“One Royale with Cheese, s'il vous plait!”
Discovering new cuisines and exploring a new-to-you restaurant scene is one of the greatest pleasures of visiting faraway places. But sometimes in the midst of our travels abroad, we find ourselves passing through the familiarly-branded doors of a domestic chain restaurant. Because while tales of that cool hole-in-the-wall café you stumbled upon in the French countryside make for a better anecdote than “We found the most charming little Starbucks on our trip to Europe!” you know what that Starbucks has? Air conditioning. An easily accessed bathroom. Reliable Wi-Fi. What chains lack in cachet, they certainly make up for in convenience. And while we might feel a little sheepish about traveling great distances only end up at a chain—maybe one we don’t even visit when we’re actually home—there’s no shame in the honest, down-to-earth acknowledgment that sometimes you just want a freaking cheeseburger. Fodor’s readers on Facebook gave all of the above reasons for visiting domestic food chains while sharing their experiences of what it’s like to eat at a domestic chain while traveling internationally. Here’s what they had to say on everything from accounting for dietary restrictions to having wine in a McDonald’s.
You know what that Starbucks has? Air conditioning.
The Golden Arches
By far the most common chain that got mentioned was McDonald’s. It probably doesn’t hurt that the home of the Big Mac also happens to boast nearly 40,000 locations worldwide. McDonald’s has locations in 120 countries (there are 195 countries recognized by the U.N. That’s a little over 60% of all countries). While many reviews fell into the genre of “meh, it was a McDonald’s” more than a few of the international locations offered up a few interesting differences to their U.S. counterparts.
One perk you can’t count on at French locations? Free refills. “They would refill, but only if you buy another whole Coke,” wrote Judy Jones Shepherd. While they may not have free refills, you might feel more forgiving after exploring their other beverage options. Laurie Parry wrote about going to McDonald’s in France and finding that they served wine—a feature that popped up in another European country. “Had wine with my Big Mac,” wrote Stephanie Turco in reference to a Rome location. “Beautiful restaurant, you couldn’t really tell you were in a McDonald’s if it wasn’t for the menu.”
The Heart (or Rather the Stomach) Wants What it Wants
For some readers, their visits didn’t need any extra pretense. At the end of the day, a craving is a craving.
“Honestly I wanted Popeyes chicken.”
“Popeyes in Amman,” wrote Sydney Manuel. “Honestly I wanted Popeyes chicken.”
“Cheesecake Factory,” wrote Mandy Moore (as far as we know, no relation to the This is Us star). “Good cheesecake can be really hard to find sometimes you just want it.”
And while we Americans may bristle at our reputation as fast food devotees blinded by an omnipresent lust for burgers, it may not be an entirely unfounded characterization. Readers mentioned a slew of places they visited to satisfy a burger-related craving. Burger King in Ho Chi Minh City, McDonald’s in India (though they served veggies burgers only), TGI Fridays in Stockholm. Several people mentioned going to Hard Rock Cafes in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, and Buenos Aires for that sweet, sweet burger fix.
Although sometimes dining at a chain is a good reminder that maybe you’re not missing much at all.
“After five days of admittedly delicious authentic Chinese food, it was time for a taste of home,” Dennis Steid wrote about eating at a TGI Fridays in Hong Kong. “And it was terrible.”
For travelers with dietary restrictions, going to a place with a familiar menu takes some of the stress out of a potentially fraught dining situation. Mandy Moore pointed out that finding out whether or not a restaurant can accommodate your dietary needs can be made extra challenging if there’s a language barrier.
Mark H Richards wrote about having celiac disease and trying to find gluten-free options. “On a recent trip to Portugal I ate at a Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon. The trip was over four weeks long. By the time I reached Lisbon there was a night where I hit a wall. I just really needed a dining experience that was simple and not challenging. I was able to walk into a Hard Rock Cafe and order a burger on a gluten-free bun and fries that were prepared in the dedicated fryer…I love the adventure of traveling. I love the challenge of finding interesting new things to eat. But, sometimes on a long trip you just need an easy meal.”
While we’d like all of our meals abroad to come in the form of beautifully plated delicacies or authentically local dishes, sometimes circumstances or stressors arise over the course of our travels that make a familiar place a welcome relief. Who knows, you might even come away with a unique observation about how the Pizza Hut in Hyderabad, India is better than the ones at home.