which, in fairness, isn’t much, but is free.

They Have Incredible Variety

Your average chain restaurant takes on over a dozen variations of cuisine… and masters them all, which means everyone’s happy, up to and including Mama! And you know how hard Mama is to please, what with her fictional gluten allergy and all.

They’re a Great Morale Booster

Plunk your ass down at a chain restaurant and look around. Chances are, you’re doing better than anyone else, when it comes to both life and aesthetics. Mmm… sweet schadenfreude. The only thing sweeter is those Chocolate Explosion Dunkers you’re about to treat yourself with. Because you’re a perfect fucking ten. Comparatively, I mean.

They Don’t Care Whether You’re Drunk

Regardless of how intoxicated you are, you aren’t, in spite of yourself, the worst the staff has ever seen. All you have to do is tip them somewhat kindly and they’re cool with the fact that you fell down on the way to the bathroom.

Follow Megan Koester on Twitter.

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