Ed Levine, over at Serious Eats, raises a good point today in his spirited defense of Houston’s: Why is everyone so down on chain restaurants? Easy Ed basically recaps a good meal he had at Houston’s, but we actually think he could have gone a lot further. Essentially every restaurant should aspire to be a chain restaurant, and every restaurant does.
Yes, yes, you hear a lot about how much love and care goes into every little lentil, but as soon as a place hits it big, what happens? The chef opens another one, and then one after that. Invariably quality suffers, and the rep of the original drops faster than Larry Craig’s approval rating. Such mini-empires would do well to take a page from the big chains’ book. There’s a reason why Dos Caminos does $10+ million a year. The management of those places is down to a science, and the food is usually a good bit better than it has to be. The survival mechanisms of these places require an unholy level of quality control, minimizing the damage done by universal blights — doped-up cooks, slacker waiters, shoddy purveyors, and the like. And in fact the food is often, if not brilliant or original, at least reliably excellent: Ruby Tuesday’s hamburger is so good that if it were sold by a one-legged Cuban in Fort Greene, there would be lines all the way to Flatbush Avenue. Thanks to the cost of doing business in New York, the days of the mom-and-pop bistro are long gone, at least in New York; and though the ones that remain are precious, most of our meals in the years to come are going to be eaten in some kind of chain restaurant.