And Most Other Chain Restaurants, Really
Ruthless Restaurant Review
Erich knows what he hates…
Until a few days ago, I had somehow managed to spend a good 10 years in LA without eating at the famous seafood restaurant, Gladstone’s. Actually, it isn’t “somehow” it’s because I heard the place wasn’t good. True dat. Gladstone’s is just another formulaic chain restaurant, but they have the audacity to set prices as though it were a real restaurant. More on that in a bit.
About ten or fifteen years ago, someone figured out how to build a successful restaurant chain in the United States.
- Bread is cheap. Give people tasty bread and as much of it as they want. Outback, Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden… all places where you can easily drop $15-$30 on mediocre dinner and enjoy a feast of bread. They might also do a nice job on other cheap items, like baked potatoes.
- Americans are a race of hippos. Give them a tasty supply of bread and they’ll have consumed twice their RDA of calories before they’ve ordered an entree. Nonetheless, make sure the entree has generous portions, particularly of cheap stuff like mashed potatoes. Quantity is job one.
- The quality of expensive ingredients is to be at or slightly bellow the level that you would find in a grocery store and the meals should be more or less prefab. Save big money on meat, fish and chefs; pass the savings on to shareholders. Most consumers can’t tell the difference anyway, and many of those who can, won’t care because they’re getting nine pounds of food, and some of it is good (i.e. bread).
Not all chains follow this model. Applebee’s formula for success, for example, is to scoop piping hot dogshit onto plates and staple a jersey from the local high school to the wall. Ruby Tuesdays offers a selection of alpacas for the whole family. IHOP is the only restaurant where you needn’t worry about the waiter spitting in your food because that could only improve it [Ed Note: Darn Tootin’!]. These places and others like them just bank on the consumer having no taste at all.
Gladestone’s, however, fits the formula. I began with a very tasty loaf of sourdough and, predictably, ate most of it. Then came the shrimp cocktail, priced at $18. Now, I’ll pay $18 for shrimp cocktail, but I expect 4-6, premium, jumbo shrimp that were still in the ocean when I ordered them. Instead I got 20 (!) undersized, low grade, sloppily cleaned shrimp that were not fresh. If Teri Sheivo was a shrimp, she would taste like these. This was followed by entrees that were adequate, but hardly worth the prices. I could have gotten the same thing at Red Lobster. All told, I was out over $80 for a $40 dinner for two. Not only that, on my way in and out of the place, I was accosted by staff who wanted to take my picture with cardboard cutouts of Neptune and a mermaid, then sell me the photo.
Finally, I went to pick up my car at the valet. $6. I paid $3.50 for a valet at a trendy restaurant in West LA a couple of weeks ago, and this is a shit chain in Long Beach, but I wasn’t going to complain. Until I had to stand in line for over 10 minutes to get my fucking car. The point of a valet is fucking convenience. If it takes me longer to get my car back than it would have if I had just parked it myself, I’m paying for nothing. Of course, there is no alternative, because there is literally no street parking near the restaurant (for that matter in the city of Long Beach), so the ownership just chooses to take a nice, smelly dump on their customers. Again, pure class.
I’m sure that Gladstone’s banks on tourists to a large extent, which is why they feel like they can screw you on the valet and hawk cheesball photos. So this isn’t just a Southern California thing. If you ever visit our city, stay the fuck away from this dump.