Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just asking: What makes a "premium" chain?

I've never really bought the notion that all chains are bad. Sure, I definitely appreciate local and unique, and I do "vote" that way with some of our disposable funds. But, I do think that most chains provide a consistent experience from which there is some value.

A pet peeve of mine has often been when someone holding a Starbucks cup would rip on McDonalds or Wal-mart..... huh? Give me a break, kettle! Now, a friend of mine that works on the Board of Trade up in Chicago, he buys his coffee at Intelligentsia, and he had an interesting point - Starbucks isn't trying to be the Wal-mart of coffee, but maybe more or the Target of coffee, instead. Maybe that is true (though that could lead to a discussion of elitism v. populism). Nevertheless, chains can be purveyors of good stuff. In fact, I've often told friends that my favorite restaurant is likely Chipotle or Qdoba. They always leave me satisfied, they always taste great, and I always feel like they're good value.

Anyhow, in my rambling, what I'm getting to is - what makes a "premium" chain?

I got thinking about this last night again because we were running errands and stopped in at the Houlihans at Castleton. I hadn't been to a Houlihans for a long time, well before the one downtown shut down. I always viewed them as another in the Fridays-Applebees-Chilis line. But, once inside, it seemed obvious that Houlihans had kind of reinvented themselves. The menu seemed much better, too, including an extensive list of small plates. I especially liked the interior lighting.

The new version of Houlihans reminded me of a chain up in Canada - Milestones. Once we received our food, the food was good enough, but instead of a review I just decided to post a question instead. My chicken wrap was below average, but the Better Half's fish tacos were a decent attempt and tasted very fresh with the salsa and lime juice. There is potential here with Houlihans, it would fit a large group well, and I'm sure there are some really good choices on the menu.

Growing up, my dear dad was not much into eating out. As one of 14 kids, times were always tight and since he was quite a bit older than my mom, he also remembered the depression very well. So, our eating out was more about value, and the restaurants in the rotation were pretty limited. A luxury was going to Red Lobster, and though we rarely go now that my father is no longer with us, I still view Red Lobster as kind of a premium chain. I feel the same way about Outback.

Palomino has 4 locations across a wide geography - does that even count as a chain? The Oceanaire has 12 locations from coast to coast (and one former chef was on a season of Top Chef) - does that count as a chain? Are they definitely premium chains? Are they premium chains only because of the meal cost? Or, back to my thought on Chipotle and Qdoba, maybe those are premium chains?

Or, more importantly - does it even matter?


Anonymous said...

just any fyi...palomino actually has 8 locations across the u.s. and had a few more up until the last few years ( i work for the same corporate "family" they are owned by). not that i'm arguing that they are not a premium chain, i think that they are. though all menus are similar in nature, each menu selection partially depends on the exec chefs decision based on their locality.

Indy Grub Review said...

Thanks for the correction on Palomino.