A Supposedly Good Restaurant I'll Never Eat at Again

It isn’t that the food is bad.

The drinks are atrocious — our capable waiter confessed that extra simple syrup is added to almost every cocktail, even the gin and tonic — but the food is always passably good, if slightly over-salted, so good in fact that it’s hard to understand how it can be so unsatisfying.

As a child I loved the strawberry lemonade, served in a glass rimmed with sugar, so no surprise there, but I hadn’t dined at The Cheesecake Factory for over a decade, and I hope I never go again. Would I rather eat at Applebee’s? Suffice it to say that I’m not sure. Certainly I’d rather go to Chile’s, where the food is decidedly less good, and Mimi’s Cafe is a theme chain restaurant whose food (read: chicken pot pie) I thoroughly enjoy, along with the possibly defunct Hamburger Hamlet (split pea soup, zuchinni “zircles” with apricot sauce) and The Hard Rock Cafe, where once in Europe I satiated a powerful craving for an American cheeseburger and a Caesar salad, thereafter pledging my eternal debt.

Perhaps it is unfair to say that The Cheesecake Factory pretends to be a better restaurant than it is. Hell, the simple syrup policy makes me want to be unfair. But by far the worst thing about the place is that you’re bombarded by advertising from the minute you walk in the door.

Above is the view from the cushioned bench in the waiting area. Why did it grate on me so much? Then the wireless buzzer rang, my party got seated, and I opened the menu only to find an advertisement on the inside cover. Is there anything less civilizing than trying to chat with dinner companions and deciding on a dish while someone tries to sell you shoes?

On the next page, I discovered that there is something worse:

How fitting to find my old nemesis there. What a soulless, mercenary restaurant. But it is one of America’s most successful dining establishments, so how come? What explains the phenomenal success? It isn’t that the food is better than what you can get elsewhere, or that the prices are especially competitive.

Even the Cheesecake, while passably good, is easily equaled. The location I visited, inside the Fashion Island “lifestyle center” in Newport Beach, is surrounded by restaurants with far better food, though less variety. Are there fans of The Cheesecake Factory among our readership? Do you not mind the advertisements in the menus?

And doesn’t this ad in particular cross some kind of restaurateur’s ethical code?

If you’re looking for a pairing that accentuates the taste, order wine. If you’re trying to kill the spice, get milk or ask for a teaspoon of honey. Only the Coca Cola company would pair jambalaya with Coca Cola! Let’s close with Conor’s Dining Out Dictum: If you’re paying more than $10 for your meal, you shouldn’t have to put up with advertising pitches while you’re trying to enjoy it.