It all started out so innocently. A friend of mine sent out an email to a group of guys that get together and hang out on a regular basis. He wanted to organize a night where we all go grab a bite to eat and then watch the new A Team movie. However, this friend is a vegetarian, and the rest of us aren't. His suggestion was that we meet at Red Robin, grab a burger (or in his case a veggie burger) and then proceed to the movie theater. "Well, okay" I thought. This couldn't be too bad. I had never set foot in a Red Robin before- all I knew about it was that it is my 7 year old niece's favorite restaurant. I assumed that it would be kind of like Applebee's or Chili's or something of that nature.
Let me step to the side for a minute here, and discuss chain restaurants. I have no problem with the existence of chains. I understand their place in the American food industry- it's where millions of people go to get adequately prepared food at a nominal price. Heck, I started my illustrious food and wine career at a TGIFridays, followed by Houlihan's. (If you are a parent of a teenager reading this, don't let your kid work at one of these places- I guarantee they will be exposed to drinking, drugs, and sex within about their first 30 minutes of their first day of work). However, I very rarely eat at a chain. My wife and I have decided that, if we have a certain amount of money to spend on eating out, we would much rather support locally-owned, independent businesses than chains. Plus, I think the food at these places is often wildly unhealthy, and mediocre in quality. Stepping down from soap box now.
So, we decided to meet at Red Robin. The first thing I noticed was the gaggle of unhealthy looking folks crowded around the door. Surely there can't be a wait at 6 pm on a Tuesday! Nope, just folks smoking outside. The hostess (who looked like she was no more than 14) was cheerful, but looked confused when I said I would wait at the bar for my friends. The bartender gave me a "What's up man, get you something to drink?" and threw a menu in front of me. He then walked away- nice close on the sale, bro. I looked at the drink menu- plenty of snazzily named fruity drinks, and milkshakes and stuff. Nothing I would partake in though. Their vodka choices were pretty pitiful- Absolute, Absolute Citroen, and Smirnoff. Wine- yeah, right.
About that time, the rest of the group showed up, and we took our table. Let me say right now that our service was excellent. The waitress was spot on in all of her points of service, and didn't roll her eyes about split checks.
This is where some of the funny stuff came into the scene. She was going around the table, taking orders, and one of the guys ordered the "Burnin' Love Burger". She then proceeded to ask "Do you want some pink, or no pink?" He replied with "as much pink as I can get". She didn't get the euphemism, but a table full of 30-something guys giggled. Evidently, this is their method of asking how rare to cook the burger. User friendly, I guess, but very corporate sounding.
The other amazing part of Red Robin is the atmosphere- oldies playing loudly, lots of neon, red, and yellow, and "vintage" movie posters on the wall. I don't know which was more fun to watch- the 5'6" Robin walking around, scaring the hell out of little kids (By the way, why does he wear a vest, but no pants? Creepy), the group of high school cheerleaders, one of which had a baby with her, or the couple that the woman had really short denim cutoffs to reveal the tatoos of sparrows and hearts running down her leg.
The food was okay- the other guys got burgers (one of which weighed in at over 1400 calories, 97 grams of fat, and 5600 mg of sodium), I got a caesar salad with a piece of salmon that had been beaten to death, frozen, then over cooked.
In retrospect, I can see why families go to this place- it is a physical definition of the word "cacophony" with plenty of distractions, noises, colors, balloons, and birthday songs. I just won't be going back anytime soon.