I don't know if I've ever been in an Applebee's before, if I have it has been no more than once. This is the sort of place, while apparently an icon representative of America's culture, my husband and I tend to avoid like the plague. But by an unavoidable series of events we landed in Generic Chain Restaurant Generic Strip Mall, USA.
(As an aside, I can confirm that Applebee's does not, in fact, have a saladbar on its premises).
We were seated at a booth by a very personable and pleasant host. (As another aside, I might mention that this host had some sort of facial disfigurement or birth defect that resulted in mild speech pathology necessitating him to speak rather slowly to be understood. I applaud Applebee's for hiring someone like this and putting him in this very visible and people-oriented job. I don't think he made any mistake in where he seated us, rather just doing as he was told).
I sat down and realized I had to perch on the edge of the banquette seat to reach the table, as did my husband, but thought no more of it. We sat at the strangely proportioned table with long waits in between all the requisite steps, giving us plenty of time to observe the surroundings. We had time to observe that two women had tried to sit down in a booth but gave up and reseated themselves at a table with movable chairs. Shortly thereafter a waitress came by and asked them if their new place setting was better.
This prompted me to start comparing the banquettes where we were sitting to the ones that had been vacated and indeed, the other ones, compared to ours, were closer together. The edge of the banquette bench was underneath the table surface in the regular booth, whereas in the one where we sat, there was some distance between the edge of the banquette and the edge of the table, maybe 8" or so if I had to guess. It was late lunch time so not very crowded, so we were probably just seated so as to distribute the work load among the wait staff. (As yet another aside, there seemed to be tons of staff all over the restaurant, outnumbering the customers, yet the service was really slow).
Anyway it seems that there is indeed a specially designed section for larger customers now at this restaurant. As obesity statistics indicate, more and more of the population is becoming overweight, but I would not have suspected that businesses were starting to accommodate this need. On second thought, I have heard of that such accommodations being made in such places as stadium and movie seats, and airline weight/baggage guidelines redesign. But, Applebee's can sort of be held responsible for contributing to the problem at the very least. Most of the menu was off-limits to me because of both self-imposed and no-choice dietary restrictions. Even what I could have, I had to modify as a 'special request' to be able to eat it, (fortunately that was possible), and my husband also made special requests just in order to 'healthify' his meal (e.g. no fried food or high fat condiments). It seems like most of the menu items are either fried, or have cheese, or best of all worlds, are fried cheese. I wanted a plain vinaigrette dressing for my salad, no can do, the waitress enumerated a list of at least ten dressings, and if they didn't have cheese or bacon, or both, in them, they were one of many, many varieties of ranch dressing. There are lots of chicken dishes to choose from because, you know, chicken is so healthy, but then it's larded with four kinds of cheeses, fried garnishes, or both, or other tasty but not so healthy additions.
I'm sure they are responding to what customers want to eat, but they and other establishments have to take some responsiblity for conditioning people into wanting these foods. There was no nutritional information on the menu, nor a 'healthy eating' type section either. In New York City restaurants have been banned from cooking with trans fats and requires calorie counts posted. Many people complain that this is dictatorial nanny-state behavior, but I want to have the option of not having trans-fat in my food and knowing what is in it. I was shocked at Dunkin' Donuts to learn that a bran muffin has almost twice as many calories as the chocolate eclair! Seriously! Studies show that this posting has no effect on how much people spend, they just alter what they purchase. Which is a win-win!
Obesity statistics are sobering, with over one third of the population considered obese, and the associated health risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc., are well-known. Increasingly, Type II diabetes is becoming a problem in (pdf) younger and youngerpopulations.
Of course exercise plays a part in the overall picture but some food is just plain unhealthful and nearly impossible to 'work off'. I don't know how frequently people, uh, frequent, places like this, but I have to say, you have to be used to eating that kind of food to enjoy it. In other words, rich, calorie and fat-laden food is an acquired taste.
There is some good news on this horizon, such as Michelle Obama's Let's MoveCampaign to combat childhood obesity. Obviously the success of that remains to be seen. And the USDA's Food Pyramid has been redesigned to a Food Plate, where fruits and vegetables take up a larger portion of the daily diet. But I'm skeptical that financially strapped schools will be able to find the budget for these most expensive foods - fresh fruits and vegetables. And would the kids even eat them? (If Jamie Oliver's Food Revolutionis any guide, the answer is no).
I don't know what the answer is; I wasn't raised in a particularly health conscious dietary family, not by any stretch, but somehow it became important to me. I wonder what it would take for Americans to want to eat healthy. As healthcare becomes increasingly expensive and out of reach for many Americans, one of the few ways we as ordinary citizens have to control health care costs is by prevention and maintaining healthy lifestyles.
Note: going to Applebee's menu for pictures, I did see they had an under 550 calories section and a Weight Watcher's section online. However, neither of these choices were in the menu I was given and I specifically looked for them.
Update: Thanks for the Rec List! Now, I am going to get something to eat! j
UPdate II: Thanks so much everyone for your participation in the diary, and contributing with such insightful, astute and informed commentary making it much more valuable than my original work.