When I was in high school, circa 1990, going to the Olive Garden or TGIFriday's was considered a splurge. We rarely went...maybe twice a year...some people even went there for their prom dinner. I think my family was fairly in step with the times in that respect that we just didn't go to those places often. But the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s brought monster-portion sizes and I think people began to view these sit-down restaurants as more accessible and affordable. The place became so popular that a Saturday night supper at Olive Garden often entailed a 2 hour wait for a table, Chains like Applebee's and TGIFriday's grew like fungi in every suburban strip mall wasteland and the crowds kept coming. In college I'd go to Applebee's with friends and when I began dating my wife 10 years ago we often went to Olive Garden. But something happened. Yea, the recession I think made everyone feel guilty about paying $35 for supper so I know that is a big part of it....but something else also happened but I'm having trouble figuring out what? But something happened. The Olive Garden I think has gotten too overpriced and bland. My wife can whip up a plate of pasta at a fraction of the cost and triple the flavor. I do think the chaining of American dining has too often turned food into bottomless pit portions of flavor-free, processed blandness and that might be a lot of the problem. The very appeal that chain restaurants once offered - consistency (you knew what you were getting) - is now it's Achilles heel (consistently bland). I think some chain restaurants still do deliver value, convenience and flavor, but they are few and far between. Which are some your favorite chain restaurants? Which are your least favorite and why? Click here to read an ABC News article about the struggling Olive Garden and similar chains.
About Kevin Williams
Hi, my name is Kevin Williams and I am owner of Oasis Newsfeatures and editor of The Amish Cook newspaper column.