Good Food Blog
Chain reactionPosted at 11:30AM, 26 August 2008 by Jenni Muir - Food writer
What is it with our enthusiasm for chain restaurants? On one hand we complain about the homogeneity of town centres, how once-characterful and even very grand high streets now look as though they could be virtually anywhere in the UK, and yet we return time and again to eateries that contribute to the uniformity, encouraging their further spread.
I'm not pointing the finger at anyone. One of my regular haunts is a small chain, Busaba Eathai, which has recently secured several million pounds of venture capital to help it roll out across the UK. I've enthusiastically first-footed Gourmet Burger Kitchen in every London borough I've lived, and last Saturday, shopping in a trendy area with plenty of interesting cafe options, I wound up taking a break at Giraffe.
Who of us hasn't, at one time or another, felt as though the sight of a familiar chain's logo looming a few metres ahead was a godsend?
Sometimes it's good to know what you're going to get - a favourite dish on the menu, cooked and served to a certain standard, at a consistent price. The coffee you like. Reasonable loos. And for parents, food, chairs and other facilities geared to children, plus staff used to dealing with them. Who of us hasn't, at one time or another, felt as though the sight of a familiar chain's logo looming a few metres ahead was a godsend?
Yet chains can also be soulless and depressing. This week I've been working on the index to a restaurant guide, checking all the addresses of the branches of every restaurant group featured in it (glamorous, huh?), and in some areas there is virtually nothing of a decent standard other than the chains. I can think of a few towns and suburbs where, say, Carluccio's, Nando's and La Tasca along the high street would be a relief for residents given what they have access to now. Sadly, however, like tends to attract like, so often places don't have a choice of chains so much as, say, a choice of posh pizza joints, or just coffee shops.
Then there is the tendency for companies to open three branches of their restaurant in the same small area - not so astonishing of course in London's West End with its densely packed offices and shops, but bizarre when it's Battersea, Bath or Bluewater. Still, these chains are well-honed, professional operations and they wouldn't do it if they didn't think there was a large market of willing customers. And that's just it, isn't it? Love or hate the restaurant chains, we still go to them in vast numbers.