My personal experience is that it is cheaper to eat out than purchase meals or the ingredients for meals from a supermarket. The service is nearly always on point and friendly and coffee and soft drinks are more often than not refillable. Sometimes you can have 3 or 4 half empty glasses on your table as the server just keeps bringing more out to you. I love this about America and it is very slowly (think snails pace) coming to the UK.
Some restaurants come round and refill your coffee mug from a seemingly bottomless pot of coffee. If you ask for decaf and they haven’t got a pot ready they will always brew up a pot for you. Sometimes when you order coffee a full thermos flask is put on the table for you to refill your own cup. Nothing is too much trouble in an American restaurant.
I remember one time my husband ordered Lasagne at the Olive Tree and although I ought to be flattered he told the waiter that it wasn’t recognisable to him as a Lasagne so the waiter apologised and let my husband choose again and then didn’t charge him for either his first or second choices.
I love this about America and it is very slowly (think snails pace) coming to the UK.
I often think that visitors to the UK from the USA get a very poor deal from our dining choices. The service over here is surly to say the least and it must be down to the fact that our service industry is not working for tips.
I add 10% to a bill regardless because in all honesty I am not going to visit again and this is what I would tip in the UK. I just don’t see the point in tipping for a drink in a coffee shop or at a bar. Maybe staff should be on a minimum wage. Who knows but I do know that this is a culture different between the US and UK. I don’t think the Australians tip either and I heard that the only difference between a Canadian and Canoe is that…….the canoe tips.!!
If you look at my page about choosing your hotel I mention that ideally we are close to restaurants. These are always shown on a map and often are just across the road from the hotel complex’s.
I think we probably have eaten in most brands over the years and using the price of a ‘cup of joe’ as a guide the prices have hardly changed over 30 years.
I thought that I would share my top 5 picks for cheap eats on my visits to the States and then I got to 5 and then remembered more so it might get up to 10…we will see. Then the more I have thought about the more I realise that these choices have been because of having two growing daughters with us on many occasions.
Not all of these chains are found across the nation so some might not be in the area you are going to visit.
- Perkins Bakery & Restaurant – mainly in the south and west of America. Vast choice and plenty of new things to try. Meals cooked in a skillet, salads, burgers, sandwiches and so on.
- IHOP – formerly the International House of Pancakes and this has been a firm family favourite. Most meals are served with a choice of buttermilk pancakes as an accompaniment. The girls when they were really small would choose a funny face pancake or the plate of silver dollars.
- Bob Evans – Home style comfort cooking that originated from a farm.
- Cracker Barrel – Old fashioned dining for the family with an attached store with traditional items to peruse whilst you are waiting for your table to be ready. There is always a deck/porch with rocking chairs and large draught boards to play on…and all for sale. Accompanied by vintage road signs and advertising plates it is a walk down Americana Lane.
- Dennys – The menu is really good value and again a large choice but the quality can be questionable sometimes. But who can resist menu items such as Moons over my Hammy?
- Panera Bread – You can stare at the menu on the wall for ages and still can’t really decide what you want. My absolute favourite is a crusted Cinnamon Bagel with honey and walnut cream cheese with a fresh brewed Hazelnut Roast Coffee. It is always busy with a real sense of families as well as business types having meetings.
- Chili’s – Tex Mex with a colourful menu with plenty of South Western choices. We often use the two meals for $20 and always with Guacamole and Chips. There is never enough Guac though – it is just too good and freshly made.
- Applebees – Neighbourhood Grill with bar. Colourful and welcoming with a varied menu with some all you can eat menu items.
- Red Robin – American Themed restaurant with lots of energy. My daughters would recommend the strawberry lemonade here – with real strawberries.
- Olive Garden – Italian themed restaurant that you really need a big appetite so go hungry because the soup, salad and breadsticks are unlimited. These restaurants are always busy so perhaps dine out of peak times.
When the girls turned into teens it made a huge impact on the budget of our trips because no longer could we get a pack of crayons and puzzles to occupy their waiting time or indeed take advantage of kids meals for $1.99 including a drink.
I also realised that the menu’s differ where the foot fall is busy and a shortened version of the menu is offered. I am thinking about the US192 in Kissimmee that has a huge portfolio of chain restaurants but they are often busy.
Most of the chains are built in exactly the same layout in every city almost like a flat packed version of themselves ready to be imported into a new town.
Be prepared to be seated by a Maitre de/host who always checks to see which waiting staff has space. I never really see the point of this person because we are more than capable to seat ourselves.
When you enter there is a seating area if there is a wait for tables. I wouldn’t wait if I were you because there are choices everywhere.
We don’t frequent up scale restaurants mainly due to the cost but we always try and eat somewhere different on every night although by the end of the week all the menus start to look the same with the same layout and images. My husband loves Red Lobster but never got to convince the girls to eat in there.
Every time I watch Man vs Food it makes me yearn to be back in the States but in honesty I don’t think I could make a dent in the huge portions that are shown in that show. You really do get great value for money eating in America.