Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Chain Restaurant All-You-Can-Eat Wars (food)

There was plenty of attention recently in the media regarding Olive Garden's pasta pass promotion, spawning black market resales and blogs like this one that I'm currently following. Last year, the chain restaurants were fighting for supremacy over 3+ course dinners, with almost every well-known restaurant chain offering some 3+ course meal for under $12.99. This year, they've all upped the ante with the all-you-can-eat wars.

It's not like Olive Garden's never-ending pasta bowl is new, while Red Lobster's unlimited shrimp has also been around for years. But there are several newcomers this year, including Applebee's AYCE cross-cut ribs, TGIF's endless appetizers, and Outback Steakhouse's steak with unlimited shrimp. The last one appealed to me the most, since I was on a low-carb kick and it seemed to be the exact same deal as Red Lobster (which I've done before) except with an added piece of steak.

I generally only eat steak on rare occasions, but when I do, it tends to be a deeply aged cut at a fancy NYC steakhouse. So I wasn't expecting much out of my 5 oz USDA Choice Sirloin. It was actually pretty decent flavor-wise, and didn't really need any additional sauce. I highly recommend cutting the steak into fairly small bites, otherwise you're going to be doing a lot of chewing.

Unlike Red Lobster's 5 different shrimp preparations, there were only 2 choices at Outback, fried or cooked in garlic herb butter. The fried version came with a choice of buffalo or cocktail sauce to dip them in, both of which were perfectly adequate. This was fine for me since I usually ended up just ordering the fried or scampi preparations when I did unlimited shrimp at Red Lobster anyway. The shrimp were tiny as expected, but seemed to be slightly larger on average than the ones I'd had at Red Lobster. My server also outperformed my expectations, making the experience much better as a whole and worth repeating. All too often when there's value in a food deal the service is compromised. That wasn't the case here.

Will we see another theme for chain restaurants to compete over next year? Or have they reached the zero lower bound in that they can't offer any deal better than AYCE? Who will emerge victorious in this race to the bottom? I haven't tried the other ones yet, but Outback currently has my vote.

Outback Steakhouse
88-01 Queens Blvd (inside a mall with Target, Best Buy, Red Lobster, etc.)
Elmhurst, Queens

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