Food

Frankie and Benny’s: the English Italian American experience

f-and-bs

Frankie and Benny’s is one of the prime ‘one menu fits all’ destinations. It’s always a safe option because it’s Italian, and I do not believe there is anyone alive who does not enjoy some Italian dish for reasons beside health constraints. Don’t like pizza? There’s spaghetti. Don’t like spaghetti? There’s lasagne. Don’t like lasagne? Frankie and Benny’s do a mean plate of chicken strips and chips.

I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been with a group of people who all share the malady of being unable to decide where to eat ahead of time, and we have defaulted to Frankie and Benny’s. They are a common sight with 200 restaurants across the UK, though not as prevalent as Nando’s which has nearly 300, so visiting Frankie and Benny’s seems a little more exciting than choosing the failsafe chicken chain. The decorative theme of the restaurants attempts to give off the early 1900s Italian-American vibe from which the chain was born, and I think it does it well. It’s all dark wood and low lighting, the walls are covered with portraits of random Italian-American people, and the music is exactly what you’d expect.

As a popular chain, busy times are inevitable, but I feel that this restaurant handles it well. There is always a nice bar to take a seat at whilst waiting for your table, and the bartenders are friendly and attentive. You’ll receive a beeper to alert you when your table is free, which can sometimes be made redundant by being drowned out by the fun-but-loud Dean Martin. Wait times are not boring due to the bar, but this is a double edged sword: too many drinks before your meal can be your downfall once seated, as I have unfortunately experienced…

As you’ll be aware, Italian food is often carbohydrate central. Frankie and Benny’s does not sidestep this; from starter to dessert you will not find a dish under 300 calories unless you browse the ‘healthy’ menu – and let’s face it, you’re not going to be. Beware on your first trip (although I doubt I’ve reached you before that occasion if you are over 13): if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, you will not make it through all three courses, period. I attempted it once, and found that I ate half of my starter of dough balls to save room for my main of spaghetti Bolognese which I barely dented, and almost exploded upon the arrival my dessert of brownies and ice cream. It’s like a food challenge, and honestly the food is so good you’ll accept it even if your waistband is cutting into your stomach before you’ve started your main.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s unlikely that you have never been to a Frankie and Benny’s, especially if you are younger. Due to the aforementioned ‘one menu fits all’ quality, along with prices where a full meal can cost less than £20, it’s a hotspot for kids. Naturally, this has its drawbacks, but you cannot expect anything else as Frankie and Benny’s does not disguise itself as being anything but a chain for everyone. One of the most popular occasions which this restaurant hosts is birthdays, and they take them seriously. The poor waiters and waitresses will be called to action by the blaring of the traditional restaurant birthday tune, and will encircle the birthday boy/girl and sing, clap and present an unnecessarily huge slice of cake. Expect this to happen at least twice during your time at Frankie and Benny’s, and if you’re there on your birthday, prepare yourself: your friends/family will have arranged this ceremony of shame for you “for a laugh”.

My personal experiences at Frankie and Benny’s have overall been good; for a major chain I wouldn’t expect anything less than OK. A couple of occasions when I’ve been with larger groups have seen orders being mixed up and delayed, and I sometimes get the impression that the waitstaff are frazzled during busy times, so potentially this could be better handled. The food has never disappointed me; I cannot imagine that it is anywhere near the pinnacle of Italian dining, but for the reasonable prices it’s good enough for me. Overall, I give the experience a 7/10 for being a busy affair, which brings both benefits and drawbacks.

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