If you have to travel for work, or kid activities, or even travel for fun, there are going to be times you end up in food deserts. These are the sorts of places where you desperately want to get a good meal, but it just ain't going to happen. You could be stuck at a hotel that has kind of a crummy restaurant for a conference, and even though you know there are other decent places around, you aren't going to be visiting them. At times like this, one has to employ defensive ordering techniques.
1. Set your expectations accordingly. That doesn't mean to set them to "abysmally low" or "without any hope whatsoever." Really low expectations will only jade you and pretty much guarantee the whole experience is going to suck. I suggest you train you mind to be guardedly optimistic. Besides, how well this works out is going to depend on your ordering skills.
2. Be observant and ask questions. There is probably something on the menu that someone in the kitchen is pretty good at making. It's you're job to figure out what. Are people at other tables eating pasta dishes and enjoying them? Is no one in the whole house eating fish? Is there a special? As the server what the joint is best known for or what the best-selling items are. Ask if the chef has any favorites. These are usually safe bets.
3. Don't order funky stuff. What's funky stuff? Well, if you're in say Aberdeen or Watertown at the local Ramkota/Minerva's-lite branch office, just how fresh do you think a fish selection is? Chances are you saw it at Sam's Club. You can also pretty much bet that very few, if any, of the pasta sauces are being made in-house.
4. Stick to the straight-forward. If you're at one of these places in South Dakota, your best bet is probably a steak. Theoretically pretty hard to screw up. Be careful with adding funky toppings and sauces. If you want to try one, best to ask for them on the side so you can control your dosage. Chicken dishes are probably good choices. Unless you know the soups are made in-house and look good, stick with the dumb house salad.
5. Never, never, never take out a bad experience on the servers. One thing I tend to see in some of these outpost locations is that the veteran servers are not so polished themselves, yet they have trainees in tow. Around me I usually observe lots of mistakes and people sending items back to the kitchen. I've ordered good wine off the list and when the staff presents the nicest Reidel glasses in the joint, they are covered with water spots. This goes back to expectations. Deal with it. If something rises to the level of needing fixing, be polite and get it fixed, but don't be a total jackass about it.
If you survive the whole experience, reward yourself by finding something local and good to enjoy and wash the taste of bitter resentment right out of your mouth.