Some might say that I am norm seeking. Others a norm deviant. I'm not sure it's germain to the conversation at hand, but in everything that is scalable there must be a scale. In anything where there is a spectrum, bads and goods, there must be an average. There must be a benchmark. There must be a norm.
For restaurants, and my 1-5 scale, these are your 2s, maybe on their best day a 3. They are where you go, spend a few dollars, and get a decent meal that *should be dependable. If you are in Tulsa or Moscow, you should be eating basically the same thing. Also, if you live in a smaller town, these might be your only options. That's ok, because they *shouldn't disappoint you.
Here are some of the more common standards I use. Also of note, something starts being "expensive" when it costs more than Outback. Anything around the price of a meal at Applebee's is average, and fast food is cheap. This is by no means exhaustive, but meant to be a fun little exercise...
American: Applebee's, TGI Friday's, Chili's.
Burgers: Red Robin.
Fast Food: Taco Bell, Wendy's
Fried Chicken: Zaxby's or Chik-Filet
Italian: Olive Garden.
Breakfast/Bakeries: Panera Bread.
Sandwiches: Subway, Quiznos, Jersey Mike's, Blimpes.
Chinese: PF Chang's, and anywhere with the words Dragon, Panda, Express, Lucky, and Garden in the name.
Japanese: Anywhere with "Sushi" or "Tokyo" in the name, and mall sushi.
Thai: Anywhere with the word "Thai" in it.
Vietnamese: Anywhere with the word "Pho" or "Vietnamese" in it.
And finally, Mexican/Tex-Mex: Chipotle (often 4 stars of deliciousness!).
You may also may enjoy a somewhat interesting quirk, I deal in the currency of Chipotle burritos when I eat out. For example, a $12 meal is two Chipotle burritos, a $30 one is five, etc. Because Chipotle is so delicious, you get a good sense of the relative value of your meal when you consider how many Chipotle burritos you are paying for it. (This is not product placement, I have not been offered any $ or burritos to talk up Chipotle. I will accept bribes in Chipotle burritos though.)