In online comments about the recently released Best of 225 Awards, some readers expressed frustration about the number of chain restaurants that successfully placed in the dining categories. Sprinkled across 16 food-related awards in the annual survey, more than two dozen national chains either finished or earned first place.
Virginia-based chain Five Guys, which now has more than 1,000 locations and 1,500 more on the way, won first place for both Best Burger and Best Fries. PF Chang's won Best Asian and Whole Foods Market, Healthiest Menu. Piccadilly Cafeteria earned first place for its children's menu, J. Alexander's was named the top spot for salads and the best seared tuna in town went to Bonefish Grill, part of the mammoth OSI Partners restaurant group, which owns Fleming's, Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba's, among others. Other chains like Jason's Deli, Jimmy John's and The Melting Pot placed in other categories. McDonald's landed second place for French fries.
How does this happen in the Eat Local age? It could simply be that the folks who take time to vote in the online survey place no value judgment on whether an eatery is local or part of a national chain. After all, Baton Rouge has long been a chain magnet, successfully luring national eateries because of the presence of the interstate, the college-age workforce and the positive economy. And when they get here, they usually do well. Just look at Red Lobster regularly lining 'em up in a town full of avid Gulf fisherman.
But this is also a city of intense loyalty when it comes to local merchants, and fans of spots like Bistro Byronz are aghast at their favorite eateries' lack of play in this year's awards. Internally, 225's top brass has debated the merits of allowing chains restaurants into the mix, but they've never prohibited participation since this is a unbiased, reader-driven process.
According to the magazine, online subscribers are invited to nominate their favorites in more than 50 categories (including Dining, Entertainment, People and Shopping) beginning in January, after which the market research firm, Survey Communications Inc., tallies the results and identifies finalists. From that info, SCI crafts a final survey which is administered in March. Who gets to vote? SCI draws randomly from a pool of tens of thousands of online subscribers. 225 staff members don't see the award winners until the results are counted by SCI.
So what do we make of this? Is the process flawed, or do the results accurately reflect the dominant palate in Baton Rouge?
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