Chains must think like locals to survive in R.I.

Our local restaurants are the envy of foodies nationwide. Tourism officials have been fielding calls on a daily basis from meeting planners and journalists who are coming to visit our state to scout out upcoming events. One of the initial requests from these out-of-towners is to dine out locally. Our reputation for culinary creativity is such that high on the list of attractions is the state’s restaurant scene. More

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FOOD SERVICE

Chains must think like locals to survive in R.I.

Posted 9/24/12

Our local restaurants are the envy of foodies nationwide. Tourism officials have been fielding calls on a daily basis from meeting planners and journalists who are coming to visit our state to scout out upcoming events. One of the initial requests from these out-of-towners is to dine out locally. Our reputation for culinary creativity is such that high on the list of attractions is the state’s restaurant scene.

This reputation as a dining Mecca is not lost on those in the food-service business nationally. For those whose trade is development and new markets for major restaurant chains, their challenge is somewhat different. How does a national restaurant concept compete with the variety of unique owner-operated – and in many cases chef-operated – eateries on Restaurant Row?

The answer may lie in ourselves. As we travel, we find favorite places that while capturing the moment of a memorable vacation linger in our memories. When we travel, we often find that the national restaurant scene in other travel destinations consists of chains. And as we talk with friends back home about our experience, we qualify our favorable reviews, saying, “It was very good … for a chain restaurant.”

But this may not be giving ourselves the credit we deserve. If we who are spoiled by the many choices we have to dine at our local one-of-a-kind spots have a positive impression of a national chain, it is probably doing a superior job.

Two groups who are well-known in other parts of the nation where Rhode Islanders travel are coming to our state. One is already here, the other recently announced its first location.

Bonefish Grill is now building out in the Chapel Hill complex near Garden City in Cranston. The seafood restaurant’s closest locations are in New York and New Jersey. Bonefish has a popular eatery located in that Rhode Island outpost, Naples, Fla. Located in South Naples inside the Naples Bay resort, the eatery is a favorite among our state’s snowbirds. Bonefish’s model appears to be similar to other chains that have done well in the Ocean State, such as Flemings Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill – itself a popular spot in the Naples area. The local management is empowered to run the restaurant as though it were a stand-alone, with menu choices and community-involvement decisions made without waiting for word from some far-flung, corporate headquarters.

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