Pros: unique decor, good food, good prices
Cons: sometimes there are long waits and you cannot call ahead
I am very happy to have a Rainforest Cafe location within 40 minutes of our home. While we do not go there regularly, it is always something that we looking forward to doing. We have 2 young children, and this dining experience is like no other to them. And as adults, we are happy with the quality of the food and menu variety. Basically, this restaurant has something for everyone!
Locations and Restaurant Decor
The Rainforest Cafe has locations across the United States, but certainly not in every state. You can view their website to see if there is a location near you. I know there are locations in Florida, near Disney World. There are also locations in California, Illinois, Texas, and 11 other states. I go to the Rainforest Cafe in Menlo Park, NJ.
Before you even enter The Rainforest Cafe, you know you are about to see something unique. The Menlo Park location is within an indoor shopping mall, and as you are approached you hear the hissing of waterfalls and see water falling from the rock-covered walls into a little pool below (this area also serves as a little waiting area, as you can sit on the waterfall wall while waiting for your table).
As you get even closer, you will start to hear the sounds of the jungle from elephants to macaws, and everything in between. The host/hostess is there to greet you at the entrance. You cannot make reservations at Rainforest Cafe, so depending on when you go there may be a wait. I have walked right in at off hours like 4 pm, and waited as long as an hour at 6 pm (always for a table of 4).
To get to your table, the host will bring you through the Rainforest Cafe store first. I do not like this set up, because with 2 small children we are constantly being stopped and asked if we could buy 1,000 little trinkets. They sell plates, cups, stuffed animals, tee shirts, and other souvenir-type items. Although the prices seem reasonable, I am proud to say I have yet to actually give in an purchase anything there.
If you have a stroller, you have to leave it in the gift shop. This has always made me very nervous, but apparently no one wants to steal my Graco or Sit N Stand. I always take the diaper bag out, but I have seen many a stroller with diaper bags and even shopping bags underneath. I am assuming the restaurant has no problem with this arrangement, but again, it does make me nervous to be so far from my stroller.
Once you go through the store it starts to get a lot darker as you approach the restaurant. It is a jungle-themed restaurant, so the lack of light is supposed to be reminiscent of the jungle. If you look overhead you will see a canopy of trees, with some parrots suspended from the trees. Do not get me wrong; you can still clearly see ahead of you; it is just not a brightly lit restaurant like an Applebees or TGI Fridays.
As you walk into the restaurant there are also fish tanks on either side of you and even above you. These tanks contain tropical fish that my sons go absolutely nuts for. There are also a few fish tanks spread throughout the restaurant.
The walls of the restaurant feature more waterfalls and jungle animals. There is a talking tree, an elephant, and much more. Every so often (about 20 minutes) there is a short rainstorm within the restaurant. While no water is involved, the animals all sound off, you can hear the rain, and there will even be some thunder and lightning.
This is one of the few restaurant chains where you cannot view their menu online. The Rainforest Cafe has a wide variety of food items on their menu. I compare the offerings to those of an Applebees or TGI Fridays, but just with jungle names. They have a good selection of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and dinner entrees. They also have a childrens menu with your typical offerings (i.e. chicken fingers, mac and cheese, etc). I typically get a salad or a sandwich, and I find their portions to be very large and the food to be very good. Do not get me wrong; the food is not 5 star restaurant good, but it is as good if not better than the other chain restaurants I mentioned.
In terms of drinks, the Rainforest Cafe does serve alcohol, and they carry a variety of beers, wines, and specialty drinks (i.e. frozen drinks or other mixed drinks).
I have always been happy with the service I received at The Rainforest Cafe. The servers have always been knowledgeable about the menu, and the food has always arrived quickly and warm. You can absolutely eat a complete meal at The Rainforest Cafe in an hour or less. But, I have been to this restaurant with friends, and they do not rush you to leave, either. So if you want to hang out longer you certainly can.
I find the prices to be in line with those of other chain restaurants. I feel that for the portions that you get, everything is a good value. If you stick to a salad or sandwich, it will run you about $10 per person, give or take a dollar or two. Dinner entrees cost more. Without alcohol or appetizers, my family of 4 has eaten for less than $40 (with 2 of those meals being from the kids menu). On the other hand, when out with friends and ordering appetizers, drinks and dessert, I have paid over $20 just for my portion.
I really love The Rainforest Cafe. I think the ambiance is unique, and it makes it a fun place to visit. The kids absolutely love it, and with the amount of noise in the restaurant, even loud children will not be noticed. On the other hand, I loved going here when I was just dating my husband, and my girlfriends still meet at The Rainforest Cafe for quick get togethers. With the wide menu variety, there is something for everyone.
The only negative to this chain is that it is very popular but does not take reservations. It is frustrating when I travel 40 minutes or more, then circle the mall for another 20 minutes looking for a parking spot, only to arrive and find there is an hour wait ahead of me. If you could only call ahead it would be so much better. However, overall, I highly recommend The Rainforest Cafe.