Unlimited breadsticks and a side of nostalgia: Chain restaurants are back

The restaurants of strip malls past are having their moment in the spotlight.

Were you even a ‘90s kid if you didn’t have a formative life experience in a booth at the local Olive Garden?

Storefronts of Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, and Outback Steakhouse

Whether you were weeping into unlimited breadsticks or hanging with the popular kids at TGI Fridays, chain restaurants were once beloved social hubs.

Then, hankering for fast-casual bowls and trendy tapas, it was those same ‘90s kids who nearly wiped them off the map.

But, per Eater, chain restaurants are back — and we’re so ready:

  • One report named Texas Roadhouse the fastest-growing restaurant brand in the world, with a 56% value increase in 2023.
  • The Melting Pot is revamping 90 of its restaurants and looking to open up to 30 new locations.
  • Outback Steakhouse is growing steadily in the US, but it’s huge in Brazil, where sales jumped 61% in the first half of 2023. (It’s been voted Rio de Janeiro’s most popular restaurant five years in a row.)

And Olive Garden, whose parent company grew its sales 11.6% over the last quarter of 2023, is enjoying its moment on social media.

The chain’s Never-Ending Pasta Bowl deal is trending on TikTok, where the hashtag #olivegarden has amassed 1.8B+ views.

Why are people lining up now?

A variety of factors are likely contributing to the revival:

  • Inflation and rising food costs have customers hungry for deals, and bigger chains can keep costs down more effectively.
  • Chains are more consistent, and budget-conscious customers might not want to gamble on a bad meal.

And, of course, there’s the pull of good old-fashioned nostalgia.

Chains are the secret sauce…

… that seems to keep businesses afloat.

While fine dining has stalled, upscale chains are still thriving (think: Nobu).

Plus, we’ve gotten used to chains for everything, from our retail stores to our hotels.

Just remember: While breaking bread with loved ones is priceless, the Olive Garden cheese grater is not — and you can buy it.

New call-to-action
Topics: Restaurants

Related Articles

Get the 5-minute news brief keeping 2.5M+ innovators in the loop. Always free. 100% fresh. No bullsh*t.