When I think back to 1999 or so, I recall that Stephanie and I used to go to TGI Friday's pretty much once a week (before she went veggie). The menu was filled with pretty good stuff for the most part, and it was usually reasonable. But in the last few months, Diana and I have made several attempts at it, and it's all crappy microwaved and deep fried shit. It really sucks.
A lot of restaurants got that way. Maybe Applebees was always like that. Hell, there are a lot of chains that have sucked and disappeared in their entirety. Restaurants have a high failure rate, but why is it so hard to get it right?
Last night we went to the Winking Lizard, and it was packed. We go at least once a week. The food is solid and inexpensive. It's actually cooked, not microwaved. You can get baked potatoes. The menu is reasonably diverse, the beer line up is amazing and they have good desserts (if you can find room). This is a relatively local chain, but they recently expanded into Columbus as well.
The one here in town opened about a year ago, and several restaurants around town have come and gone since. It's not a complicated formula. Make good food, offer good service, make it nice enough to be reasonably comfortable. I wish there were more places like that.