The topic that JRPfeff originally brought up has legs. Josh Ozersky's article led to a response from The New York Times' Mark Bittman: http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/where-awful-awful-meant-awfully-good
which led to another column by Josh Ozersky: http://ideas.time.com/2011/10/26/in-defense-of-industrial-food/
Unfortunately, I think neither writer explains the problem completely. I would like to see Jacques Pépin give his take on the situation. He worked at Howard Johnson's huge Queens Village, NY City commissary in the 60's during the peak of that chain's success.
I personally agree with Mark Bittman that the industrializaton of the food served at these chains has a lot to do with people no longer going. While a lot of us here on this forum can easily spot the difference between made from scratch and "off the SYSCO truck", most people can't. They just know something is "funky" about the food they are eating. If I pay to eat out, I expect people to cook for me, not open something from the can or freezer. I can do that at home. I want someone to cook for me.
One of the reasons these chains went to factory prepared food was for consistancy. This was to eliminate the complaints about food cooked by a guy they just hired who couldn't cook or who showed up for work stewed or stoned (Stewed=booze, stoned=drugs). Then you had decades of hot shots come in who showed they could reduce costs by adding step-saver ingredients, each time reducing the palatability of the food by just a little bit. A few decades of this and you wind up with dreck.
I find the observation by Foodbme about Red Lobster interesting. We had a discussion about Red Lobster a few years ago and how few there were near the good seafood restaurant areas of New England. For grins and giggles, I put in the famous fishing village of Gloucester, MA into Red Lobster's store locator. The nearest location shown is Wethersfield, CT, 120 miles away.