You posed the question, referencing the appeal of the uniformity of fast food chains, from city-to-city and state-to-state:
"Is the same true of chain sit-down restaurants? Is there the same uniformity among Chili's or Applebee's or Red Lobster or TGIF's?"
This will probably get my chowhound membership revoked, but I think that there are instances in life that seeing a sit-down chain, and already being familiar with their menu, is a godsend.
Here in Japan, TGIF's is just starting to make a foothold. (By the end of the year, they will have 21 restaurants in Japan). The other 2 big sit-down chains that are quite well-established here are Tony Roma's, and Hard Rock Cafe. (I know, let the groaning begin). These places also happen to be in some of the cities where we have our stores.
After going to these cities (Osaka, Nagano, Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Kyoto) to work on some technical problem for 15-20 hours straight, there are times - seldom, thank God - that I just DON'T want to even THINK about what to grab for a bite to eat. In these rare instances, I will make a bee-line for one of the above-mentioned places, order a cold one, and something familiar off of the menu, and just vegetate. Then, the next night, I'll ease my guilt by going to some place that I've never been to, or hunt down some local speciality.
Personally, this is the value in the uniformity of the chain restaurants, especially in a foreign country. There are times (usually after a particularly arduous day) when I just want to be in some place that reminds me a bit of America. And in Japan, these are the places where I can just go for a few hours, relax, and not have to make any decisions more complex than "Yeah, bring me another beer".
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