It doesn't matter if it is a fast food outlet, a 'family' dining venue, or a higher end steak and chop house. When you go to a chain restaurant you are going to have a menu that was designed to appeal to a fairly broad palate. The emphasis is going to be on a consistent product over a wide geographic area, and you won't find mom or pop in the back making the family secret recipe.
On the other hand, for the most part you won't be subject to the kind of horrors that show up on some restaurant reality shows, where food is rotting in the walk in, the chef believes that his 'special' lemon juice and cardamon sauce belongs on every dish from salads to lasagna to steak to sundaes, or the waitstaff hasn't changed their uniform in a week. In short, it is unlikely to be a stellar dining experience but it is equally unlikely to be such a disaster that everyone walks out hungry.
In some ways I wonder why a website like chowhound, which is devoted to buying, creating, or finding 'the best' even has a section on chains. But what baffles me more are the chowhounds; bright, interesting, informed, experienced foodies that they are; become irate that the food at a chain doesn't taste like something their sainted grandmother or the uber-talented chef down the street would create for them. I would not judge a $2.50 hamburger from a stand on the corner on the same basis as I would a $12 burger from LeChicCafe, so why would I judge the Pasta Alfredo from HappyFamilyDiner ('Where America Eats') on the same basis as Chez Miguel's that has a three star rating from Michelin?
If I am in the Chains section of Chowhound I understand that I am not reading about people's experience at Peter Lugers or The French Laundry, or El Bulli. And I won't be surprised to find out that the food wasn't as good. What I am hoping to find out is whether I should get the Burger or the Pasta Alfedo at HappyFamilyDiner because that is Aunt Ethel's favorite place to go. I want to know if the dinner salad selection is better at HappyFamilyDiner or at NewWaveCafe. What are the best selections at Tex'sPizzaPalace (and why does Tex's sell pizza instead of barbecue?) Has the quality at PancakesOfTheWorld really slipped since it was sold to that conglomerate? Can you taste the difference now that BurgerHaus no longer uses pink slime?
I know it's a chain. I knew it when I walked in the door. I knew it when I read the menu. I was reminded of it when i saw the food come out. For whatever reason or reasons it is where I am going to be eating that meal. OK, warn me that it might be a mistake, caution me that the french fries have been sitting under a headlamp since 5am, or that the vegetables have been on a steam table since last tuesday. But please don't insult me by saying that I should have cooked a birthday dinner for 12 in my hotel room, or that going hungry is a better option than a trip to BurgerFactory. Most of all don't tell me that you would NEVER eat at a chain restaurant for any reason. Then why are you in here reading about them?