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Old 01-13-2020, 05:31 PM
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Restaurant Chains that Have Improved Over Time


It's my opinion that the standard life cycle of a restaurant chain reaches a point that they have an strong established customer base, along with enough of a reputation to continue to break into new markets, where they can simultaneously begin to cut corners without losing revenue.

What chains do you feel buck this trend and, have improved the overall quality of their food products (either currently or in the past)?
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Old 01-13-2020, 05:49 PM
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I think many fast food chains have tried to up their perceived health and quality options, McD's with fresh beef instead of frozen, BK with the impossible whopper.

Papa Johns is infamous for this to the point they apologize with their corner cutting, admitted making crappy pizza and promised to reform which they did.

Not so much chains, but collectively ski area cafeterias have gotten a lot more quality offerings however that has come at a much steeper price. The higher quality here was used as a reason to charge more.
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Old 01-13-2020, 06:03 PM
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The chain that's been able to withstand the test of time is Sambo's.
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Old 01-13-2020, 06:24 PM
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I think many fast food chains have tried to up their perceived health and quality options, McD's with fresh beef instead of frozen, BK with the impossible whopper.
I'm old enough to remember when McDonald's sold one hamburger, one cheeseburger, one size of fries (which were fried in leftover beef fat), and one size of soda. It was a big deal when they added the Fillet O' Fish so Catholics would eat there on Fridays.

Fast food restaurants may not be particularly good, but they're a whole lot better than they used to be.
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Old 01-13-2020, 06:28 PM
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Papa Johns is infamous for this to the point they apologize with their corner cutting, admitted making crappy pizza and promised to reform which they did
Are you sure that wasn't Domino's? I remember a series of ads they put out talking about how they were changing the recipe because their pizza wasn't all that great. I don't remember any such ads from Papa Johns.
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Old 01-13-2020, 06:48 PM
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I'm old enough to remember when McDonald's sold one hamburger, one cheeseburger, one size of fries (which were fried in leftover beef fat), and one size of soda. It was a big deal when they added the Fillet O' Fish so Catholics would eat there on Fridays.

Fast food restaurants may not be particularly good, but they're a whole lot better than they used to be.
I have to disagree. The last McD burger I had was quite possibly the worst burger I've ever eaten. They didn't use to be inedible. Same for BK. The Whopper was not a horrible sandwich in the 80s. I wouldn't touch it today.
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:03 PM
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Are you sure that wasn't Domino's? I remember a series of ads they put out talking about how they were changing the recipe because their pizza wasn't all that great. I don't remember any such ads from Papa Johns.
Domino's is the chain that immediately leapt to mind at the thread title. If Papa John's changed, I don't know. I last had it a few weeks ago at a friend's house and it tastes every bit as bad (to my tastes) as I remember it. That said, Domino's in the early-mid-90s was my least favorite pizza franchise. I was a kid in college and I would rather eat at any fast food establishment than Domino's. A few years ago, after hearing from many people they had changed their recipes and stuff and from getting a free Domino's pizza with on T-Mobile Tuesdays give-away, I said, hell, I'll give it a shot--I'm sure the kids will eat it. And I was pleasantly surprised. It had gotten considerably better, such that I've actually ordered it a few times since when I didn't feel like cooking and didn't want to spend much money.
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:11 PM
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Jack in the Box infected people with E coli and 4 died, they had only up to go from there.

I don't know if Wendy's made any big changes, but it seems that they are more appreciated by the public than they were in the past. And PR group who runs their Twitter are routinely hilarious.
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:13 PM
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Jack in the Box infected people with E coli and 4 died, they had only up to go from there.

I don't know if Wendy's made any big changes, but it seems that they are more appreciated by the public than they were in the past. And PR group who runs their Twitter are routinely hilarious.
Oddly, I feel like they've gotten worse. Wendy's was my favorite of the big three back in the 90s; now I only go there for the spicy chicken sandwich.

I personally don't think McDonald's has changed much at all. I happen to enjoy McDonald's, and their burgers today still remind me of the burgers I'd get as a kid in the 80s. With that same, distinct McDonald's smell and taste that only McDonald's can satisfy.

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Old 01-13-2020, 07:38 PM
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Arby's, with all the new sandwiches. But I still prefer the classic roast beef, a guilty pleasure
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:15 PM
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Are you sure that wasn't Domino's? I remember a series of ads they put out talking about how they were changing the recipe because their pizza wasn't all that great. I don't remember any such ads from Papa Johns.
Maybe it was Domino's.
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:18 PM
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I'm old enough to remember when McDonald's sold one hamburger, one cheeseburger, one size of fries (which were fried in leftover beef fat), and one size of soda. It was a big deal when they added the Fillet O' Fish so Catholics would eat there on Fridays.
Agreed. I've eaten at McD's my entire life. Hell, the McDonald brother's first restaurant was in my hometown.

They are much better now.
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:29 PM
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Taco Bell's dollar menu is so good, it makes it my favorite fast food restaurant in the business. They were good when I was a kid, but I always felt like outside Tacos and Soft Tacos(and an occasional Mexican pizza), they were never all that great.

I know have lots of cheap options there.
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Old 01-13-2020, 10:10 PM
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FWIW my step dads cousin was married to the original owner of Dominos. My step dad taught us how to throw a pizza, he worked there while gong to university.
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Old 01-14-2020, 01:10 AM
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Agreed. I've eaten at McD's my entire life. Hell, the McDonald brother's first restaurant was in my hometown.

They are much better now.
Except for their fries. They're not nearly as good as they were when I was a kid.

But since they started all day breakfast? Lovely!
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:54 AM
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I have to disagree. The last McD burger I had was quite possibly the worst burger I've ever eaten. They didn't use to be inedible. Same for BK. The Whopper was not a horrible sandwich in the 80s. I wouldn't touch it today.
There seems to be such a disconnect with this sort of stuff for a few people. It's possible that this happens across the world. Despite it seeming not. Let me explain.

I do remember the first McDs I had in the 80s. Decent enough burgers. Big Mac was good. This was in Reading, UK. There weren't that many of them around.

A couple I know live in rural Hungary (ex-UK), and they often visit McD's in Budapest. Them seem consistent. Probably the same if they'd got them in New York city. Big city standards.

However, I lived in Stevenage, UK, a small town, with three McDs in such a small area. I had tokens, so used it a couple of times, because it was cheap. Horrible burgers. Nobody gave a crap. Standards slipped in that restaurant for sure. I had a quarter pounder and a big Mac (I don't like fries), the quarter pounder was horrible and I would rate it as 2am burger van quality. The Big Mac is tiny (that might be the same around the world nowadays). Not been back for two years.
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Old 01-14-2020, 07:28 AM
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...

A couple I know live in rural Hungary (ex-UK), and they often visit McD's in Budapest. Them seem consistent. Probably the same if they'd got them in New York city. Big city standards.

However, I lived in Stevenage, UK, a small town, with three McDs in such a small area. I had tokens, so used it a couple of times, because it was cheap. Horrible burgers. Nobody gave a crap. Standards slipped in that restaurant for sure. I had a quarter pounder and a big Mac (I don't like fries), the quarter pounder was horrible and I would rate it as 2am burger van quality. The Big Mac is tiny (that might be the same around the world nowadays). Not been back for two years.
'Mainland' european McD's and BK seemed superior then the US counterparts. Part of that seemed to be more focus on fresh bread for the rolls, but only part. I can't yet speak for UK fast food as I have not had any yet.
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Old 01-14-2020, 07:40 AM
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The Big Mac is tiny (that might be the same around the world nowadays). Not been back for two years.
The Big Mac has never been particularly "big" by today's standards. It's made with 10:1 (1.6 oz) patties, so together, they are less meat than a quarter pounder. (3.2 oz vs 4 oz.) Our idea of how big a burger should be, however, has changed.
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Old 01-14-2020, 09:20 AM
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The chain that's been able to withstand the test of time is Sambo's.
From one restaurant to over 1100, and then back to one.

Props to Sambo's!
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Old 01-14-2020, 09:47 AM
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The Big Mac has never been particularly "big" by today's standards. It's made with 10:1 (1.6 oz) patties, so together, they are less meat than a quarter pounder. (3.2 oz vs 4 oz.) Our idea of how big a burger should be, however, has changed.
It really got noticeable when they ditched the sleeve. The sleeve kept everything stacked and in order without squishing the lettuce down. Now they are just wadded together and show their real size.
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Old 01-14-2020, 09:53 AM
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Domino's is the chain that immediately leapt to mind at the thread title. If Papa John's changed, I don't know. I last had it a few weeks ago at a friend's house and it tastes every bit as bad (to my tastes) as I remember it. That said, Domino's in the early-mid-90s was my least favorite pizza franchise. I was a kid in college and I would rather eat at any fast food establishment than Domino's. A few years ago, after hearing from many people they had changed their recipes and stuff and from getting a free Domino's pizza with on T-Mobile Tuesdays give-away, I said, hell, I'll give it a shot--I'm sure the kids will eat it. And I was pleasantly surprised. It had gotten considerably better, such that I've actually ordered it a few times since when I didn't feel like cooking and didn't want to spend much money.
Domino's isn't as bad as it used to be. So, I guess it qualifies for the thread.
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Old 01-14-2020, 10:16 AM
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The Big Mac has never been particularly "big" by today's standards. It's made with 10:1 (1.6 oz) patties, so together, they are less meat than a quarter pounder. (3.2 oz vs 4 oz.) Our idea of how big a burger should be, however, has changed.
That's a puzzlement for me. The last one I had (and by last, I mean the last one I'll ever eat) had patties so thin they could have been made with a pasta roller. I don't even want to think about what they have to add to cause the meat to adhere in a patty that thin.
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Old 01-14-2020, 10:29 AM
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That's a puzzlement for me. The last one I had (and by last, I mean the last one I'll ever eat) had patties so thin they could have been made with a pasta roller. I don't even want to think about what they have to add to cause the meat to adhere in a patty that thin.
That sounds about right. It's always been super thin--same size patty as the standard hamburger, which there is 1.6 oz. from since when they first opened. The burgers in McDonald's menu have actually gotten much bigger since they opened (that is not to say the original burger has gotten bigger, but rather now you have options for things like quarter pounders, double quarter pounders, and the such. Hell, I believe you can even ask for a Big Mac made with Quarter Pounder patties.)
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Old 01-14-2020, 10:37 AM
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I don't even want to think about what they have to add to cause the meat to adhere in a patty that thin.
To my knowledge and according to them (and labeling laws), they are made with ground beef trimmings -- no filler, preservatives, or additives. It's not that hard to make a patty that size to stick to itself. Grind it and handle it enough, and it does so naturally as the proteins bind to each other (see: myosin.)
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Old 01-14-2020, 10:56 AM
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Except for their fries. They're not nearly as good as they were when I was a kid.
That's the difference between frying something in beef fat and vegetable oil. They made the change to make the fries "healthier". They then super-sized the ever living shit out of them to make up the difference.

Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting Revisionist History on this topic.
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Old 01-14-2020, 11:01 AM
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Those 1.6 oz patties have existed for as long as I can remember- certainly back to 1978 or so when I started working in fast-food restaurants. As far as our idea of how big a burger should be changing - it absolutely has. For example, in many places the approximately 1.6 oz burger is listed on the menu as a "kid's" or "little" burger. If you want to order a McDonald's meal, it's either the two cheeseburger meal or a Happy Meal , as if a single cheeseburger is not enough for an adult - the labeling/marketing didn't really suggest that way back when. But our idea of portion sizes overall has been changing - I remember when a 32 ounce soda was not considered a serving for one person. You couldn't get a cup of fountain soda that large, only a bottle. Which would typically be shared by at least two people.

Oh and the quarter pounder patty is bigger now - 4.25 oz before cooking.


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Old 01-14-2020, 11:21 AM
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To my knowledge and according to them (and labeling laws), they are made with ground beef trimmings -- no filler, preservatives, or additives. It's not that hard to make a patty that size to stick to itself. Grind it and handle it enough, and it does so naturally as the proteins bind to each other (see: myosin.)
Well, that's certainly true. Mash it enough and it becomes a paste, then cook it 'til it's leather. I'll stop now, rather than derail further.
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Old 01-14-2020, 11:38 AM
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....Our idea of how big a burger should be, however, has changed.
Fiction from the 1920s-1950s would include scenes where characters stopped at the diner for “a couple of hamburgers.” You never see that any more.l

I once worked with a British writer who had an American character eating “sandwiches” from his lunch pail. Tipped him off that when an American makes a sandwich, one sandwich is all it takes.
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Old 01-14-2020, 11:53 AM
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White Castle seems to do the multiple burgers/sliders thing.

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Old 01-14-2020, 12:16 PM
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Fiction from the 1920s-1950s would include scenes where characters stopped at the diner for “a couple of hamburgers.” You never see that any more.
You do kind of see a vestige of that still. I think McDonald's still has -- or at least up until recently had -- a 2 cheeseburger meal as one of its numbered combo meals. Yeah, still there. It's the second one listed: "Cheeseburger Meal" with two cheeseburgers.

ETA: Oh yeah, and as mentioned, White Castle, Krystal, etc, you'd definitely get multiple burgers.

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Old 01-14-2020, 12:38 PM
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White Castle seems to do the multiple burgers/sliders thing.

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White Castle is the perfect example of a restaurant chain that has neither improved nor worsened over time. The White Castles my father took me to as a youth were exactly the same quality (and taste) as the ones he ate at when he was young, and they're the same now as I remember them as a kid.

You have to admire them for their consistency.
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Old 01-14-2020, 12:51 PM
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re: Multiple Burgers Tangent

In the classic Peter De Vries short story "Different Cultural Levels Eat Here" the upper crust folk visiting the diner each eat one hamburger, the average Joe orders two and the lower class friend of the cook is starved and orders three. The story was published in 1946. For what it's worth.

http://adventuresinliterature.weebly...s_eat_here.pdf


As for the original question, there's a chain of diners called "Silver Diner" here in the Mid-Atlantic US that has considerably improved its menu over the typical greasy spoon that it used to be. Lots of organic and vegan options, tofu, lentil, quinoa. The food is now so good that my kids won't touch it. So that's a win.
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Old 01-14-2020, 12:51 PM
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Sonny's BBQ has greatly improved over the last 20 years. Used to love their food, but it would give me stomach trouble. Not any more. Be sure to get their broccoli when you go. Then defend it from all comers at your table. It's fab.
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Old 01-14-2020, 01:10 PM
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Arby's, with all the new sandwiches. But I still prefer the classic roast beef, a guilty pleasure
All the Arby’s in this area closed over the past few years. Believe it or not, there are none anymore. I miss them.
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Old 01-14-2020, 01:14 PM
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Taco Bell's dollar menu is so good, it makes it my favorite fast food restaurant in the business. They were good when I was a kid, but I always felt like outside Tacos and Soft Tacos(and an occasional Mexican pizza), they were never all that great.

I know have lots of cheap options there.
This, but not only for this. They have also made a number of other good decisions lately. They're breakfast burritos are the best fast food burritos out there right now (maybe rivaled by Sonic), and all of a sudden I noticed they have a vegetarian menu that can be substituted for vegan easily. I also read something recently where they have a nutritionist who is reducing sodium content across the menu as well as making other more healthy options available.

I predict they will win the inevitable Franchise wars.
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Old 01-14-2020, 02:09 PM
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White Castle is the perfect example of a restaurant chain that has neither improved nor worsened over time. The White Castles my father took me to as a youth were exactly the same quality (and taste) as the ones he ate at when he was young, and they're the same now as I remember them as a kid.

You have to admire them for their consistency.
I saw a short report on them the other day. It helps that they're not only not franchises, but family owned. The current CEO is the great-granddaughter of the founder, taking over from her father after some years working for other eateries.
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:12 PM
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I hadn't been to a Jack in the Box in years, and then they opened one very close to me. This was around the time they introduced the Buttery Jack, which was good enough to raise my opinion of the chain as a whole. The extreme sausage sandwich does the same but for breakfast. I never thought I'd love an egg sandwich on a hamburger bun!

Of course, they fact that JITB sends me coupons every month for all this stuff is probably the real reason I keep going back.
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:25 PM
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Re: Taco Bell:

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This, but not only for this. They have also made a number of other good decisions lately. They're breakfast burritos are the best fast food burritos out there right now (maybe rivaled by Sonic), and all of a sudden I noticed they have a vegetarian menu that can be substituted for vegan easily. I also read something recently where they have a nutritionist who is reducing sodium content across the menu as well as making other more healthy options available.

I predict they will win the inevitable Franchise wars.
The Taco Bell in our town hasn't gotten the memo then. My wife had a craving for 'crunchy tacos' the other night. We were unimpressed. However, we stopped at a Taco Time on a road trip a few weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised. They have gotten better, IMHO.
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:29 PM
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Arbys, they've moved more towards a deli style sandwich shop and the sandwiches are higher quality now.

In the opposite direction, I'd say little ceasers. Their pizza was never spectacular, but in the 90s you could get 2 pizzas for $6. That was their whole gimmick, buy 2 pizzas for the price of 1 pizza at other stores. Now they've moved towards being the fast food of pizza with their hot and ready options (again, not terrible pizza but I miss the 2 for 1 gimmick).
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:47 PM
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All the Arby’s in this area closed over the past few years. Believe it or not, there are none anymore. I miss them.
Used to always go to Arby's when I went home for Christmas in Virginia. It is now closed. None near where I live in Hackensack, NJ. But there is one on Interstate 81, or maybe it's 95, on the way to VA so we will stop there from now on.
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Old 01-14-2020, 04:47 PM
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Applebee's has improved greatly in my opinion.
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Old 01-14-2020, 08:15 PM
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I went a couple of decades without darkening a fast food door, but then I kept hearing from other Annoyingly Healthy People about finding good fast food. Now I often stop by McD's for a sausage burrito or a yogurt parfait, and Taco Bell has a number of, as The Onion headline put it, "Entirely New Ways To Combine The Same Five Ingredients!" And you can get anything Fresco Style, where they replace the cheese and sauces with pico de gallo. Yum.
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Old 01-14-2020, 08:46 PM
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Arby's got better at constantly having sales. I remember me and a friend went for 4 roast beefs in the early 2000s and it cost us $15. Now they're running 4 for $5 deals almost daily.
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Old 01-14-2020, 11:48 PM
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Dunkin Donuts. In the 1990s, coffee at a fast food place or a convenience store usually meant a scalding - or tepid - watery brew with off-white powdered creamer. After the rise of Starbucks, McDonalds and Dunkin have tried hard to compete. Dunkin has really remade itself from a place you really don't want to spend more than a minute in to a fairly solid chain for breakfast or coffee and a place to meet or work - I prefer their coffee to Starbucks now (A good local shop with a roaster is much better than any of the chains).

Also, some fast food places have really improved their seating experience. The closest Starbucks to me is usually dirty, has a hundred flies in the window, punishing chairs, and is crowded with students downloading movies. The Dunkin and McDonalds locations by my place are clean, quiet, have Wifi and comfortable seats. I save a dollar or two in each visit, though I appreciate that at Starbucks there are more benefits and tips for workers.
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Old 01-15-2020, 12:22 AM
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I as a personal rule will not eat at chains by choice, but occasionally family and friends will rope me into it.

Years ago I ate at a Lazy Dog Cafe...which is just one of those "by a mall" chains.....it was fine. Pretty standard "appeal to everyone" places with burgers, nachos, salads and beer.
Two weeks ago, a friend of ours who we hadn't seen in awhile because they moved to a nearby city wanted to meet half way...at a Lazy Dog Cafe.. Uggh.

I was honestly shocked at the menu. Every dish sounded interesting and unique. Frou-frou but not like it was trying too hard. And it was legitimately good and very cheap.
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Old 01-15-2020, 07:53 AM
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Agree with Domino's. They were shit, like seriously "hot circle of garbage." I wouldn't eat there if they paid me, but then they changed everything about 10 years ago. I remember it because at the time I had just moved to a place that was 3 blocks from a Domino's and out of desperation one night I ordered. They were close so they came really fast, and to my surprise the pizza was decent. It still wasn't great, but it was definitely edible. And they have what appears to be a permanent "$5.99 medium 2-topping pizza, sandwich, chicken, etc." coupon, so it's dirt cheap too.
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Old 01-15-2020, 08:00 AM
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Originally Posted by syncrolecyne View Post
... coffee at a fast food place or a convenience store.....
Yes coffee is certainly improved all around. Practically gone are the days of the stale brown water, most is at least decent to good, some is great.
  #48  
Old 01-15-2020, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Ukulele Ike View Post
Fiction from the 1920s-1950s would include scenes where characters stopped at the diner for “a couple of hamburgers.” You never see that any more.
At Dick's in Seattle, two or three burgers for one person wouldn't be an unusual order, but their menu literally hasn't changed since 1971 and their burgers are basically the size of a regular McDonald's burger, with their largest burger, the "Deluxe", consisting entirely of two 1/8 lb. patties with cheese, tartar sauce, and shredded lettuce.

More to the topic of the thread itself, Del Taco seems to have improved between when I left southern CA in 2004 and when it made its way up here last year. I remember them being below Taco Bell in quality back then, but now they've got some pretty good carne asada, and queso, and wet burritos, and fish tacos, and salsa that's considerably spicier than most chains, and probably the best breakfast burrito I've ever gotten from a fast food place.

Last edited by Smapti; 01-15-2020 at 09:01 AM.
  #49  
Old 01-15-2020, 10:15 AM
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More to the topic of the thread itself, Del Taco seems to have improved between when I left southern CA in 2004 and when it made its way up here last year. I remember them being below Taco Bell in quality back then, but now they've got some pretty good carne asada, and queso, and wet burritos, and fish tacos, and salsa that's considerably spicier than most chains, and probably the best breakfast burrito I've ever gotten from a fast food place.
Del Taco's fish tacos are outstanding considering their price. They also used to offer a bean burrito with chopped green chile that was much better than the Taco Bell equivalent. But nowadays their bean burritos are pretty ordinary.
  #50  
Old 01-15-2020, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Smapti View Post
At Dick's in Seattle, two or three burgers for one person wouldn't be an unusual order, but their menu literally hasn't changed since 1971 and their burgers are basically the size of a regular McDonald's burger, with their largest burger, the "Deluxe", consisting entirely of two 1/8 lb. patties with cheese, tartar sauce, and shredded lettuce.

More to the topic of the thread itself, Del Taco seems to have improved between when I left southern CA in 2004 and when it made its way up here last year. I remember them being below Taco Bell in quality back then, but now they've got some pretty good carne asada, and queso, and wet burritos, and fish tacos, and salsa that's considerably spicier than most chains, and probably the best breakfast burrito I've ever gotten from a fast food place.
I've only been to Del Taco a handful of times (they only very briefly existed here in Chicago c. late 2000s or possibly early 2010s) but they always seemed to me to be much better than Taco Bell (which is probably my least favorite fast food chain; I tried it last year to see if my impressions of it had changed; they did not. And, no, I'm not comparing it to real Mexican food or anything like that--just on being fast food.)

I really do enjoy Del Taco's fish taco and their burgers tasted unexpectedly good to me, as well. I pop in from time to time when visiting my in-laws in Phoenix.
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