Sunday, 22 April 2012

The chain issue

I have a voucher patiently waiting to be used for a well known chain, having been approached a while back to do a review for them.  I've seen lots of reviews popping up for this particular chain and have seen via twitter lots of snobbery from food bloggers on why they don't use chains.

Does using chains make you a bad food blogger?

I don't think so.

I do comprehend that as someone that others may call a "foodie", although I'd never call myself one, I'm expected to hate chains, to only use independents and to be supremely interested in local sourcing of food.

Let me let you into a little secret.... I do appreciate seeing local sourcing of ingredients, but I don't hate chains.  In fact, I probably use chains more than independents, particularly when eating out with friends.

Why - because I know where I am with them, my friends know they like them and mostly because I don't feel the pressure for the meal to be great if I've insisted on going somewhere independent rather than a chain.

I know that in Pizza Express I'll probably find the pizza slimy but that my companions will be happy enough with theirs, I know we all like the dough balls so we can share a starter without having to deliberate the menu an extra half an hour and then leave someone who didn't get their choice sulking.

I know in Akbars there's something on the menu that we all like, that the food won't really set my tastebuds on fire but it will be of an acceptable standard.

I know that my friend and I can go in any Wagamamas in the country and there's plenty on the menu that she likes, and yes it won't be as good as the little thai place we go to in London, but it's somewhere that will suit both of our tastes, won't break the bank and will be quick.

If I was able to choose every time I'd rather go somewhere new that I haven't been before, be that an independent or a chain.  On my 29th birthday I wanted to go to an independent, but I was overruled by the friends I was with, one who has a digestive disease and is panicky of trying anywhere new, but would feel safer going to the chain we went to, the other who didn't really care where we had a curry, just wanted to have one.  I was a bit miffed - it's my party and I'll eat where I want to, and all that.  But I accepted that not everyone cares about trying new places - did I really want to make my friend worried about having something to eat, or did I want her to enjoy herself?

My two favourite restaurants in Leeds are independents - Pinche Pinche and Jaipur.  But as neither are in the city centre it's rare I go to them.  I shall be making an effort to go to both before things change completely in the Baxter/Hughes household though.

The snobbery I've seen on twitter has made me a bit wary of posting the review of the chain - will I be judged as a crap food blogger for accepting to do a review on a chain?

I would never normally do a review of a chain - we all know what they're like, it's not that interesting reading about it - unless they were doing something new, or I had a particularly great experience.

I agreed to do this one because it's a chain we used to go to as children, and I want to go as a family with Phil and the boys and take them.  We loved going because of the theme, the huge sundaes for pudding and we loved sitting in the booths.  It's not a place I'd normally go, because I know it's fairly expensive mediocre food, but I wanted to see if it has the same appeal to teens today.

What do you think about using chains?

13 comments:

  1. It's fine to admit you're not really that bothered about the food, you know. 'Acceptable standard' is something most food bloggers don't associate with most chains.

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  2. I am bothered about the food, I meant it's usually neither amazing or terrible, it's just OK. But I suppose when eating in chain restaurants it isn't as about the food as if I'd picked somewhere that I'd heard did great food, more about the company and the enjoyment of having a meal with friends.

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  3. Very insulting to accuse other 'foodies' of 'snobbery' re. chains. The vast vast majority of highstreet chain restaurants serve soulless, flavourless, mass-marketed crap. There's no passion in the ingredients, in the process, or in the environment. They crowd out local indies committed to locally sourced produce prepared with grace and talent. They take money, and customers, away from the people who care about food.

    Chain restaurants want to make money.

    'Indie' restaurants want to feed people.

    There is an enormous difference between those two things. Mass marketed chains are destroying eating out in the UK, railroading people like your friends into accepting rubbish by convincing you that you 'know what you're getting'. New startups have to compete with Orange-Wednesday, for god's sake. You know what you're getting in Salvo's. It's a hell of a lot better than Pizza Express. Go there every friday if you like. It's not necessarily about trying new places. It's about patronising good places who care, and are human. Places who are good for people and good for food.

    That's not snobbery.

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    Replies
    1. Indie restaurants want to make money too, don't fool yourself. Non-chain (as yet) doesn't mean anti-capitalist. The markup in indies is still enormous. The waiters are still usually on crap wages. If they were about feeding people, they'd be principled non-profits. They aren't, they're about business. All chains start out as single restaurants. Several indies in Leeds have been burned due to ambition and trying to become chains. Many others, like Salvo's, love to expand.

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  4. Thank you for your comment - I don't agree with the points you've made.

    People who 'care' about food do go to independents, I don't think the chains necessarily take those customers away - I'd say they cater for a different mix of customers?

    Don't the 'indie' restaurants want to make money?

    Also Salvo's - I've never once had a problem free meal there - food or service, each time I've been there's been a problem. I'm sure they do 'care' more than Pizza Express, and their pizzas certainly are better than those at Pizza Express.

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  5. I think it depends in part what you class as a chain - there are plenty of local chains that I enjoy going to which I wouldn't associate with big chains like pizza express, nandos etc. These generally provide good local sourced food but have more than one restaurant. I agree that most big chains don't serve a good quality food but as you say there isn't the pressure when you visit with friends and you know everyone will be happy with the menu. I don't think that makes you a 'bad foodie' sometimes it's about choosing a restaurant that suits the occasion and the company, if a chain fits the bill and everyone enjoys the trip then I don't see what's wrong with that. Eating out is about more than just the food it's also about enjoying yourself and the people you are with enjoying themselves.

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  6. As another foodie, I'm definitely snobbish about chains. I would rather support local businesses and have a wonderful experience every time I pay to eat out, rather than a mediocre one. Having said that, life isn't about getting everything that we want. Some people are happy with a Nandos and their opinion is just as relevant as taking the moralistic high ground. Some people would rather get value for money and go to chains which allow them to use clubcard vouchers or nectar points or have discount vouchers on moneysavingexpert.com and I think Rach is right when she says quite articulately that the food is only one part of the dynamic of the night and that the service can be better at chains, even if the food is not! With friends one has to compromise and be considerate of something that appeals to all tastes or dietary requirements. I've alienated plenty of people by sharing my disgust that they read the Daily Mail or eat at Nandos and life's too short to preach to people. Why spoil a good night out? x

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  7. I stand by my comment that it is a form of snobbery, it's just not something I'm snobbish about.

    I'm much more snobbish about wine!

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  8. Now wine... there's a thing to be snobbish about! *smooch*

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  9. I'm also snobbish about chains, but I think generally with good reason. I agree with most of what the first anon wrote above, but not all of it. I don't agree that it's insulting to label people snobs for looking down on chains, it is a form of snobbery albeit justified to some extent. I also think the image of all independent restaurants as altruistic paragons of virtue intent only on feeding the people is a little naive, as is the image of all chains as verging on evil.

    As with everything it's not that simple. When does a small group of restaurants become a nasty chain? I actually don't perceive one of Rachel's examples (Akbar's) as a chain at all. It's a chain in the sense that there are several branches, but it started out with a well regarded original that was there for years before they started to expand. Last time I went there the food was still pretty damn good.

    I do eat at the big, corporate chains from time to time as well, for pretty much the same reasons as Rachel lists above. I'll almost certainly want to go elsewhere, but it's not always realistic or fair to bend all my friends/family/colleagues to my will. What's the alternative, throw my toys out of the pram until I get my own way?

    And finally, anyone writing a blog should post whatever the hell they like. No-one is forced to read it. And if we're talking about Frankie and Benny's above, I posted a review of it a while back (http://m62food.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/london-and-south-east-round-up-not-so_02.html). It was bloody awful.

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  10. Some of these comments make me want to stick to the chains to avoid being on a table next to a rampant food snob. Like most people I go to restaurants to be with the people I've gone with, good food is second on my list of priorities! And there's nowt wrong with Frankie and Benny's when you've kids in tow.

    Congrats Rach on breaking with the foodie norm!

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  11. Blogging about a chain does not make you a bad food blogger. As long as you give a fair account of the meal, the read will be as interesting as any other review (in my opinion). And.... let's face it... we're not bloody saints and if there's a freebie on offer in return of a blog post most of us would give it a try. It's a perk of this unpaid 'job' we dedicate so much time to.

    Having said that I really do hate eating in chains, for many of the reasons mentioned above. Bland food, shoddy service, not knowing where my money is going and not knowing where the produce come from all make the experience a bad one for me. Food, supporting local food businesses and sharing my thoughts on food are what I'm all about, so of course I'm not going to enjoy eating in chains.

    A few people have said that the food is almost an 'add on' to the whole event of going out for a meal. This baffles me. I don't eat out to be with friends - I can do that over dinner at home or over a pint. I eat out to enjoy the food and, let's face it, if I'm handing over my hard earned cash for some grub then it has to be damn good grub.

    Of course I do have to suffer the odd slice of blandness at All Bar One and the like, but that's just to keep my colleagues happy. Thankfully my friends don't have too many fussy food habits and are willing to try new things and are happy for me to pick where to eat.

    So, blogging about a chain does not make you a bad blogger.

    Blogging about a chain doesn't make you a bad foodie.

    Although I would question anyone who declared themselves as a 'foodie' and only ate at chains, but this is not what you are doing, so go for it. You'll get a free meal and I'll get a read (and something to rant about if you say something that doesn't sit well with the food snob inside me).

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  12. I love Pizza Express. They have one now with fennel salami and mascarpone that's straight-up awesome. Matt and I eat there about once a month when there's a voucher going. They gave me a free bottle of prosecco for my birthday, too. What's not to like?

    Seriously, I dare anyone to challenge my foodie credentials. I was born in the kitchen (OK, not LITERALLY). I grew up with good food, mostly grown or raised by my family or by families nearby. I know the history and ethics of food from every angle. I do more than my fair share of supporting local restaurants and producers. I'm not going to let anyone make me feel guilty about occasionally stuffing my face at Pizza Express or Tampopo or any other chain I happen to wander in to, and neither should you!

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I love getting comments :)