I just read an article that millennials are to blame for the woes of chain restaurants.

I call bullshit.

I live in “Ground Zero” of what can be considered a “Chain Restaurant Hell” (CHR for here on out).  What does this mean?

  1. You have a highly obese population
  2. You have a poor population
  3. You have a population that values quantity of food over quality of food

Under these conditions, CRH explodes and “mom and pop” restaurants have a hard time staying open.

My wife is Italian/Jewish from Long Island.  We met in her last year of college here and while I was in grad school here.  I have now been up to Long Island maybe 50 times, and every….single…damn…time…the food is AMAZING.

First, there are pizza joints every so many blocks.  However, many of these have been open 30, 40, 70 years.  When you have the level of competition there with millions of people and hundreds of others you are competing against – you must be excellent.  If you are not excellent, you will be swallowed up by your competition.

Second, price sensitivity isn’t what it is there versus here in York, PA.  As I mentioned above, poorer people are looking for “better deals” and want volume.  So, you actually have pizza buffets here for $5 that are always filled with people.  On Long Island, it might by $5 for 2 quality slices of pizza.  People up there have a lot of money, or access to a lot of money, so they will spend on products with better quality.

Third, there’s almost a holistic rejection of chain restaurants on Long Island.  I mean, if you look hard enough, you will find them, but they are not as plentiful as York, PA – and seem to be almost a discount place to eat.  In York, there aren’t many other options than chain restaurants.

But what’s under the hood?

In a nutshell, “real food”.  I have more or less changed my life entirely in the last 9 months.  I do a ton of meal prep and I want to know what I’m eating.  If you take a few moments and watch Diners, Dives, etc with Guy Fieri, you will see restaurant owners making real food from old recipes.  Hand making items.  What I think of with chain restaurants are frozen foods delivered to a restaurant, where they essentially heat up something else.  This food could have been made weeks/months ago, has tons of preservatives/chemicals, and is “manufactured” for large scale consumption.  Lots of “sameness”.

One good thing with chain restaurants is that they have calorie and nutrient counts readily available.  In a pinch, I will find an Appleby’s and get a Caesar salad with double chicken and get the dressing on the side.  On the flip side, when you go to restaurants that make “real food”, you have little control over the butter, cream, etc in your food.

I would have to say to that – moderation.  If you go out to dinner at a mom and pop restaurant one or two times a month and you did good on your eating for breakfast and lunch and your penne alla vodka for dinner is a little rich?  Don’t worry about it.  Hit the gym a little harder the next day.  Enjoy your meal out once in awhile.

But chain restaurants?  Personally, I think with many people having a come to jesus moment like myself, I feel that chain restaurants may have to look into strategic reduction in size – or, heaven forbid, try to have their brand expanded.  For example, maybe you have Appleby’s – but they realize that in 135 decent-sized cities that they have 2 or more restaurants there that may be in trouble.  What if they take a few of these, and call them something else like Appleby’s Market – and in this restaurant, they have all fresh ingredients that are made there.  Perhaps the recipes are built in the central office, but all of the making of the food is done like a mom and pop restaurant.  This could also provide:

  1. fresh food
  2. no preservatives
  3. control of portion sizes
  4. control of recipe for branding
  5. control of calorie counts for regulations
  6. attract new crowds
  7. provide organic, vegan, vegetarian, low carb options
  8. diverse menus based on region in the country.
  9. Localized flavored unique to each restaurant under “chef’s special” inserts
  10. healthier fares.  For example, maybe instead of French fries, roasted potatoes are the main “side”.

And there you go folks…

Chain restaurants have problems ahead.  Maybe there is a way to use the brand, supply chain, marketing, and management teams to diversify their product lines to bring back the casual diner?