Ezra Klein weighs in on why Cheesecake factory is so popular, ultimately concluding:
Foodies have an unfortunate tendency to alight on a Unified Field Theory of Corporate Food: It’s bad for the environment and bad for workers and bad for animals and bad for waistlines and, above all that, a fraud, because it also tastes bad. This would be convenient, if true. If people weren’t actually enjoying what they were eating, then getting them
to change their eating habits would be pretty easy. But it’s not true, of course. They keep going back to the Cheesecake Factory because, well, they like it.
While it is certainly true that people enjoy Cheesecake factory (and I remember their firecracker salmon appetizer being pretty solid) there are other reasons for its popularity than the food quality.
For example, the restaurant is incredibly kid friendly, not just in the high chairs and crayons department, but because their menu has approximately one thousand items on it. Little Johnny wants egg rolls, Sam wants pizza and Betsy wants a burrito; no problem! Their menu is a 20 page, full color book, complete with advertisements, if you can’t agree on what you want to eat, then the Cheesecake factory is perfect. I don’t know for sure, but it definitely always seemed like more of a family place than a happening singles scene or a date place when I’ve been.
It’s also safe. You won’t feel like a square there, the place looks like a palace of cheese with art deco plaster columns and service staff in all white hospital uniforms. You’ll get taken care of, it won’t break your budget and it has what you like, no matter what you like.
If you serve a 275 pound man an amount of food that would be appropriate for a 125 pound woman, he’s going to still be hungry at the end of his meal and therefore a dissatisfied customer. Because the marginal cost of additional food (especially pasta, potatoes, and the like) is negligible, it’s just good business to pile it on.
Which is the other reason the cheesecake factory is so popular. You definitely feel like you got a good value when you go there. I personally hate it when portion size is prohibitive and I can’t enjoy three courses without washing it down with self-hatred, but I imagine I’m in the minority. My $15 meatloaf was at least 16 ounces (somewhere between four to eight times the daily recommended protein intake) with at least that much mashed potatoes plus an equally huge corn succotash that I had to ignore out of self-preservation. Calorielab.com estimates that my meatloaf lunch clocked in at 1838 calories, or 92% of my daily requirement. If you brought the family there, eating family style would require maybe two entrees for five people (and you’d have mashed potatoes to take home, believe me).
Still, I wonder about Joyner’s point, I am a six foot tall man with a robust appetite and I left more food than I ate at the Cheesecake Factory. It seems unnecessary to ensure that no one could ever finish their food, no matter how cheap potatoes are. I am willing bet that the rate of return on increasing portion size turns negative well before where the Cheesecake factory landed.
So is the Cheesecake Factory Gross? No, tacky definitely, but it only makes you feel gross.