Chains do more than bargain down prices from suppliers or divide fixed costs across a lot of units. They rapidly spread economic discovery—the scarce and costly knowledge of what retail concepts and operational innovations actually work. That knowledge can be gained only through the expensive and time-consuming process of trial and error. Expecting each town to independently invent every new business is a prescription for real monotony, at least for the locals. Chains make a large range of choices available in more places. They increase local variety, even as they reduce the differences from place to place. People who mostly stay put get to have experiences once available only to frequent travelers, and this loss of exclusivity is one reason why frequent travelers are the ones who complain.That's Virginia Postrel, in an Atlantic Monthly essay titled, "In Praise of Chain Stores: They aren’t destroying local flavor—they’re providing variety and comfort". Read the whole thing before it goes behind the subscription wall.
My chain restaurant philosophy is similar to my general restaurant philosophy. Few restaurants are good at everything, but many restaurants are good at something. Seek out those good things, and enjoy.
A list of chain restaurants.
A few chains I like: In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, Ruth's Chris, Krispy Kreme, White Castle
A few chains that are passable: Panera, Cheesecake Factory, Wendy's (the frosty!), McDonald's (the fries!), Starbucks, Benihana (great birthday memories as a kid)
A few chains that suck: Olive Garden, Denny's (just ate at one for the first time a few weeks back, even the average New Jersey diner is 10x better), Ruby Tuesday's (worst burger of my life), Red Lobster