restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Red Robin

A common misconception patients might have about me is that I’m a food elitist. They might think that because I’m always striving for them to do better and eat better so they can be better at life for themselves, their families and their communities, that my diet is “perfect”.

Or perhaps that because I’m a 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach, some think that I never touch sugar. Not true.

I can tell you with confidence that I am not “perfect” with food, whatever that means. I do have the occasional sweet treat if I want it and feel like the consequences (blood sugar crashes, fatigue, skin breakouts) are worth it. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t also eat healthy foods, I do. To me it’s important what you do most of the time. And if most of the time you’re eating healthy, there’s room for variation.

Personally, when I go out to eat, I want the food to be something that I wouldn’t normally make at home. After constantly improving my own cooking skills at home, figuring out what types of foods I like, and opting for good quality ingredients, I find that when I eat out at a mediocre restaurant, I often return home, disappointed, thinking “I could have made that better at home, at a lower cost and with better ingredients.” As a result I find that I eat most of my meals home-cooked and I feel best that way, physically and financially.

But when one patient recently challenged me to a meal at Red Robin (because I had never been), I accepted. The challenge did not involve ordering anything specific but I figured it would be good research to see what options are available there since many of my patients go there.

I decided I would make this the start of a blog series of restaurant reviews, so read on about my experience at Red Robin.


Red Robin Restaurant Review

Food Quality: Mediocre

Per their website:

BEEF: All-natural, domestic, USDA-inspected 100% beef — free of preservatives, artificial and added ingredients.

POULTRY: No hormones. No steroids. 100% of our chicken comes from family-owned farms, where they are fed a vegetarian diet and are raised cage free.

LETTUCE: All salad greens are harvested from GMO-free family farms
— redrobin.com

I appreciate that their burgers use real beef and that their poultry doesn't have any added hormones or steroids. However, I believe the standard should be higher than that. Though having conventionally-raised meats is still better than not having them at all, grass-fed (and finished), humanely-raised beef and pasture-raised chicken should really be the new standard that we expect our foodservice establishments to adhere to. Did you know that chickens aren’t actually vegetarians and that “cage-free” means they can still be raised in a warehouse? Chickens needs to eat bugs, worms, and grass (meaning they’re not vegetarians by nature), and have room to move and be exposed to the outdoors to be optimally healthy.

Lettuce is not commonly a genetically-modified food though it does still have pesticide residues on it, so a more meaningful standard for them would be to offer "organic” lettuce rather than “non-GMO”.

A common downside to eating out at most restaurants is the increased exposure to poor-quality, pro-inflammatory oils like canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil or “vegetable” oil (typically a blend of corn and soy). These oils are referred to in the nutrition field as PUFAs- Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids. Red Robin was no exception. The salad my husband ordered looked like it would have been a healthy option, then he tasted the dressing. For someone who is very used to using olive oil as a dressing, he knew immediately that it was one of those PUFA oils I mentioned above. Now this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker though. You can easily leave the dressing off the salad, bring your own small jar of olive oil or try one of Kasandrinos EV Olive Oil 1 oz to-go packs (they sell a pack of 20!).

Food Options: Wide variety

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This is the type of restaurant where it would be fairly easy for everyone in your group to find something they can eat as the menu can be relatively flexible and accommodating.

Those following a Keto/Low Carb, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-Free, Low-Fodmap, Vegetarian, or Vegan diet could find something to eat with the “customize your burger option” and the variety of “bottomless and upgraded bottomless sides” (though the options may be limited).

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Ambience: Overly-Stimulating

With personal tablets flashing about games, promotions, and desserts at our table as well as multiple TVs in every direction, It was challenging to be present with my family. At one moment, I was having a conversation with my husband, then my eye caught the tablet screen asking a question about cats and I answered out of curiosity and was almost fooled into purchasing the game for $1.99! That was sneaky! So I grabbed the tablet and put it face down out of reach so I didn’t have to spend the mental energy thinking about it.

As humans, it is 100% normal and biological to turn and pay attention when something is flashing and moving in your periphery, it’s what has kept our species alive for thousands of years. These types of technology developers know this about human nature and capitalize on it. Didn’t realize a restaurant review was going to get into the philosophy of tech? Welcome to my world where I view life holistically ;).

Cost: $

You get what you pay for in this case. We paid about $27 for my husband, myself and our son (who ate from our plates) without the tip and it’s by far one of the cheaper bills we’ve had when dining out because we usually opt for better quality dining establishments. Red Robin may be a decent option if you’re financially limited, trying to keep to a certain diet, and have strong will power to not be sucked in by all the promotions on the menus, tablets, and signs.

Unfortunately, the US government subsidizes farmers to raise animals not fed their natural diet and monocropped corn, wheat and soy. As a result, much of the offerings in our food system include these ingredients and are offered at a lower cost. These farm subsidies ensure Americans don’t go hungry, but they also ensure that they develop chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmunity and more. It is possible to eat healthy on a budget! Schedule a visit with me and I can show you how.

Sustainability: Suboptimal

Any restaurant that serves meat from animals not fed their natural diet can do better in terms of sustainability. Though they specify on their website that they serve “100% All-natural Beef”, that label means nothing. When it doesn’t say “grass fed” or “grass finished”, you can assume (at least in the US) that the default is grain-fed beef. I won’t get into all the reasons why feeding animals the wrong diet impacts climate change as the arguments are extensive, but this is a good resource to explore if you’re curious to learn more.

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Service: Good

Though our server was visibly busy, she was attentive and accommodating. For example, when I received the zucchini fries that I ordered and realized that they had been breaded before frying, I mentioned it to her and she took them back and didn’t charge us on our bill.

What I Ordered: Black & Bleu with Zucchini Fries

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I’m a sucker for bleu cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms so I ordered the Black & Bleu burger with no bun with a side of zucchini fries. Once I received my order and realized that the zucchini was breaded before frying (is that a thing?!), I asked them to replace them with regular steak fries. The burger was too “cheese-saucy” for my preference so I scraped most of it off and left the bleu cheese crumbles. The burger and the fries were decent. I’ve definitely had better but they also weren’t bad-tasting.

I felt bad for sending back the zucchini fries because I don’t like to waste food but they were way too greasy and it hardly looked like there was any zucchini left. The only other time I had had zucchini fries before was at the Bulletproof Cafe in Venice, CA and they were oven-baked, lightly seasoned and delicious. I’m not sure why I expected that, but I’ve learned my lesson.

Food traps

Though there are healthier options available, you can definitely feel tempted to order foods that might not make you feel that great because of the constant stimulation.

With advertisements for desserts popping up everywhere and recommendations of which alcoholic drinks goes best with each item, I can see how one might use up all their willpower “currency” during their stay and give in just because it’s the easier thing to do. Like I said above, I’m all for enjoying a meal and having a treat, as long as it’s done intentionally, not because you caved to their marketing.

Would I Eat Here Again: Probably not

If my hands were tied and there was nowhere else to eat, maybe. But if it were up to me, I would much rather eat at an establishment that supports my values of a peaceful eating environment with high quality (locally-sourced, thoughtfully grown/raised, more tasty) foods. I’m happy spending double what I spent at Red Robin, but go to a place where I love the food and go less often.