The Good: Food isn't the worst I've ever had.
The Bad: Expensive, Nothing superlative
The Basics: My lone experience with Applebee’s did not leave me with much to write home about: this bar and grill left me unimpressed.
My wife and I have been going out a little more than normal, probably because we spent a euphoric few days between her quitting her hellish job and me starting mine. In that time, one of the places we went out to dinner at was Applebee’s, just because. The “just because” was mostly because we both realized that neither of us had ever been to an Applebee’s and we figured it was about time we looked into what the chain was all about. The truth is, after visiting one, I’m still not sure what the chain is all about and that bugs me.
Virtually every restaurant I can think of has a hook, something that makes it different and distinctive from every other restaurant chain in the world. Panera caters to the soup and sandwich crowd, Denny’s being open twenty-four hours a day makes it a favorite for stoners with the munchies and Friendly’s even has ice cream to lure in patrons. I think the gimmick with Applebee’s is supposed to be that it is a chain restaurant that has a bar and if that is the case, they have woefully missed the mark with this consumer. Firstly because I don’t drink and second because when my partner wants to go out for a night of drinking and fun, she doesn’t want to have to pay $4.40 for a 24 oz. draft of Bud Light. She used to work at a classy establishment in Michigan where the owner invested in great import beers and watching her face screw up when we finally got a straight answer out of our server as to the cost of drinks was almost enough to make me walk out of our dining experience.
That, too, was a big deal for me. Applebee’s seems to be catering to the dumb college crowd whose just out for a night of drinking and needs something solid in their stomach and as a result, they do not print prices for any of their drinks on the menus. That’s irksome, especially when one is just trying to figure out what one might be able to comfortably afford. Note: when we did learn the drink prices they were universally highway robbery for the quality of the beverage offered!
Applebee's restaurants are located throughout the United States. As one who travels a lot, I have found them all around the U.S. from Massachusetts to Florida and west to Colorado. There might have even been some in Las Vegas and California, but I don’t recall seeing them there. Given that they have a growing international presence, one assumes they have pretty decent market penetration throughout the U.S. Applebee's is often found in freestanding locations near strip malls or shopping centers. Because they serve alcohol, I’ve never seen one in a mall setting, at least in New York.
Applebee's tends to be organized like a pretty neutral bar with televisions around. Ours features wall decorations of famous movie stars from the 1950s onward and it had the feel of a Zebb’s but with less family appeal. My partner and I found ourselves seated on very high stools at a round table big enough to seat four and I felt like I was at the Cantina from A New Hope.
Applebee's tends to be modestly decorated. They usually have tables and mildly uncomfortable booths. The walls tend to be decorated with nostalgia-themes artwork, mostly black-and-white photographs. There were at least five televisions in the location we visited, so one supposes they do not even have to pay attention to their dining companion if they are not in the mood.
Applebee's uses traditional waiters or waitresses. By and large the waitstaff at most Applebee's are younger people in their twenties and thirties. The staff dresses in black and at our locations, they are all old enough to drink alcohol, which makes sense because our Applebee’s is in a college town and they serve alcohol at Applebee’s. Out server had a few noticeable tattoos and piercings, but was generally nonthreatening. Our servers also seemed to have no sense of humor, especially when it came to asking them about prices on things.
Applebee's is American fast food, so the cuisine is prepared relatively quickly. In fact, my partner made the comment that for the meal we had, it would have taken a half hour or more to be cooked at the restaurant she worked at (which was fine dining). We waited about five minutes for our appetizer and another seven for our meal. The drinks were overpriced, as mentioned before. My partner had her highway robbery Bud Light draft and I had a milkshake which was over $4.00. The cookies and cream milkshake was good, but the quantity was annoyingly small. The glass had almost as much whipped cream in it (I wish I were exaggerating on this one!) and there was not the traditional metal mixing cup brought with the drink to refill the glass with. This left me disappointed right off the bat with the beverage.
My wife and I looked over the menu and we quickly decided on the "2 for $20" deal because most every entre was over ten dollars anyway. The 2 for $20 deal allowed us to select an appetizer and two selected entrees for a total bill of twenty dollars. Simple concept, simple execution. Basically, by limiting our choices to one of four appetizers and two of six entrees, Applebee’s managed to get us to stay for dinner.
Our appetizer was arguably the best part of the meal. We chose the Spinach & Artichoke Dip appetizer and it was delicious. The appetizer was basically a plate of white corn nachos, served warm (and with very light salt on them) with a piping hot dip made of spinach, artichoke and Asiago and Parmesan cheeses. The flavors blended together and created a delicious taste that I recall fondly even now. The cheese stayed fluid and the tangy spinach complimented the Asiago in the dip perfectly. My partner and I barely had enough time to savor this appetizer (which might have even been worth it on its own at the steep $6.69 price tag) before our meals came.
My wife got the fiesta lime chicken and I shared it while sharing my dish with her. Her dish was basically chicken breast in a salty lime sauce on bed of Spanish rice and nacho chips. The chicken was dry and the cheese atop it was disappointingly cold. The Spanish rice was dry and bland until the very end when we discovered it had sopped up all the spicy juices and was inedible. The crunch nacho strips were just weird.
But most of my dining experience was with the Three-Cheese Chicken Penne, a dish that seemed tailor-made for me. I like chicken breast and I love cheese, so pasta with cheese sauce is usually a winner for me. My chicken was burned crispy, yet still strangely served cold. My three-cheese penne was so bland that I cannot even guess what the three cheeses were supposed to be. In fact, the cheese sauce might as well have been a white sauce for its lack of flavor.
Applebee’s was overpriced and thoroughly mediocre and I cannot see how it has achieved such market penetration as it has. Unless, of course, the hook truly is the alcohol and the patrons are usually too drunk to care about the food quality.
For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Little Caesars Pizza
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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.