Resetting the Scale

Julia Child Rose.  Photo by The Marmot.One of my passions is food. If you’ve been reading The Simple Dollar for long, you know that I love spending a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing an interesting meal. My food articles seem to always grab some acclaim – I think it’s because I bring a bit of extra passion to the table when I write about culinary delights.

Unsurprisingly, this means that I also read quite a bit about food as well. I read several food magazines and visit quite a few food blogs on a regular basis.

Recently, I read an article on Michael Ruhlman’s blog about his negative impressions of the Cheesecake Factory. This was followed by tons of comments from people who found the food at the Cheesecake Factory to be wholly unacceptable for their standards. One even went so far as to essentially question the sanity of their own mother for enjoying regular dinner dates with their friends there.

An aside: I admit I’m happiest cooking food in my own home. When I eat outside the home, the experience, to me, is a combination of food and people, leaning towards the “people” side of the equation. When I eat outside the home, rarely do I remember the food – I remember the dinner conversation. I’ve eaten at a Cheesecake Factory twice – I don’t remember what I ate one of the visits, and I only remember my dish at the other visit (fish tacos) because it became something of a conversation subject. While I don’t remember a great meal from the Cheesecake Factory, nor do I remember anything exceptionally poor, as opposed to plenty other particular restaurants and bistros that shall remain nameless.

This made me start to think about why people would innately criticize a perfectly good meal. What exactly would cause a perfectly good restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory to get such a bad rap in those circles?

What I realized is that the problem has to do with internal scales of quality.

I’m happy eating what I prepare at home. Most of the time, I’d judge those meals as being around a 6 on my scale of good meals – perfectly good. On occasion, I’ll reach an 8 or so.

What’s the 10 on that scale? There are a few meals that my mother prepares that are up there on my scale, but they’re helped by the “comfort food” factor. Aside from that, my definition of a 10 comes from eating at Aunt Maude’s, a wonderful restaurant in Ames, Iowa that I highly recommend to anyone who visits there. The atmosphere is nice without being pretentious and the food is excellent.

Someday, I fully intend to dine at a restaurant that’s off the high end of my scale. I’d love to enjoy a meal at one of the S. Pellegrino 50 at some point.

However, I have no interest in going to those restaurants more than once or twice in my life.

Why is that? It’s pretty simple. If I dine at an incredibly high end restaurant once in my life, it’s a truly unique occasion – one that I don’t even use in my personal idea of what’s good and what’s bad. I could dine at Per Se once, be utterly blown away, but that one experience wouldn’t change the fact that I still view dinner prepared in my own kitchen as a “6.”

But what happens if I go there twice? And I dine at a few other restaurants on that list? I go to one every few months – and that standard starts to enter my scale. Suddenly, the meal in my own kitchen goes down to a “2″ – I’m no longer nearly as happy with it.

Instead, my idea of a great meal is boxed in at the $250 a plate price at Per Se. Everything else is judged by that level of quality – and, unsurprisingly, everything else falls short.

If I reached a point where I judged all my meals by restaurants on the S. Pellegrino 50 list, I’m going to be unhappy with almost every dining experience and I’ll go broke chasing a “decent” dining experience.

The high end experience, taken once, is something to always remember. It’s a life-affirming experience, something to enjoy and cherish.

The high end experience, taken on a regular basis, drives you to disaster. It undermines your enjoyment of the simpler experiences in life.

When you reach the point that dinner with your mother at the Cheesecake Factory on the occasion of her birthday at her request becomes intolerable because of the quality of the food, you’re riding a very dangerous line. You either need to have an enormous bankroll devoted to chasing exquisite dining experiences or bankruptcy will be finding you soon.

Peak experiences are great things. They’re things to enjoy and truly savor in life and if you can truly afford it, go for it. But they have a dangerous side as well. When those peak experiences become your new standard, you begin to ride a very expensive track. Not only that, the peak experiences are no longer peaks – a dinner at Per Se no longer takes you to another world. It becomes ordinary, and some of the value is lost.

This philosophy holds true for any experience in life. Vacations – a European trip once a decade or so can be a true peak experience, but one taken every year starts to become the standard, and an expensive one. Even things as simple as coffee: if you enjoy an expensive cup at a high end coffee shop every day, suddenly that’s your standard, you’re burning through piles of cash, and ordinary coffee is no longer good enough.

When a peak experience becomes an ordinary experience, you not only lose money, you lose happiness, too.

If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for free updates!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...

117 thoughts on “Resetting the Scale

  1. MJ says:

    Craig La Ban, the restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, received some criticism early in his tenure for reviewing restaurants relative to their peers as opposed to dining establishments as a whole. Some thought that was inappropriate, believing that a diner is *always* better than, say, Charlie Trotter’s. But Mr. La Ban reviews a diner to be a diner and a fine dining establishment to be a fine dining establishment – either can achieve a two, three or (!) a four bell rating (the standard that he uses to grade, bells – get it? it’s Philly – instead of stars).

    I think this approach is really instructive. The standards of judgement for my own kitchen vs. my fave local diner vs. a chain restaurant vs. a celeb chef’s latest ego trip are – or should be – completely different. How can these things even be compared? Likewise the vacation example. Heading to Europe is lovely and is an experience I’d welcome repeating, but it cannot legitimately be compared to being with the kids at Disney or sitting in my parents’ living room visiting with the extended family. All are great and should be judged on their own merits.

    Sure, on the face of it dinner at Per Se or heading off to London are “better” but the reality is that they can’t truly be compared to the other options potentially on offer. You’re right that we’d do well to consider our experiences for what they are and bring to our lives and not merely for the expense they incur.

  2. NMPatricia says:

    Definitely food for thought (groan!). I almost jumped the gun as I read your post in that it could be shared on multiple levels. Definitely thinking about other experiences in everyday life and not so everyday is worthwhile. Thanks.

  3. Raghu Bilhana says:

    Very well said. Very good point of view.

    Trent See, I also appreciate your point of views sometimes.

    What you said is true.

  4. I definitely agree with you on your veiled criticism of one particular restaurant. I have never been impressed with a meal there.

  5. Nick says:

    Nice post Trent. I think you are right. For me, price is just another variable of a meal. So if I’m eating a $10 burger, I rate it according to all the other $10 burgers I’ve eaten.

    That said, I’ve definitely seen examples of what you are talking about where people’s internal scales of quality get all out of whack.

    The cure for this is simple and one that you know. Learn to cook good food at home using fresh ingredients. Most of the meals you have outside the home will pale in comparison, but some will be outstanding and special.

  6. Johanna says:

    I see what you’re saying here, and I think that learning to be happy with what you can afford is a great thing to do, but I disagree with you on some of the specifics.

    First of all, wouldn’t a meal at a great restaurant inspire you to learn to cook better for yourself at home? I don’t know about the $250-a-plate restaurant – I’ve never spent more than about $50 on a restaurant meal, myself, and I don’t care to – but often when I’m blown away by something I eat at a restaurant, I at least try to make something like it at home. And even if I don’t succeed entirely, I usually learn at least something, and I gradually become a better home cook.

    Second, and I know I’ve said this before: European travel does not have to be expensive. Just because your European vacation was an all-out spendfest does not mean that that’s the only way to do it. I’m planning a trip to Europe for later this summer, and so far it looks like I’ll be spending less on it than I spent on the vacation I took last year to eastern Canada. (Yes, including airfare. Including everything.) And I’ll be seeing some places I haven’t seen before, which (I hope) will broaden my horizons in a way that will be with me forever.

    Learning to be happy on what you can afford is great. Purposely insulating yourself from new experiences for fear that you’ll like them better than your ordinary life, not so much.

  7. mollyh says:

    Love the da vinci code aspect of veiled criticism. i wholeheartedly agree with you, but having to take a second look at the article to get your meaning was a fun little tidbit in my day. Thanks :)

  8. Adrienne says:

    I have to disagree with you on this one.
    To me the best part of being frugal is that I spend little money in areas that are not important to me (cars) so that I can spend money on things that bring me joy (nice restaurants). I don’t find that nice meals in fine restaurants make my home meals taste worse. It’s just a completely different category. Like comparing Chinese food to Italian. Both are good just very different. In fact I’ve found that by cutting back on mid-range restaurants (like Cheesecake factory) I can spend my money on nicer places. Perhaps if I went there everyday it might become old hat but I think going out to a nice place more than once/year is high on my priority list. To each their own.

  9. eden says:

    Well, I have to argue that Cheesecake Factory is crap, and I would think poorly of my mother if she suggested going there — but I’m a vegetarian, and chain restaurants, from McDonald’s to the Cheesecake Factory, have absolutely nothing that even comes up to a 2 on my scale, if they have anything at all, generally they don’t.
    I do, however, agree with your argument in general.

  10. Brandon says:

    If I’m going out to eat it better be a good meal. I’d rather have one $120 date meal with my girlfriend than go to Chili’s, Applebees, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden 4 times in the same span. We are decent cooks and our time in the kitchen is my favorite time of the day with her. That being said, on vacation we always try to have one really nice meal, and it’s the only thing I rememeber eating the entire time.

  11. guinness416 says:

    I think this is probably truer for some things than others, those where your passions lie. Well either that or the experiences would have to be REALLY regular.

    Examples from my life: I’m a huge armchair sports fan and used to be a Yankees season ticket holder and an owner of a gold dust like seat for Irish international rugby games, but still love to see minor league baseball (when we can, we live in Canada now) and Irish schools rugby matches. We have eaten in Per Se and Jean George and Canoe and other high-end places (though often through the sleight of hand of friends who were waiters and bus boys there haha) but love our “locals” which are cosy $20 an entree pubs. We go to Europe twice a year because I have family commitments there and the excitement never wears off.

    But clothing? Expensive haircuts? Takeout coffee? Cars or bikes? Wine? Couldn’t care less about them and so possibly the high-end experience would be less easy to come back down to earth from there.

  12. shris says:

    You know, on another aspect of food..

    I am wondering if it’s this concept that makes us so (generally) fat in this country (myself included). Enough is not enough. It can’t be “OK”, it has to be “Delicious” and you can’t just eat a little, you have to be FULL.

    More, more, more!

    shris

  13. Simon says:

    Hi Trent,

    I think your point about the internal scale being one of the reasons one might be disappointed with the Cheesecake Factory is a good one. In my mind, though, there is another set of related factors that would make someone, especially one like myself, to feel that the food is inferior. Cost of Meal, Hype, and Wait Time. In the instance of the Cheesecake Factory, in my opinion it is overpriced for the quality you get, it is very much hyped up by people who eat there, and generally the wait time is egregious. If my expectations were different going into the restaurant, I might feel differently. Also, if I or someone I know were to prepare the meals offered there, I would probably also feel differently. That is my biggest reason for being somewhat underwhelmed by the whole experience. In addition to that, specifically in the instance of the Cheesecake Factory, the selection of food is TOO eclectic… it is almost like they couldn’t choose a theme and just decided to go for the smorgasbord. Anyway, just a thought. What do you think?

    Simon

  14. Mike C says:

    I love this article. One of my favorites from the last few weeks.

    I agree with most of it, except some minor details. Keeping with the restaurant example, if you like Per Se so much that you do not enjoy the Cheesecake Factory anymore, then instead of going to the Cheesecake Factory every week just save that money and go to Per Se every few months.

    But as you mention, there are other experiences associated with eating out. Many times you enjoy being out with friends and family much more than the meal itself. In that case the restaurant choice should not matter at all.

  15. Jeremy says:

    I’ll agree with Johanna. I go to expensive restaurants to broaden my horizons as a chef and give me inspiration. I always end up a better cook because of it.

    I don’t enjoy going to cheesecake factory and the like because I can prepare a much better meal at home for 1/5 the cost in the same amount of time (driving to the restaurant, waiting, being seated, ordering, paying, driving home)… up to 6 or 8 people, that is.

  16. Courtney says:

    Aunt Maude’s is fabulous! but prepared to spend a pretty penny. Best steak in Ames.

    I’ve recently also seen Cheesecake Factory targeted, but more for its nutritional content. Find the nutrition facts online before you go because some of the items on the menu appear healthy, but pack over 1100 calories (and I’m not talking about the cheesecake!)

  17. GEoff says:

    Try the meatloaf at the Cheesecake factory. It’s really good.

  18. Scott says:

    I’ve eaten at some high end restaurants but the best steak I’ve ever had was right here at home. Same for pizza. The trick is to learn the secrets of great food. There are plenty of places on the web to learn to improve your cooking – all for free. It also takes a small investment in the right equipment. For example, a pizza stone for good crust. A grill that gets super hot for steaks. So, I think better food can be had at home. I do agree that eating out can be about the experience and not just the food. I go out because: a. I’m lazy b. a social opportunity (date) c. I want something that I don’t have the skills or the time to make – e.g. Chinese food. Other than that I would much rather eat at home. I rate my food much higher than a 6!

  19. Scott says:

    I’ve eaten at some high end restaurants but the best steak I’ve ever had was right here at home. Same for pizza. The trick is to learn the secrets of great food. There are plenty of places on the web to learn to improve your cooking – all for free. It also takes a small investment in the right equipment. For example, a pizza stone for good crust. A grill that gets super hot for steaks. So, I think better food can be had at home. I do agree that eating out can be about the experience and not just the food. I go out because: a. I’m lazy b. a social opportunity (date) c. I want something that I don’t have the skills or the time to make – e.g. Chinese food. Other than that I would much rather eat at home. I rate my food much higher than a 6! Even my kids will tell you, the food is best at home.

  20. Andy says:

    I think I (sort of) disagree with you on this. If you can afford it (this being the major stipulation, of course I agree that if you go spend all your money on nice things you can’t afford, then you will reach disaster), but anyway, if you can afford it and nice food or European vacations are what you value, then you should do it as much as you can.

    You just wrote a post about spending money on what you value, which was great. I don’t think someone who loves fine dining should avoid eating it too
    much for fear of not enjoying regular food. I don’t think expectations of homemade meals will change much and I’m not sure I agree with the premise that doing something you like more often will decrease your happiness overall.

    I’ll agree that going to great restaurants frequently or on exotic vacations may decrease the enjoyment/wow factor per trip (i.e. the fifth restaurant won’t seem as amazing as the first time), but I don’t think that is a reason to avoid it.

  21. Cheryl says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that the social elements that are intertwined with food are huge and important and it’s silly and maybe pretentious to avoid your mother’s favorite restaurant on the occasion of her birthday.

    And I agree that perceptions of quality are relative and that seeking out ever-higher bounds of perfection could lead to setting your personal standards at unsustainable levels.

    I would argue though, that not being a huge fan of the Cheesecake Factory could have to do with many things other than being accustomed to and having expectations of more expensive options. For me, food I prepare at home is preferable to food at the Cheesecake Factory in part because I cook with whole, fresh ingredients – not necessarily exotic or expensive ones. Chain restaurants aren’t so appealing to me because the flavor that rides in on a Sysco truck can’t compete with fresh food prepared with fresh components. I’ll still happily go to a chain with family and friends and enjoy the meal and their company, but if I’m choosing a restaurant myself, I’m optimizing for low-ish cost and locally owned in the hopes that they make most of the food there themselves. Or I’ll cook at home :)

    Nice post.

  22. lurker carl says:

    It is impossible to find everything in life that will consistantly be better than yesterday’s best. As the biggest social players of the Gilded Age discovered around 100 years ago, you will become bored with the very best of everything. Food, vacations, gifts, homes, automobiles, parties or whatever – no one can financially or emotionally afford to continually chase down the best of everything.

    As far as most restaurants go, most are hype. Anyone with typical cooking skills and quality ingredients can replicate an excellent restaurant meal at a fraction of the cost. The down side is, meals tend to taste better if someone else cooks them for you and cleans up the mess.

  23. While respecting the individual preferences presented in the comments, I have to say I agree with Trent’s basic message. If you’re on a beer budget, but you start drinking expensive champagne, eventually your beer won’t cut it, and you’ll end up in the poorhouse with your expensive tastes. This is a personal financial blog, right?

    Personal observation: most of the people I know who are regular patrons of restaurants (hi, med or low) don’t spend much time in the kitchen preparing their own food. It does seem that once they get used to having their meals prepared by someone else, cooking their own food doesn’t cut it anymore. Financial ability doesn’t seem to matter, it becomes a lifestyle. I’m not stating this as a rule of the entire population, but just a personal observation from my own little corner of the great big world.

    Has anyone else noticed this???

  24. Sarah says:

    I haven’t been completely horrified by my Cheesecake Factory experiences, but I understand this principle as applied to other chain restaurants (*cough*) and I think you are mistaken here.

    I’ve eaten in a number of very high-end restaurants but I still enjoy my own home cooking, which is not particularly elaborate. You see, they are two different experiences, which prioritize certain values. I wouldn’t want to reproduce the Per Se experience in my own kitchen nightly even if I could. Sometimes all you really want is a baked potato with some nice goat cheese mashed into it rather than an elaborate challenge to your taste buds and imagination. I invest money in good ingredients and so even simple home preparations tend to be pleasing.

    What I *don’t* like is food that is based on bland mass-market ingredients, unpleasantly textured, clumsily seasoned, excessively greasy, excessively sweet…just the kind of thing that tends to get served at that kind of restaurant. Those are good on no scale. I would rank them all beneath my own home cooking. That has nothing to do with my peak experiences. It has everything to do with that kind of food offering me no real value whatsoever on any axis. It’s not even cheap and quick like fast food (which I do eat from time to time).

    Now, you ought to be able to choke down a meal with your mom on her birthday wherever she wants to go, but that’s actually a separate issue.

  25. Jin6655321 says:

    I think Trent makes a very good argument for avoiding life style inflation. It’s not about abstaining from things that brings you joy, but about preventing yourself from feeling entitled to luxuries because you now feel they’re the norm.

    As any foodie will tell you, once you get a taste of the good stuff, you won’t want to go back.

    For business, I stayed at a nice hotel with the best, most luxurious bedding I’ve slept on. I went home thinking I need to “invest” in a pillow top mattress, down comforters and pillows, 400 thread count sheets, etc. When I was shopping for a new car my my mom let me drive her Lexus and, after awhile, instead of a Civic I started thinking, “Hmmm… maybe I’ll buy a luxury car…”. Test driving a budget car after driving a luxury car- nothing seemed good enough. Etc. etc. etc….

    Thankfully, I’ve been smart enough to live within in my means, but there have been times when I was very tempted.

  26. reulte says:

    Isn’t an internal scale of quality a self-correcting scale particularly in relation to expectations? If those top restaurants become your norm for judging then they become subject TO that judgement. Your mind will be thinking “tonight’s dinner at Per Se was only an 8 compared to last night’s dinner which was a 9 and the dinner before that was a 10″. Pretty soon it becomes boring and doesn’t register above a “nice dinner as usual” 6 or 7.

    It’s good to be consciously aware of our expectations of dinners and coffee and trips to Europe. Sometimes it’s better to let go of those expectations and simply experience the event. Letting go of the expectation is probably what permits the experience to be “peak”. As a rule, we don’t have particular expectations about a really high-end restaurant because we don’t have a comparable experience (or enough comparable experiences) so we pay attention – to the food, to the service, to every little detail of the entire experience and paying attention is what permits the peak experience to occur.

  27. Steve says:

    Indulging in a luxury so often that it devalues your normal life is simple lifestyle inflation.

    Pursuing your passions, be it travel, dining out, cars, bikes, family, charity, or anything else, while staying within your means and still enjoying normal experiences, is what it’s all about.

    There’s a difference.

  28. Joanna says:

    @Simon:

    Right on! Those are three huge complaints with Cheesecake. I actually think the food is not awful, more in Trent’s “perfectly acceptable” range, but Cost, Hype & Wait Time seriously hinder the experience. I also get irritated because they provide gy-normous portions, often enough for 3 – 4 meals for myself (average sized female). This sets me up in a downward spiral thinking about huge portions in the U.S. and starving kids in Central American and seriously throws a wet blanket over my CF experience. Better generally to eat at home. :-)

  29. Maya says:

    Great article, Trent! The topic of rating various restaurants has been on my mind recently.

    I think a great point that this article hints at is the danger of looking down on people who enjoy restaurants that are different from one’s own personal taste. A good example is the person who questions their mother’s sanity for liking The Cheesecake factory.

    Seeing other people as inferior or “insane” simply based on a difference in style and taste can make you unhappy. I’m sure no one who reads this blog enjoys being ridiculed for their likes and dislikes. So what’s the point in doing this to someone else?

    The overall idea that I get from this article deals with finding a happy medium. I think the article suggests that it’s great for a person to spend their money on enjoying the finer things in life (such as a really nice, high-quality restaurant) if they can afford these things.

    However, a person can experience too much of a good thing. The good experience over time becomes just a routine. And most people tend to get bored with routines, even if it’s a good routine.

    Therefore, going to a really nice restaurant only a few times per year or going to Europe maybe once every 3 to 5 years allows a person to enjoy nice things, without getting bored by these experiences.

    And perhaps by remaining grateful to be able to afford and savor such experiences, we will no longer feel the need to look down on those who like different or simpler pleasures.

  30. Damester says:

    Trent, I appreciate the spirit of the article, but when you write:
    “The high end experience, taken on a regular basis, drives you to disaster. It undermines your enjoyment of the simpler experiences in life. ”

    I have to, respectfully, disagree and disagree vehemently. Let me explain:

    Over the years, I’ve held various positions that required me to entertain other businesspeople, where I live and around the U.S. and in Europe. This included going to restaurants that I would normally not be dining in (for the obvious budgetary reasons). I had some amazing meals and even had some lovely experiences (dining for business is not anything like dining with friends, even if you like the people and you like what you’re doing).

    I enjoyed them for what they were, and, yes, was exposed to different cuisines and dishes from all over the globe that expanded my tastebuds and yes, desires. But the takeaway was this: I wanted to learn to cook. It actually inspired me to get into the kitchen and explore cooking/creating more foods than previously. It did NOT set me on a ruinous course of dissatisfaction with everyday life because I could not eat out at these kinds of places..

    It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what could be cooked in my own kitchen. And motivated me in a positive way.

    I’ve also been fortunate to travel for business. I’ve stayed in everything from five-star european hotels and lodgings to mold-infested budget hotels around the U.S. (often while working for the same client!)

    Now, nobody in their right mind would prefer a budget hotel to a five-star experience, especially if they didn’t have to pay for it. And even when I could afford five-star, I only did it for very, very special events (anniversary, special decade birthday, etc.) And when we travel now, we find the cleanest, cheapest lodgings, so we can spend money on other things (concerts, dining, experiences, etc).

    We’re folks who love the great decor and amenities of five-star places, but hey, I don’t need to duplicate it at home. We have comfortable sheets, etc. Is there a level of dissatisfaction when returning home after a luxe trip? Hell, yes. But it lasts just a few minutes and has more to do with having to resume regular life, with its cooking, cleaning, etc. I miss the SERVICES more than anything else. LOL

    In the past few years, our budget has been very tight. We rarely dine out, and when we do, it’s with family or friends for a special occasion. It’s NEVER a chain restaurant, ever (I simply do not understand their appeal, except when you’re on a road trip and nothing else is around). Because we have a huge selection of places to dine here in NYC. And we have a lot of choices in terms of the overall price of the food.

    We haven’t been on vacation in awhile and even when we had a regular income, we didn’t try to replicate the five-star luxe travel standards of our biz travel. The exception: One or two, once-in -a lifetime type trips.

    To me, sharing a meal is also about the people you are with, but also, about a dining experience. Trying something that a chef has perfected, etc. Trying new dishes and experiencing new tastes, etc. It’s a culinary experience. One that is often the catalyst for home cooking and experimentation.

    We have Restaurant weeks, where, for some “bargain” prices you can sample some of the most highly rated restaurants in the city, if not the country. You can keep to a budget and still sample the “good life.”

    Your comment about dining out regularly–or regularly enjoying a “lavish” lifestyle– leading to disaster? Trent, I think you may have a bit of an obsession/addiction issue or a fear that you may have one.

    Being exposed to something doesn’t make you an addict, UNLESS a person has a problem such as an addictive personality.

    As I said, I spent years eating out several times a week for both biz and personal. I enjoyed most of it (just because a restaurant is highly rated doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it).

    Do I miss having the ability to just pick up any day and eat out when I get a yearning for a particular cuisine? On occasion, yes.

    But I’ve also developed my culinary skills to the point where I can make something that hits the spot. (I don’t rate my food by numbers. It either “hits the spot” or it doesn’t. A lot of foods fall into this category, depending on the day and the personal cravings.)

    In today’s world, unless you truly live in the middle of nowhere, have no TV, etc., you are going to be exposed to “stuff” of all levels (you think all the money people waste is on quality stuff? On luxury items, experiences? Ha. Not hardly. Lots of junk.)

    You will be tempted. Yes. And that is what you are talking about.

    It seems you are saying: Hey, exposure increases temptation and the more you are exposed, the more likely you are to slip.

    Most of us will not become addicted to “nice” stuff just because we’re exposed to it. Will it change our desires? Maybe. Maybe not.

    But I know lots of people who live modest lives and do not put themselves in financial jeopardy just because they’ve been exposed to “the best” in any category.

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from, but I think you have to address the real issues. Because it’s not about the “stuff” per se.

    As always, I enjoy your novel take on things.

  31. kat says:

    “When you reach the point that dinner with your mother at the Cheesecake Factory on the occasion of her birthday at her request becomes intolerable because of the quality of the food, you’re riding a very dangerous line…”

    I had a very different reaction to this, namely: dude, your mom wants to eat somewhere for her birthday; go there. My mom likes Olive Garden; even though I personally detest Olive Garden, I dutifully go there once a year for her birthday (and keep my mouth shut about the food), because it makes her happy. It’s the right thing to do.

  32. kat says:

    @Joanna: while I agree that kids are starving and we Westerners generally eat too much food, I gotta say that the leftovers for CF’s Crispy Chicken Costoletta reheated really well, and I got 3 meals’ worth of leftovers out of my serving. That’s 4 meals for $14.95 — a bargain in my book.

  33. Pat says:

    JD at GRS had this exact theme in a post yesterday. http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/07/22/lower-your-expectations-increase-your-happiness/ I think they’re both quite accurate.

  34. MM says:

    There are people who go to the Cheesecake Factory for the meals?

  35. Gena says:

    My husband and I were just talking about this last week. We rarely go out to dinner, and when we do, we like to choose local hole-in the wall places or fancy fancy places for special occasions. We very rarely go to national chain restaurants, unless our friends decide the place.
    Dining out has become a treat, when it used to be a common occurrence. Very fancy restaurants are places for very special occasions – our engagement, my husband’s graduation from law school,etc.
    On the other hand, my best friend and her fiance go out to eat at least 4 times a week, and often at the ‘hot spots’ in L.A. Eating at home is dull and awful for them, and they’re not satisfied with restaurant food unless it’s made by a famous chef or cooked at some ‘it’ place. It’s quite annoying, and I know their bank accounts can only handle it for so long.

  36. kristine says:

    Jin- great term for it: lifestyle inflation. And it does apply to everything, not just food. “Starter house” for example.

    I couldn’t agree more. We used to drink store brand or instant coffee. Not great, but what we cold afford. Got Folgers on sale once in a while, loved it, and eventually abandoned store brand.

    Got a starbucks gift card, hubby tried some fine Costa Rican coffee, and now Folgers is no good- it remains untouched. It’s the Costa Rican or nothing.

    I do not even know if I cold go back to store brand, but I know I could settle for Folgers! But hubby makes the coffee- it’s his “thing”. He gets great joy from his coffee, but to me, it’s a waste of money. But he has so few splurges.

    And yes, now he complains about the coffee out not being as good as home. Coffee out used to be a treat! We did get spoiled.

    Yet, at the same time, we were feeling happy yesterday that our financial situation is so much better than when we started out, broke, and Ramen Pride was the norm. Now we eat whole wheat pasta. Some norms deserve abandonment!

  37. honestb says:

    I dunno, I started grinding my own coffee and buying really nice beans a couple years ago, and while it is constly (Coffee is the single most expensive item I buy at the grocery store most of the time), it isn’t that costly, and honestly, none of the bad consequences you warn about seem to have occured. Waking up to a really incredible cup of coffee every day is a luxury that I appreciate every day. When I pour a cup and breathe in the aroma, it clears all the grogginess out of my head. It transforms a part of my day I used to hate – mornings – into a part of my day that I love. I don’t think I appreciate it any less.

    Now, I understand your message, but I really don’t agree. I’m not trying to chase down the best coffee in the world – I even stopped using a french press and opted for a more convenient quality drip coffeemaker for convenience’s sake – but I certainly did increase my expectations of coffee, and it hasn’t hurt me any, other than the cost, which I can afford. I’m not suddenly unable to order a cup of coffee at a diner, nor am I spending a fortune on a perfect cup. If anything, I go out for coffee a lot less because I can make better coffee at home than all but a handful of coffee shops in my city, all of which are downtown and perpetually lined up.

  38. Reulte (20)–What you’ve written is true, but taken to the next step, when a high-end restaurant starts to taste and feel ordinary, you’ll most likely move on to high end restaurant down the road in search of the next culinary “high”.

    It’s not likely that the disappointment with the favorite restaurant will translate into a return to your own kitchen or to any other venue that will lower the cash outflow.

  39. Chris says:

    Excellent article! In the past I have been guilty of taking something that was a “treat” (food, clothes, concerts, etc.) and over-indulging so that not only are they no longer special, but I am in debt. I have worked hard to keep the special things special and occasional, and in so doing reset my budget and my expectations.

  40. DrFunZ says:

    I am a lone voice here… I cook at home most of the time and do a bang up job of it, but having lived in NYC, DC and Boston, I also know some very good restaurants at both the “high end” and “low end”.

    What makes Ruhlman criticize a place like CF?

    One word: HUBRIS.

    CF is a chain; it is noisy, popular and there is a long wait. It is overly ambitious and it tries too hard. But, it is NOT a bad place with bad food as he would make it seem. CF has good food most of the time – as creative as it can be for a general public and well-spiced for the same population. That said, I had the best sesame crusted wood-planked salmon there about ten years ago and I have never had a better rendition of it since. But, true, if you want a high end experience, go somewhere else. If you want a decent meal, with a fun atmosphere that puts you into the general population (some people are too hubristic to mingle their food experience with other normal folks), the CF is a nice occasional outing.

    Ruhlman also has a terrible blog – he has typos and outright poor spelling and grammar.

  41. Louchuck says:

    I could go on for days about food but here is my two cents: I consider myself to be a lover of food but I’ve honestly rarely had a bad meal in my whole life. Really, the only bad meals I’ve had are when I ate something that I didn’t really enjoy the taste of (e.g. blue cheese), or got sick after eating (e.g. McDonalds or KFC but only sometimes). I can remember many occasions where I’ve gone out to eat with people and they ordered something tried a bit of it and said “This isn’t very good” I would always ask “Can I try some?” and I would always be amazed to find out that it wasn’t bad at all. Personally, I feel the concept of “taste” is totally irrelevant socially constructed concept that allows people the opportunity to gain power over others through elitism.
    Scientifically speaking humans are capable of “tasting” a variety of flavors and there is some variance because of genetics but that variance is very small. We all are capable of tasting about the same, and in the same way we will all find the same things to taste good. So if we all have the same taste buds why is that some people simply can’t eat at “The Cheesecake Factory” while millions of others can and happily do? The answer is elitism and will to power.

    Also, let’s not forget the countless anecdotal stories of supposed “food gurus” who rate food that is made of sub par ingredients as being “superb” (and example can be found on a show called Penn & Teller’s BS which you can find on Youtube). Or wine experts who rate $10 bottles better than $100 bottles in blind taste tests but then rate the $100 bottle far better in regular taste tests when they know the bottle costs $100.

    Try this experiment: Stop eating anything at 9am on Monday, then on Wednesday at 6pm visit your nearest Cheesecake Factory and order anything off the menu. I hypothesize that will be the best meal you’ve ever ate.

  42. Katy says:

    Great post! The concept of the internal scale applies to so many other areas, too. I think you’ve hit on a possible reason that so many wealthy people have trouble with contentment. Once the bar is raised SO HIGH, how could you POSSIBLY “settle” for anything less than caviar, limousines, and globe-trotting?

    I consider it a blessing that I grew up in a family that considered a candy bar to be a rare luxury. Even though I can easily afford to eat at the Cheesecake Factory now (dessert only, please!), I still choose to only treat myself on occasion. I truly savor those treats, just like I did that candy bar as a kid.

  43. Kayla says:

    DrFunZ, you might want to learn the meaning of ‘hubris’. A love for gourmet food doesn’t translate into Oedipus Rex here.

    And the blog entry quoted DOESN’T say that all of the Cheesecake Factory’s food is bad–but it is mediocre, premade, served in excessive portions in a characterless chain restaurant. You could do worse, but you can do a lot better for the same price. Or, as some people have already said, go out to dinner less often, and spend more when you do!

  44. getagrip says:

    For my son peak experience it’s roller coasters. He went to Cedar Point in Ohio and now no other roller coasters compare. The fact that he did that at a younger age, was having a riot of a time with uncles and other family, doesn’t enter his mind as to why that comparison may have tainted his view. I feel that if he goes back in the next few years, older, wiser, and less impressionable, the ride won’t be the thrill he remembers it to be.

    But isn’t that the way of things.

  45. Ann says:

    Oddly, some activities can be both peak, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and much cheaper than ordinary living. I’m thinking of some camping trips to special places. The cost was in travel time and effort, not money.

  46. Jon says:

    Excellent post. Quite possibly the one most applicable to my own life and definitely in my top 3 favorites from reading this blog.

    After reading the comments, I remain convinced you nailed the topic perfectly, though I’m not certain everyone is getting the greater lesson.

  47. Rosa says:

    I don’t think for most of us the really good experiences ruin the other ones – the scale has a bunch of measurements, not just how good the experience is. I’d go with the time, hype, cost factors Simon listed – not just for restaurants, but for everything. A movie I expect to be awful will make me really happy by being OK, especially if I see it at the dollar theater.

  48. karyn says:

    My in-laws are like that, as you say, with vacation. How was your (tenth) trip to France? Oh, okay…Oh, okay??? So blaise because they travel five times a year.

  49. cv says:

    For me, this post didn’t resonate. My feelings about a particular meal are much more complicated than where it falls on a scale of 1 to 10 for taste. How satisfied I am with it depends on the money and time invested, how healthy I think it is, what else I’ve been eating lately, who I’m with, how hungry I was when I sat down, and any number of other factors. The thrown-together dinner of whatever was in the fridge often makes me feel really good because it was quick, cheap and nutritious, I was starving, and it tasted pretty good. The high-end meal at a restaurant has to be *much* better on taste for me to feel as happy with it, since it took much more time and money, and often restaurant food isn’t as healthy. I often leave high-end places feeling like even though the food was better that what I could make, it wasn’t worth it.

    There’s also the fact that there’s pleasure to be found in all different kinds of food. Fresh tomatoes from your garden, really crisp fries at a diner, and a really good meal at a nice restaurant are all very different taste experiences, and I don’t think one necessarily spoils you for the others.

  50. Michael says:

    It seems from the comments I’ve read this is more of a value’s issue that I would have expected. Some people say “I’m eating out and it better be nice!! AND it’ll be in Europe.” Trent, would it be fair to say that being frugal is MORE important to you than travel or eating excellent meals? Would it also be a fair guess that you value those people and the time spent with them more than food?
    My wife and I listed our values yesterday. A rather long list on both parts. I read once that all of your decisions should be congruent with your values, or they are not decisions that build your life in the direction you wish to go. If you do not value food and experiences as highly as quality time and contentment, I totally understand your approach Trent. If, like some commenters, the values are reversed, they will say your article is untrue. What is the philosophy/rule of thumb in their situation then? It must be different…

  51. Cara says:

    This was a very compelling post. I agree that the experience of increasing luxury recalibrates our internal scale, however, I don’t agree that this is a generally negative thing, and that we should somehow seek to keep our internal scale humble. Your two examples – food and travel – resonate strongly with me. I was born in a small town with very little culinary offerings. Therefore, I had a fairly limited, and rather undeveloped, palate. I didn’t know what I was missing. I now live in a big city and work in a profession that necessitates that I eat at fine restaurants. I am much more critical about my food, and I think this is a GOOD thing. I eat healthier now because I appreciate fresh, high quality ingredients. I savor my food more. If I don’t enjoy a meal, I don’t eat it. I also enjoy more types of foods and my life is richer because I have sampled foods from so many different cultures. Simply put, I have MORE peak experiences. And, you know, I appreciate simple foods, like a fresh, perfectly ripe peach, more than I did before, because I have learned to focus more on taste and other food sensations.

    As for travel, I travel a lot (I have been to 50+ countries), and often. I have noticed that I no longer experience the excitement of anticipation before a trip, but no way in the world would I ever trade the many opportunities I get to travel overseas in order to revive that excitement. Traveling has changed my world and made it such a richer place. Again, I have MORE peak experiences because I travel more. I don’t think I will ever think, “oh, boring, just another trip to Morocco.” No way!

  52. Sunshine says:

    I had to laugh when I finally figured out the bolded letters. Took me a sec thinking my monitor was off. Then it dawned on me, “D’oh!” I absolutely agree. Of the few times I’ve eaten there, only once did I remotely enjoy myself. Now, I don’t even like Tyler Florence for his association with that restaurant.

  53. Aren’t we really talking about the spoiled child sydrome here, you know the kid who has so much he appreciates nothing?

    There’s validity in the point for adults as well. The thinnest slice is the best tasting one.

    When I was growing up going out to eat anywhere was pretty rare, and almost special just by the fact you were doing it. Those meals were delicious no matter where they were, because they were so rare. Eating out now is so common it’s almost a reflex act, and we don’t think about it.

  54. Dave says:

    Kevin #18
    With to person with the beer budget and champagne taste, what is the differance if they drink $50 of beer a week or $50 champagne a week?
    Now if that person was drinking a $200 bottla a night thats another story,
    How about the person that saves up for the $500 bottle once a year and drinks no beer? is that better or worse than someone than enjoys a $2 beer every night?
    I know both people.

  55. Des says:

    @Dave

    So true. Hasn’t it been said before on this blog that is the DEFINITION of frugality: biggest bang for your buck based on your own principals and preferences? If you went to a restaurant that was a big fat 15 on your 1-10 scale (as in, “I never knew food COULD taste this good!”) and it made you happy to forgo all other dining out experiences, instead indulging in a once-a-year treat to that place why would that possibly be a bad thing?

    To Dave’s point: maybe the beer drinkers drinks more in quantity, but if the two get the same quality of life for the same price who cares what they spent it on?

  56. kat says:

    “When you reach the point that dinner with your mother at the Cheesecake Factory on the occasion of her birthday at her request becomes intolerable because of the quality of the food, you’re riding a very dangerous line…”

    I had a very different reaction to this, namely: dude, your mom wants to eat somewhere for her birthday; go there. My mom likes Olive Garden; even though I personally detest Olive Garden, I dutifully go there once a year for her birthday (and keep my mouth shut about the food), because it makes her happy. It’s the right thing to do.

    @Joanna: while I agree that kids are starving and we Westerners generally eat too much food, I gotta say that the leftovers for CF’s Crispy Chicken Costoletta reheated really well, and I got 2 meals’ worth of leftovers out of my serving. That’s 3 meals for $14.95 — a bargain in my book.

  57. Marcus Murphy says:

    You are chasing down the right path in a sense, but I think you are too micro in your focus and then apply it as a blanket to everything in this article. Experiences will vary for everyone but fine dining is more than the mind blowing food.

    Example: I cook better than most $50 plate restaurants. I would rate my meals at a solid 8-9 for the $60 a plate and under category. The only thing I can not reproduce is the wonderful atmosphere that a fine restaurant does. There are many places that I have eaten at that are a 9 or better solely because the atmosphere made the food taste better.

    Proof of this concept is the fact that one of the world’s greatest violinists Joshua Bell (who rakes in $100 per ticket on average in a theater) played in the DC Metro station where a little more than 1000 people passed by him in about 45 minutes. During that entire time he played 6 Bach pieces on a 3.5 million dollar violin, with his case opened on the ground and no one stopped to watch and no one applauded at the end. He made a total $32. No one enjoyed his music as much because he was in DC Metro and not a comfy theater, but does this change his quality of music? No. Does it change your enjoyment of it? If anything one would think it should get better, because you can stand next to him instead of 100′s to 1000′s of feet away.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

    Perspective changes everything and enjoyment is based on perspective. The enjoyment of life is based on perspective period and I think you over simplify an issue with enjoying food based on your personal perspective, which I think in the end skews most peoples ability to take home the message you are trying to give here. Maybe I’m wrong, but I found it took me a second to relate to what you were saying.

  58. kristin says:

    Interesting post, and the comments have really added a lot to the discussion. I wanted to point out one factor that I haven’t seen mentioned yet: the idea that stellar meals must necessarily cost an arm and a leg. There are places out there (I’m thinking particularly of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, which has been lauded by both Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazine as one of the best Thai restaurants in the U.S.) where you can get an amazing culinary experience for the cost of that Cheesecake Factory dinner. To this day I recall the taste of their Nam Kau Tod as one of the most complex and memorable dishes I’ve ever tasted.

    While the types of places that are listed on the Pellegrino 50 are examples of fantastic dining from chefs who can “reset the value scale”, there are other dining opportunities that may take food to an 11 without breaking the bank – and that is the type of experience that I try to seek when I eat out (especially when we travel, as our options in our current, rural location are more limited).

    I think the issue with Cheesecake Factory (and other chain restaurants, if I can generalize) is that the price/value structure is in some way out of whack. That price/value structure can include a whole variety of factors (as others have mentioned above). Time, service, quality of ingredients, originality vs. traditional foods executed to excellence… there are a lot of things that can make a meal great. The bread and butter value of chain restaurants is by and large Not about providing great meals, I would argue – it’s about providing a consistent experience that is a known quantity to restaurant goers. I place a lot less value on that than may other folks I know – but that doesn’t mean I’m right/they’re wrong. It’s just different definitions of value.

  59. Dave says:

    I’m not trying to flamebait here, but it feels hypocritical to base your thesis on elitist attitudes regarding meals at franchises, only to turn around and off-handedly deride an entire restaurant franchise.

  60. Debbie M says:

    I have definitely experienced some things that ruined me for other things. When a friend gave me some Rebocks that didn’t fit her right, I learned that these shoes that cost twice what I used to buy lasted four times as long. Now that I’ve had cheap Belgian chocolates (Leonidas, available online), I have no interest in Whitman samplers. Now that I have had berry sauce made of just simmered berries and maybe a little sugar, I no longer have any interest in the kind made mostly of berry-colored goo.

    And I’ve met some people like karyn’s in-laws for whom every experience is blasé. They’ve been scuba diving in the Caribbean and sky diving and who knows what else? I’m not sure why they consented to join us on a bargain cruise ship, but they never seemed very happy.

    On the other hand, like honestb says (about coffee), some things never get old. Like getting back rubs. No matter how many days in a row I’ve gotten one, how many back rubs I’ve already had today, or how long my current back rub has already lasted, they always seem like a good idea. I have actually had better back rubs than the kind I get now, but how much better could they really have been?

    Johanna, I actually do purposely insulate myself from some experiences. Illegal drugs–even if I’m in a country where they’re legal–what if I like them? Certain addictive video games. Recipes involving two (or more!) sticks of butter (if I haven’t tasted them already). I just don’t want to know!

    GEoff (#13), thanks. Next time someone brings me to the CF, I’ll try to remember to get meatloaf.

  61. Michael says:

    This post is what happens when life is measured by one’s subjective feelings to it. There are good reasons to go to Europe even when one isn’t having the time of one’s life. There are things that should never be done even if they are free and make one ecstatic.

  62. Kacie says:

    So true!

    When my husband and I disembarked from a nice cruise ship and ate “regular” restaurant food, we were so bummed.

    Any other day, the food would have been fine.

    But, aboard the ship, we were so incredibly spoiled.

  63. bethh says:

    ha! Turns out I’ve been to one of the top 50 on that list: Nobu, in London, because I was staying at its hotel for work. I sat at the bar and the sushi chef was incredibly kind, giving me a couple of little things to sample. But it wasn’t my best sushi experience, because I didn’t have anyone to share it with.

    I live in the Bay Area and have been to Chez Panisse once. It was delicious, but not blow-me-away amazing. I’ve found a hole the wall place in Oakland’s Chinatown that has me much more excited about food. And there’s two spots in my neighborhood where I can get meals that cost about as much as at CP, but I can walk there rather than drive and deal with parking in Berkeley.

    My point is that everything is relative. I don’t think I will enjoy a $300 meal at French Laundry six times more than I enjoy the $50 meal in my neighborhood – and I can get that anytime I feel like a splurge (rarely).

    If people want to bag on the Cheesecake Factory, that’s fine with me. I’ve never been and have no interest in going – what I hear about the wait time is ridiculous, and I’d rather support something locally owned.

  64. Jenni says:

    Could you perhaps share some of your favorite food blogs?

    For me personally, I’d love any blog recommendations for someone who is single, and/or someone with little practice at cooking, who wants to learn more. I love how your food posts spell out exactly how to do things (how long do you boil ____ for? what does ‘finely chopped’ look like? etc).

  65. Stephanie says:

    I attended a service at a Buddhist temple one day and remember a story that the teacher told us that pertains to this topic.

    The teacher had gone to La Madeleine and ordered a quiche. When the quiche was brought out it looked really good and she couldn’t wait to dig in. The first bite she had immediately tasted too salty for her liking and thus her mindset turned to dissatisfaction with negativity.

    As she took some more hesitant bites, she turned her mind to contemplating on the actual quiche itself and the sum of the parts. The eggs and other ingredients all likely took a long journey to get to the restaurant, using people and other resources. Those people worked hard to get the ingredients to the restaurant before they were spoiled. The person in the kitchen worked hard to prepare that quiche.

    Once she became more cognitive of resources that went in to making that quiche, she became more appreciative. When she became more appreciative, she became less critical of the perceived saltiness. It began to taste really good considering everything it took to get that meal in front of her.

    May we all be appreciative of the food that is served to us whether it is at home or in a restaurant. It becomes far too easy to criticize when there is an over-abundance of choices.

  66. Marcus Murphy says:

    Now that I’ve had a chance to think about things a little, this almost is synonymous with don’t smoke marijuana because then normal life will seem dull and you will want to start to do more drugs to keep going after the better high. Again it still all comes back to perspective, anticipation, self control, differentiation.

    Another analogy is the video games cause kids to be killers. It’s actually their lack of ability to differentiate between real killing and virtual killing. The same with fine dining vs. home cooked meals. Differentiation between the two, expectations of one vs. the other and your perspective on each situation as different will subject you to come to different conclusions.

    In the end I am going to still avoid Cheesecake Factory and stick to my fine dining favorites, which I mostly enjoy more the atmosphere than the food…

  67. WilliamB says:

    Trent, I agree with your overall point about experience inflation but disagree strongly about applying that to the Cheesecake Factory.

    For example, CF isn’t cheap. You can have a lovely, tasty, interesting meal for the same price or even less. If you like trying new places, you can walk in somewhere and have a couple appetizers as a test meal, and spend a lot less than a CF meal. Or go to a movie. CF meal + CF wait time is often longer than a movie’s running time.

    CF’s portions are too large. Studies have shown that the serving size has a strong corrolation on how much we eat (see Consumer’s Report for several studies along these lines). So the large servings lead to overeating, which is inefficient and bad for our health. Poor health is very expensive.

    Then there’s the question of a known, standardized experience vs. an unknown and/or variable experience. Reasonable people disagree on this one.

    Myself, I find that how much I enjoy a meal has a lot to do with expectations. I usually have a “better meal” when I try someone new and hole-in-the-wall, because my expectations are low and a good result is by no means guaranteed (I kiss a lot of restaurant frogs). The food at Trio’s in Chicago was much better, but I knew it would be so my experenced was measured against that.

    My favorite use of CF is to get a piece of chocolate cake for take-out.

  68. Matt says:

    I agree that eating at high-end restaurants too often can increase your expectations of homemade food, but in my experience, the level of homemade food increases simultaneously, as long as you are able to adjust your cooking to reach your modified ideal.

    I fully appreciate really good food, and sometimes I make the effort to cook it (ask me about my chili!), but I have no problem making something very fast, simple, or easy. I’m just as happy eating a grilled chicken breast with a simply dressed salad as I am eating a medium-rare rack of lamb with pommes fondant and perfect creamed spinach. Yes, the fancy meal has more interesting flavors, but the chicken is just as satisfying.

  69. Todd says:

    This is one of my favorite posts, Trent–very philosphical, yet simple. When I went away to college, suddenly I realized that I could eat pizza for breakfast, sleep until noon, spend money on junk food, beer, etc. without anyone telling me no. The more I did so, the more my grades and my weight and my bank account suffered. One day, I realized that I wasn’t even enjoying these “treats” anymore.

    Now that I’m older, with investments and money in the bank, I still have “treats” (like going out to dinner and a movie) that I have to constantly remind myself are only special because I do them so infrequently. When my wife and I used to go out to dinner and a movie every Friday night we didn’t even enjoy it half the time. Now we enjoy the experience even on the times when the food or the movie isn’t particularly good. It’s still our twice-a-year special night out.

  70. Kathy says:

    I’ve been to the CF a couple of times. I really enjoy the cheesecake there. The regular menu on the other hand ends up feeling as though there are too many things that I want to try and the ones that interest me are outside my internal price range.

    I’ve spent less money at cheaper restaurants and have been happier with the service and the food. Going to the CF for cheesecake is in my realm of things that I’m willing to do. Going for dinner, I’m less likely to want to do that. I’m not sure about lunch. That might be okay.

  71. Tizzle says:

    I have been to CF 2 or 3 times. The first time, I noticed the drinks, while big, were more expensive than I could get up the street. Also, there were advertisements on every page of the very heavy menu. I was appalled by that. The salad was fine.

    The 2nd time, CF was the only restaurant to remain open in a snow”storm”. I live in Seattle, but was raised in Minnesota. The snow wasn’t even sticking, and the bars were closed. I was on my way to the airport, and wanted a stiff drink.

    I still don’t go there (or any chains, usually), but the second experience was way different. It even looked pretty because of the huge snowflakes outside, like we were in a snowglobe. I can do better for the price, in my city.

  72. Stephanie says:

    “Even things as simple as coffee: if you enjoy an expensive cup at a high end coffee shop every day, suddenly that’s your standard, you’re burning through piles of cash, and ordinary coffee is no longer good enough.” This is a really good point, and it makes a lot of sense. If you cant afford it, than it is burning a hole in your wallet, if you can, then you may be setting yourself up for a big dissipointment in other areas of life.

  73. LisaZ says:

    Johanna, when are you unleashing your own blog?? If I haven’t kept up with Trent’s articles and see a long list of comments, I find myself skimming through to find your point of you. Thanks

  74. Tabitha says:

    This was interesting to me mostly b/c I got blasted on a foodie blog once for saying I liked CF for it’s consistency. I like all kinds of good food from any price range. I’ve got a family and CF works for us when we are out at the mall every 6-8 months. It’s so interesting to see how many people have a beef about CF or maybe is it just what they imagine CF to stand for as a large chain restaurant. If I’ve got a good attitude, I can enjoy myself anywhere, unless it smells.

  75. Borealis says:

    The great thing about money is that it is easy to compare the cost of different options. If you prefer two $20 dinners at Cheesecake Factory versus one $40 dinner at a fancier restaurant, then the choice is rather obvious.

    And I have to sum up some comments, ala Yogi Berra, as “Nobody likes the Cheesecake Factory because the lines are too long.”

  76. Kevin says:

    @Jenni: check out thehungrymouse.com Wonderfully illustrated recipes. A totally different site w/o the beautiful photos but boasting some excellent make-at-home recipes is allrecipes.com – plus the recipes are scalable! Finally, you could also check out Ree Drummond’s blog – thepioneerwoman.com

  77. spaces says:

    I don’t really agree. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I cook well, and so does my spouse, and I’ve been to more than my share of excellent restaurants. And it makes me just like my own cooking, or my spouse’s cooking, all the more. Especially when we get a chance to interrogate the cook or manager and bring home what we’ve learned.

    IMO excellent restaurants — by that I mean big city legitimate ranking of three stars or above, which is often, but not nesc., the same as high price — use fresh ingredients (as opposed to frozen or batch cooked on less often than a daily or shift basis), cook on premises (as opposed to partially- or fully-prepared, flash frozen), and offer innovative combinations (they let their chef and cooks COOK, instead of just following corporate recipes).

    CF offers none of these.

    My kitchen offers all of these, if I take my $20 or $30 or even $40 we’d spend for a “night out” at some stupid chain place, and put it into high-quality ingredients, and spices.

    Some dishes that stand out in my mind: Salmon grilled with a vanilla-bean glaze at a pricey three-star. A baby-root-vegetable raw salad with things I’d never eaten, still can’t identify, and would love to eat again at a pricey four-star. Thai coconut milk and lime soup from an excellent dive ethnic restaurant. The latter inspired me to the point that I’m now growing two ingredients because I can’t realiably get them. None of these were things I would have thought of on my own, but all are well within my abilities, now that someone else pointed them out. Why should the spouse and I pay $200 when we can do it ourselves for $30?

  78. LauraH says:

    An excellent post.

    Applying this philosophy to food took me from a size eighteen to a size six— steady for about fifteen years, now, barring a bit of post-trauma weight gain following a series of physical assaults last year. You only taste the first few bites of an indulgent food, and then only if it’s been a while since you’ve had it!

  79. karen says:

    Very well said. I think the problem is that we believe that we want to have these “peak” experiences on a regular basis but we don’t stop to think what we might lose in the process (be it money or satisfaction with our “ordinary” life.)

  80. Mubongo says:

    I loved this post. I recognized my own experience in it immediately.

    I grew up in a small city in upstate New York. Now I live in Chicago. Yes, I’ve been to Alinea, Moto, Charlie Trotter’s and the like, but even the “regular” restaurants here are better than restaurants at home because they *have* to be in order to stay competitive. Now, when I visit my family (sadly, only about once a year), my old favorite restaurants just don’t seem as good.

    That said, I agree with the other comments that dining in high-quality, and yes, expensive, restaurants, has made me a better at-home cook. I used to be happy with a frozen microwave meal for lunch; Now I take the time to prepare something with fresh ingredients that’s tastier and healthier… probably cheaper, too, but I haven’t really priced it out.

  81. Tricia says:

    Yes, when the extraordinary becomes ordinary – my dream restaurant is Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse. And now that one has opened just 10 minutes from my work place, it is a struggle not to splurge on a regular basis. It would ruin the whole experience to show up after work, in my normal work clothes and tired. Instead, we travel two hours south to a different one, dress up (even makeup and earrings! *gasp*) and take our time and sometimes even stay down there. And that way it remains special, once in a great while treat.

  82. Alyson says:

    I think the problem with the Cheesecake Factory, et al, is both an internal thing and what they are. Chain restaurants that you can’t get out of for less than $20pp for a meal that you could prepare at home for a lot less. My husband and I have spoiled ourselves by becoming good, at home cooks and now many restaurant experiences are just disappointing – although most of those are chains. I can make a mean roast beef po’boy (I live in MA) but when I’m in New Orleans I have no problem spending money at one of 3 FANTASTIC po’boy places that I love (Frankie & Johnny’s, Parkway ,and the new one on Magazine) – ranging in price from about $6 – $12. The best burger I’ve ever eaten comes from NOLA as well (Port of Call) and, with a kick-ass baked potato, is still under $10 (or right at, I can’t remember). So, with these things in mind, going to Cheesecake or the like, spending $15+ on a burger that’s a frozen pattie, poorly cooked, is going to be a disappointment. Even pizza – I make the dough and the sauce and buy the cheese and toppings – we can’t buy pizza in town anymore because it costs 2xs as much as making it at home and it’s just, eh. There is one Italian restaurant in town that consistently serves the best veal parm ever tasted and occasionally we’ll splurge on that, they also do a mean baked ziti which is just slightly better than what we can do at home, but worth it for nights when we don’t want to cook. So, maybe the problem is with the whole ‘chain’ idea and not so much the price of the food. What passes for ‘quality’ or ‘exceptional’ at a chain and its prices is often just mediocre at home or at a local restaurant.

  83. J says:

    Food snobs (or foodies) don’t like Cheesecake Factory? Not surprised.

    I really liked this quote from the article:

    “When you reach the point that dinner with your mother at the Cheesecake Factory on the occasion of her birthday at her request becomes intolerable because of the quality of the food, you’re riding a very dangerous line”

    The reason people eat at the Cheesecake Factory have a lot more to do with where they are and what they offer. Often they are located in a shopping area where people can do shopping afterwards. While I don’t get the “shopping as a sport” mindset, myself, I know a lot of people who like to get together to shop. Also that 90 page menu likely has a few things that the vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, lactose-intolerant, South Beach dieter, soup lover and salad lover in the mother’s circle of friends can like. So no quibbling over “where to eat”.

    And for God’s sake people, if the woman who gave you birth and raised you desires her birthday meal to come from the Cheesecake Factory, then that’s where you eat. Find something on the menu to enjoy and eat it. With 90 pages it shouldn’t be impossible.

    I enjoy a very occasional good meal, but overall I really enjoyed this article. I find the price/quality relationship is pretty asymptotic, anyway. A home cooked meal is also nice because you can have an extra drink (or two!) and not have to worry about driving home :)

  84. Lenore says:

    When I first went to CF several years ago, the lure was that the meals and desserts were HUGE. They weren’t cheap, but you got at least twice as much food as you do at most restaurants. The last time I went a couple of years ago, their prices were still high but the portions had reduced to the point that it was no longer a value. If I can’t take home a second meal, why should I pay twice as much? So I won’t be going back.

  85. EngineerMom says:

    While an interesting article, I disagree with the premise that eating at a fantastic restaurant a couple of times (when you can afford it) somehow diminishes the enjoyment factor of one’s own cooking.

    My husband and I have a favorite Italian-inspired restaurant with a slight Mexican twist. We love going there for dinner – it has great atmosphere, is fairly small, and the food is almost uniformly delicious (they don’t do desserts well) and very well-portioned (you can eat a whole meal from appetizer, pasta, fish, meat, and a cup of coffee without feeling stuffed and no leftovers). Whenever a family member offers to take us out for dinner, we opt there. The price range is about what it would be at a place like Cheesecake Factory, for much smaller portions.

    However, going to this favorite, relatively expensive restaurant a couple of times per year does not in any way diminish our enjoyment of home-cooked food. I love to cook, and make almost all of our meals completely from scratch and on a budget. Going to this restaurant inspires me to be more creative with the ingredients I have, since their food is simple, just very well prepared.

    Great experiences inspire the one experiencing them to improve their own life. This could be something like “Wow, I really enjoyed those sculptures in Rome. Maybe I should check out my own local art museum” or “Wow, I loved seeing the natural beauty of Mt. Rushmore. I wonder what my state and local parks have to offer?”

    Regularly having great experiences doesn’t raise one’s expectations unless one is becoming a snob.

  86. Alyson says:

    oh, and @Jenni – I love http://www.smittenkitchen.com (and she has good links to other food blogs), my husband really likes http://www.cookingforengineers.com (they have a great lasagna) and Alton Brown’s ‘Good Eats’ on Food Network is really good for explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing to the food and why it works with certain things and not with others.

  87. Johanna says:

    @J: Actually, the Cheesecake Factory menu has almost nothing that’s vegan as is. There are a few things (mostly salads) that can be made vegan by leaving off the cheese/meat. That’ll work in a pinch, but a lot of us balk at the idea of paying full price for a dish with the most expensive ingredient left out.

    Before I went veg, I used to really like the Cheesecake Factory, for all the reasons other people have mentioned here: consistently good (if not mind-blowing) food, large portions that make for tons of leftovers, a fun atmosphere, but most of all the huge menu. The “wow, what am I gonna have?” process was actually a highlight of the experience for me.

    These days, if my mother wanted to go to the Cheesecake Factory for her birthday dinner, I’d go along and eat a chicken salad without the chicken and without complaint. For any other occasion, though, I’ll politely suggest that we choose another restaurant.

  88. angela says:

    Trent,

    This is an excellent post! My husband and I have applied this to not only dining, but our now very basic life. Since the economy has slimmed our income to 1 of 2, we live on ‘the skinny’.

    This ‘set back’ for us has been a huge blessing. It has allowed my husband to be home with our three kids and they appreciate the simple things like parks, skateboard parks, the libary, huge ice cream cups to split at Costco etc. When we do plan an outing, it is much more appreciated by everyone because we know it is ‘special’.

    We have looked at life differently and like it. Not everything has to be a ’10′ all the time. It is getting through a lot of ’5′s’ that make the ’10′s’ more appreciated.

  89. OK, this is just me, but since the topic has largely devolved into a discussion about restaurant meals–I can’t do the fine dining thing. I’m not a penny pincher, but I can’t get past blowing half a months grocery budget (I have a family) on the “dining experience” at a high end restaurant for meal that’s 20, maybe 30% better than the Cheesecake Factory. I’d rather spend the $250 we’d spend on dinner on some other experience that we’ll actually remember in 30 years–say $200 and the remaining 50 to grab a bite along the way.

    I miss the hole in the wall Chinese, Italian and Mexican restaurants that served great food for only a little more than what you’d pay at McDonalds. 20 years ago they were all over the place.

    Has anyone noticed how so many of those restaurants have gone “upscale” and tripled or quadrupled the prices they charge for the same meals, only they don’t taste quite as good? (Talk about lifestyle inflation!)

  90. A.J. says:

    Heh. To me, I thought spoiled *WAS* eating at Cheesecake Factory.

    Then again, the one time I went *was* in the middle of a vacation, and my usual weekly diet includes about fifteen bowls of cereal, four frozen Healthy Choice entrees, and three trips to Subway…

    Then again, I grew up in one of those rural areas where you had to go all the way to Chicago to experience something more awe-inspiring than TGI Friday’s.

  91. Kim says:

    Great article Trent! My husband and I have greatly reduced our restaurant eating both for economic and health reasons. Since we only eat out every couple of weeks we look for quality and seek out new places. Eating out becomes more of an experience rather than routine.

  92. Griffin says:

    I see what you did there hehe =)

    Very informative and fun to read.

  93. Todd says:

    I hope I never see day I refuse to step into a CF (or a McDonald’s for that matter) because my tastes are simply too good for the place. I have a wide variety of friends, some who love McDonalds (and simply can’t afford even a TGI Fridays) and some who love and can afford very expensive restaurants. I enjoy the experience of eating with all of them.

    Isn’t saying about food “I won’t eat there because there are much better options” only a small step away from saying about people “I won’t share a meal with you because there are much better options”?

    Maybe it’s just me. I have to admit that I’ve never met a meal I didn’t like. ;-)

  94. J says:

    @Johanna – I was getting at that CF (like other restaurants in the same “league” — TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Bugaboo Creek, Olive Garden, etc) has a wide enough menu that most people can find something to eat on it. The food snobs who consistently criticize these type of places just don’t get it. They are so wrapped up in their peer group (that, of course, violently agrees with them) that they are somehow better, healthier, more innovative and beautiful than those “other people” dining out at those pedestrian establishments.

    This quite literally makes me sick.

    Why do we dine out at places like CF? For one, we have kids. Chez Pricey and Ostentatious doesn’t give you crayons and offer you a child’s seat when you walk in — if you have one. Then, the patrons give you stares when your child talks. Finally, you end up with a very high chance of ordering something that the kid will nibble at and then reject. A lot of the more “sophisticated” flavors just don’t agree with kids. So we would end up dropping another $50 on food that didn’t get eaten.

    Also, there is an implicit assumption that everyone wants to spend $50-75/person to go out to eat. I have a decent income and I can’t support that one bit.

    My friend’s wife has a collection of friends who is like this. Birthday dinner get-togethers have turned into almost a competition to see who can find the most exclusive place to have dinner. Add in things like parking, dressy clothes and the time to get downtown (since there places would never deign to be in a suburb) and $150-200 a month of their income goes to some stupid arms race. I’d beg for a night out at the Cheesecake Factory.

    I will again state that I do enjoy a foofy dinner from time to time — but there are plenty of other times I’d rather head out for a decent burger and a beer, too. Life doesn’t always have to be lived in the biggest way possible.

  95. #63 J–Totally agree. We’re BLESSED to be able to sit in front of our computers to discuss the merits of 1 dinner at Le Snob or 5 at a Cheesecake Factory equivalent while a substantial portion of the worlds population is asking the more basic question ‘ARE we going to eat tonight?’.

  96. joan says:

    My son and I have eaten out a lot due to our line of work which involves traveling. When I asked him one day which food he remembered the most; surprisingly it was some very unusual mashed potatoes. As soon as he mentioned it; my mouth started watering. Over all, I rate most of my eating out at a 2-3. I much prefer eating at home or at the home of one of my children. However, like you; I remember eating out with friends or relatives; enjoying it immemsely and not even remembering what I ate. One meal that I do remember was beer and pizza eaten in a park; again it was the company that made the meal memorable. Great post; keep up the good work.

  97. Sarah T says:

    I partially agree with you, and partially disagree. For me, the discovery of the kind of food that most often (although not always!) comes from fancy restaurants was a revelation, and it has turned me from a mediocre into a very good home cook, and gave me the ability to satisfy my desire for really nice meals at home. It has also made cooking into something I do for pleasure, rather than (as is more usual in my family of origin) just to get something on the table.

    I also found, when I started tracking my spending, that I spent a lot more money on $5-a-pop slices of pizza or sandwiches when I didn’t pack enough food to get me through my day than I do on fancy meals, which I have less than once a month. That said, I do still think of the fancy meals as special events, so perhaps your point carries :)

    I’m also aware in lots of areas of my life of having an upper bound to what I think might be reasonable to pay for something: I can’t imagine buying a $150 sweater, for example. And I’ve experienced how my idea of what’s “reasonable” to pay is influenced by what I’m in the habit of paying, so that’s another way I could see negative consequences from regularly having expensive meals. (On the other hand, shopping at Goodwill has done great things for my clothing budget, because now I’m annoyed by any item of clothing that costs more than $10!)

  98. Katina says:

    I have to agree with you about eating out. When I eat out with friends I go for the company and not the food since 99% of the food we have eaten was not memorable. I’d prefer to eat at less expensive places just to get together but my friends don’t like to do that, so I order something inexpensive and just pay for what I ate. And, we don’t go out that often…

    As for the memorable food experiences, I have 3:

    1. The nuac maam (sp?) clear orange sauce they use with spring rolls at vietnamese restaurants.

    2. Went to a Persian restaurant for the first time a while back and I re-live the taste and smell of the Koobideh all the time and can’t wait to go back.

    3. We found a Mexican restaurant with the “best” Tortilla soup in town so that’s where we go for our soup “fix”.

    So, I go out periodically and get the food I really love, and remember, and do not feel guilty about that money at all!

  99. cosmic mojo says:

    I agree with what you’re saying about the scale, etc. However, that’s not why so many people were dissing Cheesecake Factory. Do you really think they eat at $250 buck a plate eateries most nights and have high standards because of that? No. CF is just on the tail end of it’s popularity curve. First it was buzzing, then it was the hip place to say you love, but once everyone loves it, it’s not exclusive anymore, so it becomes necessary to dis it if you’re the sort who cares about being perceived as IN by others.

  100. Diane says:

    Interesting post. Kind of have to disagree with you about the fancy restaurant thing though. I find it doesn’t at all reset my bar at all, but makes me love and search out food more broadly. I find that it also inspires me to cook more at home. Once I made duck confit at home solely because I had it at a fancy restaurant and loved it. I think I get inspired by the things I eat out when it’s a great meal.

    And really – for those of us who LOVE to cook and to eat, good food is good food. Yes, I’ve loved dining at the downstairs restaurant at Chez Panisse – and that ranks up there as one of the biggies – but my favorite eating out also includes the $2.50 banh mi at a hole-in-the-wall-joint in San Francisco.

    My grocery bill is very low – I cook everything from scratch and don’t waste food. So – when I have the $ (I don’t right now, times are hard), I eat out sometimes and I enjoy it. And I don’t worry about the “bar.”

  101. Elderly librarian says:

    I am on the point of buying MBT shoes. Will this “spoil” me for wearing ordinary cheap shoes? what can I do. I am very tempted, being so advanced in age, they will really feel good on my feet! (I have tried them on and like them a lot) Should I look on them as “orthopedics” instead of regular shoes? I would like to be frugal, but I would really like to have them. As for the cheesecake factory, I have never been there. I live in a town that has no really outstanding places to eat, so it’s not much of a dilemma for me to avoid them. I have a family member who is a nutritionist and she says she dislikes restaurants because she can’t really control the ingredients, the salt, the fat, etc.

  102. Bottom line is people like to be snobby when it comes to food.

  103. anne says:

    trent-

    i don’t believe you- i really don’t.

    “But what happens if I go there twice? And I dine at a few other restaurants on that list? I go to one every few months – and that standard starts to enter my scale. Suddenly, the meal in my own kitchen goes down to a “2″ – I’m no longer nearly as happy with it.”

    i am willing to concede you might feel this way for a short while, if you were able and willing to indulge yourself w/ many nights out in posh restaurants.

    but then i think you’d find yourself missing the fun and challenge of cooking a delicious meal in your own kitchen, among your family.

    you seem to really enjoy doing it. and what keeps coming to my mind is that photo a few recipes back of your ingredients.

    i can’t remember the dish off hand, but i remember your dear son put a toy horse in the shot, and you let him. that’s my evidence.

    so i’m willing to spot you a few “2′s” for the meals you prepare in your kitchen. but then i think you’d find yourself sitting in some pricey restaurant desperately missing eating at home.

  104. Brittany says:

    Ha! The restaurant-that-shall-(sort of)-remain-nameless cracked me up, even if I have had some good meals (with great friends!) there.

    And I agree with Johanna–European travel doesn’t have to be expensive at all. I traveled for a month and a half last year on an average of 100 Euros a week… which is less than I pay to live in city I work in in the states! (Granted, I had minimal worldly possessions with my feet as my only transportation and occasionally went a few days without hot food–but I was in the best shape of my life and developed a deep and abiding love of marketplaces, And had some of my most memorable food experiences! (Pita and feta in the cave of Apollo, dinner with stranger who became fast friends on a terrance over looking the mediterrian at sunset…). I sure hope not only that I get to go back within the decade, but that it won’t lose all it’s luster and become common place.

    As other people point out, it’s all what you value.

  105. Rick C says:

    Totally agree with you about Aunt Maude’s. Sadly, my wife doesn’t like going there because they “have nothing normal on the menu.” Which is true. You can get fish with artichokes and steak with cavendered beet hearts, and wonderful beef.

  106. susan says:

    I can’t really say eating at an expensive restaurant merits including in my ‘bucket list’. Personally, I wouldn’t drop that kind of money for that type of experience. I guess to each their own. I would rather eat a nutritious home cooked meal with fresh vegetables from the garden.

  107. cv says:

    I’d be curious to know whether, since really learning to cook healthy food, you’ve eaten at restaurants for several days in a row. This happens to me sometimes while traveling, or when people come to visit and want to take us out to dinner. Having gotten used to my own cooking, several days of restaurant food leaves me feeling slightly ill. I start craving tofu and chard and other really healthy things.

    With your own cooking, you get used to certain levels of salt and fat, a general proportion of fiber, a ratio of starch to vegetables, etc. One or two meals out is a treat, but it’s not how I enjoy eating all the time.

    I think the scale concept does work sometimes, but it tends to be where the experience is more easily rated on a single factor. Having gotten used to a better brand of, say, pasta sauce or sneakers or shampoo, it’s hard to go back to the cheap stuff. There are fewer factors playing into the overall experience in those cases.

  108. elsie says:

    I like eating at home, eating at a high end restaurant 3 times a year, and the Cheesecake Factory on occasion as well. One does not preclude any of the others because they’re all completely different experiences, each with different points of benefit– why be so utterly comparative!
    Excellent post, trent.

  109. MKL says:

    Interesting article. For me, the desire to eat out has little to do with the restauraunt or the experience (while those are indeed nice :) ). Muy biggest vehicle for eating someplace other than home, and one where I’ll gladly spend extra to a point, is to have something I’ve either never had before, or otherwise would not make at home. When I get brave enough to make something at home, and enjoy the results, I’m less likely to venture out for it. Besides that, my truly favorite food experiences usually are had around a campfire rather than in my own kitchen or in a restauraunt; my favorite purchase ever has been my set of camp style Dutch Ovens :) ).

  110. You’re absolutely right about the danger of peak experiences, Trent. I’m a foodie too, and I have indulged my taste for superlative meals far more often than you have. It absolutely does change one’s standards. Even when I was eating frequently in Italy and at very high-end restaurants in America’s culinary meccas, I frequently told myself, “It’s more fun to act jaded than to *be* jaded.” It was true.

    But I have to report that over time, those peak experiences fade into the background. I haven’t forgotten them – oh, no, not at all. I remember and savor them fondly, and I believe I could easily revert to those lofty standards if I resumed eating that way. But like you I take full pleasure in home cooked meals again. Especially because so many of the ingredients are grown in my own backyard. The satisfaction of growing my own food and assembling it into a wholesome, tasty meal cannot be touched by even the most spectacularly gifted chef in the loveliest restaurant setting. No money can buy that experience.

  111. Lauren says:

    I’m sorry, but I couldn’t keep quiet. I am a chef and TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Bugaboo Creek, and Olive Garden are not in the same “league” as The Cheesecake Factory. They are about half a set up from McDonalds and CF is one of the few chains that is stil a truly from scratch kitchen. One of my best friends was a sous chef at CF for some time, and everything is made fresh there several times a day. For those who complain about dietary restrictions, either self imposed or medical, ask the staff. They can adjust anything, and I don’t just mean leave off the meat or cheese. I once saw CF make up an adjusted personal menu for a woman who was a celiac so she would have her choice of what to eat on her birthday. Also, the chefs are allowed to innovate at some of the locations. They just have the innovations listed as “specials,” ask about it. Finally, the two chefs I know who worked at CF have gone on to work in the kitchens of restaurants on the S. Pellegrino 50 because of the experience they gained at CF. I realize that it is a chain, but not all locations are run the same way. Not all CFs are equal. :o)

  112. Bella says:

    I have been at CF twice on a trip to Hawaii. I am quite difficult and largely prefer my cooking at home. Although, I truly agree with Lauren: nothing to say against it! The quality is surprisingly good for the price and quantity of people they get to serve, it is original and indeed, adaptable!

  113. Jen says:

    I agree with some aspects of increasing expectations / lifestyle. And it can be gradual, like the nicer coffee that several posters have already mentioned. (Isn’t that where the “latte factor” came from?) I’ve noticed it with cell phones. For years now, my friends have been trying to talk me into a new phone with a data plan, especially since a bunch of them have iPhones now. And I’d tell them, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve wished that I’d had all that extra stuff on my phone, so I don’t see the need to pay extra for it. But it seems like once you upgrade, suddenly you can’t live without the ability to update your Facebook status while getting GPS directions and watching YouTube videos. That’s a $50/month extra expense that I am not willing to commit to, nevermind the expense of the phone itself.
    Kind of like designer jeans. I wish I didn’t know how good I look in that $200 pair that I barely talked myself out of buying. But I think about them every time I put on my regular jeans. Curses.
    As for CF, I just think there are 10+ better restaurants around town at the same price point that are more my style, so why bother allocating any of my dining budget for it? For me, dining out is a conscious choice, rarely a solution to a busy weeknight or an empty fridge, because I enjoy meal planning and cooking at home. I budget for really nice places on a decently regular basis, but eating $200/person dinners doesn’t cause me enjoy the $2/slice brick oven pizza place any less.

  114. Sarah D says:

    I read this entry last month, coincidentally a week before my family was planning to meet in Des Moines for a wedding. We all went to Aunt Maude’s in Ames one night, and it was fantastic!! Thanks so much for the recommendation! Truly one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had. You are lucky to live so close!

  115. tentaculistic says:

    Totally ignoring the underlying point of the article…

    I went to Cheesecake Factory last week. In Northern Virginia, I have never had to wait, even at peak hours, since they have so many tables, and a large bar area as well. I agree that the portions are huge, but I compensate by getting an appetizer (mmm tex mex eggrolls!), a plate of edamame beans, and their awesome passion fruit iced tea. It’s really a delicious portion-controlled meal, and a big treat. If I went more often, I’d have to skip the deep-fried eggrolls, and would probably stop appreciating the flavors, but I have to say that I like Cheesecake Factory! Plus the waiters are a step up from many comparable places like Applebee’s or Chili’s. I give it a thumb’s up.

  116. Joless says:

    Who doesn’t want their lifestyle to improve? Surely it’s a good thing to refine your tastes and become more discerning about what is good? We don’t eat out unless we’re (fairly) sure it’s going to be good, or at least interesting, and we pretty much avoid ‘chain’ restaurants altogether since we prefer individual experiences. We also tend to avoid ordering things we can make ourselves. We try new places and look at reviews and try new things. We don’t eat out just for the sake of refueling. There is no reason why one cannot enjoy a fabulous meal out every week and still enjoy it.

  117. Borealis says:

    The best food you will ever eat will be the fish you caught, the vegetables you grew, the venison you hunted, and the bread you baked.

    Very expensive dining is a “great experience”, but really half of the experience is because it is expensive. Just like an expensive resort is a “great experience” for having amazing opportunities even if you don’t use them. It is all in your mind.

    Most cities have restaurants with spices and tastes that European Kings never tasted, yet we still would rather be the “King for a day” than actually have the now cheap tastes and cuisine.

    That is just one of the paradoxes of being human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>