You may or may not eat at Applebee’s—or places like it—but many Americans do. It’s not fast food in the McDonald’s sense of high-speed industrial food production. Applebee’s is a leading franchise of what’s called “casual dining.” It’s a chain of more than 2,000 restaurants, each one of which presents itself as a “neighborhood” dining establishment. It’s one of the places that journalist Tracie McMillan documents in The American Way of Eating.
Why is it so important to consider the role of “casual dining” in our communities? Because there are more than 100 major “casual dining” restaurant chains in the U.S., according to national data gathered by Wikipedia. Do the math and you’ll see that it’s not just Applebee’s providing this level of service. “Casual dining” chains represent an enormous part of American life coast to coast. So, consider how McMillan lays out the argument about the value of these businesses …
Everyone knows that eating out is more expensive than eating at home. That’s true for Applebee’s, like most restaurants. You might not save money, but you could save time. Eating out could be faster than making meals at home. Applebee’s is a good comparison for cooking at home, because Applebee’s serves what McMillan calls “basic American fare that’s easy to make.” This is food that anyone with basic cooking skills can make at home
So, is it faster to go to Applebee’s or eat at home? On average, the two-income family takes about 52 minutes to prepare dinner, according to a study McMillan cites. That’s the time from opening the refrigerator to sitting down to eat. McMillan estimates that it takes, on average, 45 minutes to drive to an Applebee’s, order food, wait for it to be prepared, and have it brought to your table. Once you have eaten, you also have to drive home, so that time should be factored in, too. The result is that you don’t save much time by dining at Applebee’s.
So, what function does a place like Applebee’s serve? “The real convenience behind these convenience foods isn’t time or money, but that they remove one more bit of stress from our day,” McMillan writes. By dining out, we don’t have to expend the energy or “mental headspace” to plan dinner and prepare dinner.
How much does “mental headspace” figure into your dining options?
Does eating out reduce stress in your life?
Do certain restaurant chains reduce your stress more than others?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.