Case 035: Bottom Feedersfiled May 13, 2022
Chain restaurants may seem like a classic example of heteronormative American culture, consider Las Vegas as a vacation destination, but The InQueery is here to claim these establishments as queer spaces of our very own. Beyond the plastic menus and embarrassment of flatscreen TVs exists an oasis of fruity drinks, daring lighting schemes, and inspired decor that conjures the creativity and joie de vivre of the queer spirit. We’re highlighting the “OUT” in Outback Steakhouse and shoehorning an L and a B into TGIFridays.
Historically, the chain restaurant has been a site of celebration and status. “Oh, you were that girl if you had your birthday party at Cheesecake Factory,” says Juan Garcia-Torres, a Phoenix native who was recently recollecting his middle school days while waiting in line at the midtown TKTS booth in New York City. “People are quick to judge, but the Times Square Olive Garden had enough space to fit me and all of my friends at the last minute during Pride weekend. You can’t find that and endless breadsticks in Hell’s Kitchen, can you?”
We’ve scoured the recesses of Yelp, deployed several research-based dining expeditions, and maxed out our Disney® Premier corporate credit card to bring you the definitive lists of chain restaurants that not only offer great service, but serve it with a loose theme and panache, honey.
Applebees: Renowned for their dishes served on a skillet, consider the surprisingly queer approach to their marketing: The brand speaks directly to lesbians with its slogan, “Eating good in the neighborhood,” while their logo, of course, is an actual fruit. The interior design is generously sprinkled with posters of the dames and divas of yesteryear; oftentimes clustering several gay icons around one table. Framed yearbook photos and miscellaneous shit retrieved from the dumpster of your town’s department of public records give this gayborhood bar & grille its “local” flavor.
Rainforest Cafe: The grande diva of all chains, this wild-child mall adventure is basically a restaurant in drag. The plumage alone, verdant and plentiful, scattered across a craggy cavernous aesthetic, recalls an Aguilerian “don’t look at me” vibe that simultaneously says: Do look at me. One of the restaurant’s perky mascots, Cha-Cha the frog, perfectly encapsulates the manic energy of a child who is ready to perform the house down boots at any given moment. Points are added for the Rainforest’s store-exclusive Beanie Baby, Leopold the bear, a true disciple of Shania, covered ear-to-toe in leopard print.
Olive Garden: We queer folk get to choose our family, and no chain restaurant upholds that value more than the OG. Baked right into their “When you’re here, you’re family” slogan is a deep devotion to satisfaction, emphasized by their plat de resistance: the Tour of Italy. This gangbang of a dish features chicken parm, classic lasagna and fettuccine alfredo—enough creaminess to make the Fourth of July on Fire Island look like child’s play. Paired with their famous soups and salads that just won’t quit, this eatery is tailor-made for the queer ready to indulge.
PF Chang’s: Decked out with chic decor that just screams “I’ve studied abroad,” this Arizona-based “China bistro” reveals its queerness before you even enter. Equine flanked thresholds ensure that the homoerotic tension never breaks, even while you enjoy your dim sum. Is there a more delicate dish than a lettuce wrap? Dissecting the name, P.F. Chang’s also betrays the foundational m4m love that the business was built upon. Founders Paul Fleming (P.F.) and Philip Chiang (simplified to Chang) have been described as “dear friends,” a Pornhub tag beloved by The InQueery readers from time immemorial.
Chili’s: Can a jingle be considered a gay bop? When it features barbershop trio harmonies, a hook that will get your booty tooching and an inspired cover by the likes of NSYNC, there’s no question—we want our baby back! But the fun doesn’t end there. An exclusive InQueery inquiry into corporate documents can confirm that “At Chili’s, we live for Margaritas” aligns perfectly with the ethos of any well-meaning gay taking some me-time in Puerto Vallarta.
The Cheesecake Factory: A menu bigger than the September issue of Vogue? You’ve got our attention. The tome is littered with items like “Glamburgers,” “Skinnylicious Sandwiches,” and, of course, the titular Cheesecakes. Check please!
Red Lobster: Beyoncé and cheddar bay biscuits is all it takes. We don’t make the rules, we only report them.
TGIFridays: Originally founded as a singles bar in Manhattan, it was allegedly one of the first establishments to allow co-ed mingling—Bisexuals rejoice! The second TGIFridays, located in Memphis, was a known haven for queerdos, counter culture kids and those looking for something a little stronger than a potato skin. Corporate overlords may have put TGIFridays through some gay conversion therapy, but we know the truth: In here, it’s queer, and it’s Friday.
Our conclusion: Listen, we get it. Trying to get seated at the buzziest, most indie, small batch, artisanal-whatever bistro is so familiar that it veers on being hopelessly passé. Throw a curveball by strutting into a mid-tier strip mall offering, revel in a sizzling 2 for $20 entree and $5 margarita served in a chalice and you’ll secure your spot at the top of the food chain.
Queer rating: Keri Russell in Waitress