Are Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other chains really good?


The restaurant chains that have long been staples of American culture are the latest topic of heated online debate.

Critics and defenders of popular channels have gone viral, arguing the merit of big institutions.

“I don’t understand how the following restaurants are still in business,” said Twitter user Alex Cohen on Saturday. He listed Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Red Lobster in the tweet with 15,700 likes.

On the other side, John Ketchum tweeted on Monday, “I’m convinced the Red Lobster/Olive Garden slander is something that was created on Twitter. Small town folks here know these are places you’ve been after prom, homecoming, etc. Stop acting brand new.” His tweet racked up 14,400 likes.

A Chilean spokesperson said Newsweek that its value comes from “being the first of its kind in the casual dining industry” and “continuing to innovate”. Newsweek also reached out to Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Applebee for comment.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic decimated many independent restaurants, which were far less equipped than chains to weather the crisis, customers reported a growing preference for their neighborhood eateries. In April, 64% of restaurateurs surveyed by Next Insurance said they had intentionally chosen local restaurants over chains since the start of the pandemic.

Delivery to chain restaurants has also become less attractive since its boom when the pandemic first hit. Customers are eager to get out and try something new, memorable and of high quality, Next reported. Additionally, delivery services are becoming more expensive, with platforms like UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubbhub increasing their fees.

As customers brought higher expectations to their dining experiences, customer satisfaction across a range of restaurant chains has plummeted over the past year. Olive Garden, Chili’s, Red Lobster and Applebee’s all lost points in the US Customer Satisfaction Index between 2021 and 2022.

An Olive Garden restaurant in New York’s Times Square in 2015. Restaurant chains like Olive Garden are the latest topic of heated debate online.
Richard Levine / Contributor/Corbis News

Nevertheless, many Internet users have thrown themselves into the Twitter debate on the side of restaurant chains. Customers repeatedly cited the facilities’ low costs, familiarity, and accessibility to low-income rural populations.

“These restaurants are a good way for working-class people to feel like they can take their family on a more upscale and affordable dining experience,” Zaid Jilani said.

An anonymous mum said that when she had a baby, Chili’s was an easy place to go. “They must have had high chairs, then booster seats, [and] a children’s menu [with] games printed on it and pencils. I was an exhausted mom, the cabins are comfortable, my child had fun, [and] Diet Coke was refilled without me even asking,” she wrote.

“These were the posh places in the nearest ‘big’ town,” another user said. “The only major chains in my 20k town were fast food.”

Still, other diners said they had better options in their own small towns.

“Huh? I’m from a small town and nobody wanted to go to Red Lobster or Olive Garden,” one person said. “It was at the local family establishments, preferably the 2 or 3 more upscale.”

Another user has accepted. “Growing up in New Jersey, we went to local Italian restaurants [and] got fresh seafood on the shore. My [first] visit to the Olive Garden in 1994 was also my last [and] why i call it the garden of diarrhea,” they wrote.


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