The rise of the destination chain restaurant
Destination restaurants throughout the ages have evolved massively. Danny Wallace in one of his books, tells the story of how people queued around the block to go into the first ever branch of McDonalds in Loughborough but nowadays, who would ever dare to be seen in such a queue?
In the age where chefs become celebrities and dining out doesn’t start on the end of the waiting staffs biro anymore, the game is upped for many to offer something different in spite of the amount of outlets a restaurant or chain of restaurants have. Restaurants should be destinations, they should be incredibly positive experiences that you want over and over again. Money is short in this day and age but I see no need why we should accept the same old.
London plays host to many new restaurants, some stay as individual outlets and some expand and create a chain. Chain restaurants aren’t a bad thing, they create consistency and offer you something very expected, often with a favourite dish included. Individual outlets can provide a unique experience but they have their flaws too. From not having the budget to really show the wider public what they can do and a lack of branches meaning that often you can’t find someone who can recommend it through experience.
Byron Burger started out with one restaurant in 2007 and now has 23 in London alone. Going there used to be an experience, something a bit electrifying, knowing that you would be served fantastic food in a brilliantly designed arena. Now though, you turn every corner and see one. There is just no excitement anymore.
The quality is still there but the menu doesn’t really vary, except for the odd special edition burger. The restaurants, albeit well thought out, just aren’t enough to convince you that it is where you want to be. Put it this way – one opened around the corner from my work and despite initial excitement, so many people are more excited about the new Nando’s coming soon. The general feeling is that at least in Nando’s they don’t try to convince you you’re getting anything special.
Expansion to every corner of London that has the slightest sniff of fashionable about it has driven away many, who I would consider to be potential Byron regulars, away. I know for example that at my workplace there was much excitement about a Byron opening around the corner but within weeks the shine had gone because people realised that they could get exactly the same elsewhere and so then we looked further afield to some of the great restaurants around Waterloo.
Wahaca, a restaurant that has enough outlets to be considered a chain, have recently opened their ninth venue. This newest enterprise though has something none of the others have – a breakfast menu. This means that despite having the same basic menu, they have a menu that you have to go to that particular branch to enjoy. This is a revolution and if restaurants such as Byron took heed, then they could cash in, continue their expansion and have a menu and customer base as diverse as their excellently decorated restaurants. Who knows, they could create the first wholly vegetarian burger restaurant?
My top five chains
Despite all this, there are many chains that I do enjoy, and these are my top five:
- Wahaca – Their mix of tapas dishes and main courses and an excellent cocktail menu makes them my number one.
- La Tasca – Potentially a more controversial choice, but it is always consistent and its décor and food are, in some cases, as authentic in appearance as some places I have visited in Madrid.
- Café Rouge –It offers great priced and good quality food in restaurants that all have a great French café look to them.
- Gourmet Burger Kitchen – They do a very basic burger but they have so many toppings that whenever you go you’re spoilt for choice.
- Nando’s – You get exactly what you expect and although in a few cases I have come across some awfully untrained staff, they give you what you ask for and don’t charge too much for the privilege.
What is your favourite chain restaurant?