I never say much about work online partly because I signed some weird agreement about social networking/ blogging. So here's my disclaimer that I don't represent corporate's opinion etc.
I'm not bothered by the McDonaldses and Taco Bells and Burger Kings of the world. I'll eat fast food without question. It's fast, cheap, and you know exactly what you're getting. Sometimes it's just what you need, and at certain times it's all that's available. No one over the age of twelve is fooled into thinking fast food is a dining experience.
Places like Applebees and Chilis and even where I work, these are my least favorite kind of restaurant. The chain "casual dining" places. They're not evil, but if I'm going to have a decent dinner and sit and enjoy a meal, I want there to be something unique and personal. I like when the owner is there and involved in every aspect at least some of the time. Food is important, and running- let alone starting- a restaurant is incredibly hard work. I don't think I could do it. These chains make it a little easier. You have fewer decisions. There is less risk. The success will be due to the owner's hard work and good decisions, but the product of that success would be no different with another capable person in charge. These restaurants cease to be about ideas and people and are just about product and money. I work at one, I know there are local people invested and involved. We're a corporate store, but we've got a part owner who is local. He came from Texas to open stores, but he's here now. The managers are excited about growing with the store and hoping to open new ones. If it fails, people will get hurt. But the people who had (/appropriated) the idea, I don't know who they are. Their ideas have been turned into guidelines and corporate gobbeldy-gook. I imagine them in offices instead of restaurants. To me all the effort removed from the people who started it doesn't seem as worth it.
There are still restaurants being opened and run by people. People who live and breathe their work. Restaurants where decisions are made on site. Things change and shift as makes sense and as new ideas develop. And the kind of restaurant where I work pushes these places out. Economics and quality are stronger arguments for local business, but working for a corporate restaurant has turned my mind to the less quantifiable, sentimental reasons. Local business is more human and personal.
A lot of the time when it comes time to eat, I just pick from whatever is there. So yes, I have and will again eat at these chain casual dining places. But eating there is part of a packaged, artificial experience. There's something sad about so many people investing so much time, energy and resources in the service of ideas that came from someone they'll never know. I love when the restaurant is busy because I get more tables, more tips, more money. I'm glad people like it and enjoy it. But it also makes me sad to hear people say it's their new favorite place. Looking out over a loud, bustling full restaurant makes me sad as I think about all of these people happily supporting the system where our food and dining is manufactured and removed from people and the community. It makes me sad while I'm part of it, as a server and customer.