I tried Applebee's for the first time, and quickly saw how the chain is winning over so many customers

  • I tried Applebee's for the first time to see which menu items were the tastiest.

  • The chicken-tortilla soup was delicious but I wish I got a bigger portion for the price.

  • The quesadilla burger and chocolate meltdown cake were definitely worth ordering again.

As fast-food prices increase, casual sit-down restaurant chains are swooping in to target budget-conscious diners with deals and special menu items.

Among them is Applebee's, a chain with over 1,500 locations worldwide that's best known for its classic American dishes, such as burgers, pasta, and ribs, and discounted seasonal cocktails.

And, as the CEO of Applebee's parent company told CNN earlier this year, why eat a $10 burger from a bag in your car when you can enjoy it at a restaurant for the same price?

So, I visited Applebee's for the first time to see what value I could find. Here's what my experience was like.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on February 16, 2023, and most recently updated on June 24, 2024. Menu items, limited-time offers, and prices may vary by location.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly.

Interior of Applebee's with dim lighting, several empty tables, and signs decorating the wall
The interior of Applebee's looked inviting.Jena Brown

My nearest Applebee's is on Fort Apache and Tropicana in Las Vegas, which is a bit out of the way for me. Given how popular the chain is, I was surprised there isn't one closer to me.

I arrived just before the dinner rush on a Wednesday night. When I got there, the restaurant wasn't completely packed, but there were quite a few customers.

My party was seated quickly, and our server introduced herself right away. Music was playing, but it wasn't loud or overwhelming, and the entire restaurant seemed clean and well-lit.

As we looked at the menu, we realized it was the middle of happy hour, so we asked about any deals. Luckily, our server made sure our dishes were either charged at happy-hour prices or bundled in a mix-and-match deal, so we got the best bargain.

Though such deals may vary throughout the year, Applebee's usually offers at least one promotion, from all-you-can-eat meals to limited-time $1 margaritas. The chain's website even says, "When one promotion ends, another always begins."

The game tablet confused me a little bit.

A tablet with games on it with a red arrow pointing to small text that says "Games unlocked for $1.99"
The tablet featured a variety of games.Jena Brown

Our waitress also pointed out the tablet on the table, which we could use to call her if we needed anything or play games while waiting.

At one point, we accidentally charged $2 to our table by playing a game. I was confused, but later noticed a small note on the top-right corner of the screen that said, "Games unlocked for $1.99."

I could see how navigating the tablet might result in unexpected charges to a group, especially if there are kids at a table and parents who might not notice the prices.

Once we realized we'd been charged, we decided to play the trivia game.

Game tablet at Applebee's with leaderboard
We got to see our scores against other Applebee's customers.Jena Brown

Still, the game was fun, even though our tablet seemed to have a few issues. In the middle of some questions, we'd be taken back to the main screen even if we didn't touch the tablet.

That being said, it was fun to play against other Applebee's customers around the US and it kept us occupied during the short wait for our food.

I started off with a cocktail, which I thought was a great deal.

A red cocktail with a Santa head candy floating on top
I managed to get the gummy to sit on top of the ice for a few minutes for the full holiday effect.Jena Brown

I'd heard about Applebee's $1 drink specials, but when I asked our waitress about them, she said the deal had been discontinued.

However, since we went in the wintertime, Applebee's offered a $6 holiday drink special. The restaurant regularly has limited-time drink offers, usually themed around a holiday. For example, Applebee's currently has a deal on Star-Spangled Sips — summery cocktails, a mocktail, and a beer, all under $10 a pop.

On this trip, I went with the Tipsy Reindeer, which was made with vodka, cranberry juice, and passion-fruit-and-lemon sour. It came with a Santa-head-shaped gummy that sank to the bottom before the drinks got to our table. The gummy was a little hard and sticky from sitting in the drink, so I only ended up eating one bite.

The drink itself was bright and colorful and came in a giant fishbowl-style cup. It was fruity and sweet with a slightly sour tang at the end. I could taste a hint of the vodka, but it wasn't overwhelming.

I thought it was an amazing deal and it was an easily shareable size if you don't want to drink that much.

I devoured the quesadilla burger with fries.

Applebee's quesadilla burger with fries
The quesadilla burger looked delicious.Jena Brown

I'm a fan of a good burger and quesadillas so I was delighted to see them combined into one meal. Applebee's quesadilla burger was tricky for me to eat because the bottom was greasy, and the chipotle sauce leaked out with every bite.

However, the flavor explosion of the burger topped with bacon, pico de gallo, and lettuce between crisp, cheesy tortillas was worth the messy hands. Luckily, there were plenty of napkins.

The burger was pink in the middle, which, to me, means it was cooked perfectly. Its light seasoning worked well with the other flavors of the quesadilla and toppings.

The meal came with a side of fries, which were excellently crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, and seasoned to perfection. I ate them all. For $14, I'd definitely order the quesadilla burger and the delicious fries again.

The three-cheese chicken penne was creamy and delicious.

Three-cheese chicken penne and breadstick
I liked that the three-cheese penne came with bruschetta tomatoes.Jena Brown

I'm a big fan of pasta so I was curious how the three-cheese chicken penne would stack up.

It came in a big bowl with a breadstick on the side and looked perfectly cooked. The penne was firm but not hard, and the noodles themselves had a mild buttery flavor that paired well with the Parmesan sauce.

The sauce itself was thick and creamy, with a nice consistency, but I was worried there wasn't enough and the pasta dish would be a little dry. But once I mixed in the cheese, there was plenty of sauce to cover the pasta and chicken slices.

The dish came with Asiago, Parmesan, and white-cheddar cheese and tasted really cheesy with a nice texture.

The penne also came with flavorful bruschetta tomatoes that created a pop of basil and garlic. I thought it brought a distinctly Italian flavor profile to the meal that made it stand out from a typical pasta dish.

Unfortunately, one thing about the dish let me down a bit.

Applebee's three-cheese chicken penne
The chicken that came with the three-cheese penne was kind of bland to me.Jena Brown

The chicken's exterior was well-seasoned, and it was cooked thoroughly, but it tasted pretty bland to me. I ended up eating just the pasta, so if I got this dish again, I'd order it without chicken.

The breadstick was buttery and super soft in the middle with a hint of garlic. It complemented the penne really well and I ate the whole thing.

Our server put this dish in the mix-and-match meal deal. For $13.80 plus a free appetizer, this felt like a good deal, but without the chicken, I'm not sure how filling it'd be on its own.

Applebee's riblets platter with honey-BBQ sauce was underwhelming to me.

Riblets platter with fries at Applebee's
My platter came with four riblets.Jena Brown

The second half of the mix-and-match deal was the riblets platter. For some reason, I thought the riblets would be boneless so it was a bit of a surprise when they arrived at the table. Fortunately, the bones were easy to maneuver around.

I had the option of choosing between honey-BBQ and sweet-Asian-chile sauces and I went with the former. The riblets were slathered in plenty of sauce but it wasn't too much. The honey-BBQ sauce was tasty and a bit sweet with a smoky twist.

The riblets themselves were cooked well, though some of the meat was a bit tough and fatty. I thought they were also quite small so it didn't seem like much meat for the price.

The platter came with four riblets and fries for $13.80. I thought this seemed a little pricey for what it was so I wouldn't order the riblet platter again.

I loved the chicken-tortilla soup but it was tiny.

A bowl of chicken-tortilla soup at Applebee's
I wish I got a bigger portion of the chicken-tortilla soup.Jena Brown

The chicken-tortilla soup, which came with a thick broth topped with a ton of tortilla strips, had a ton of flavor. The soup itself wasn't too spicy but definitely had a slight kick to it.

I could taste the tomato chunks and corn but the chicken and beans were on the lighter side. Given how small the bowl is, I thought the lack of protein made the soup a little less filling. The portion seemed small, but it was the perfect size for an appetizer or side dish.

I loved how many tortilla strips came packed on top, but if you let it sit, they start to sink and get soggy, so be sure to eat right away for that crunch.

I loved how many tortilla strips came packed on top but they began to sink and get soggy as my soup sat. I wish I'd eaten them right away for maximum crunch.

The bowl of soup was $4.80, and for the size, this wasn't worth it to me.

The classic Buffalo boneless wings were perfect.

Applebee's Buffalo wings
I loved the flavor of the Buffalo wings.Jena Brown

I'm a huge fan of boneless wings with Buffalo sauce so I'm glad this dish didn't disappoint.

At first, I was worried there wouldn't be enough sauce on the classic Buffalo boneless wings, but there was enough to perfectly coat the ingredients. It came with nine wings, three pieces of celery, and a choice of ranch or blue cheese — I ordered both dips.

The meat was cooked perfectly and the breading was super crispy. The wings were juicy and tender, and each bite had just the right amount of crunch. Both dips were thick and creamy so they coated the wings and didn't drip off or run thin.

Thanks to happy hour, these would have been half-price, but they were also part of the mix-and-match meal deal, so they ended up being free. Without either deal, the Buffalo wings would have been $12, which I think is a little pricey for a plate of nine wings.

They were really delicious so I plan on coming back for the half-price happy hour to get them again.

The triple-chocolate meltdown cake was spectacular.

Triple-chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream at Applebee's
I loved the fudge swirls and the rest of the presentation.Jena Brown

I loved the triple-chocolate meltdown cake. The chocolate cake was delicious and the presentation was outstanding.

The cake was filled with a rich, chocolaty hot fudge, which oozed out when we dug into the cake. It also came with a large scoop of rich, creamy vanilla ice cream.

The dessert was moist and the sponge-cake texture soaked up all the ice cream and melted fudge. Both the cake and ice cream were large enough portions to share and cost $7.60. We ate the entire thing and I'd definitely order it again.

Overall, dining at Applebee's was an enjoyable experience.

Mostly eaten three-cheese chicken penne, chicken-tortilla soup, riblet platter, quesadilla burger, and chocolate cake at Applebee's table
My favorites included the quesadilla burger and the chocolate meltdown cake.Jena Brown

For me, the experience of eating at Applebee's was good but it was the staff that made it stand out. Everyone in the restaurant was welcoming and friendly and the service stayed fantastic even as the dining room filled up. We never felt forgotten or ignored, and our server took care of every request we had.

Out of the food I tried, I really enjoyed the quesadilla burger and the triple-chocolate meltdown cake. Both dishes were satisfying, packed with flavor, and worth the price.

Other dishes, like the chicken-tortilla soup and the riblets platter, felt a little overpriced, though there are lots of menu options and deals to keep costs lower.

Next time I go to Applebee's I'd want to really look at the menu, deals, and reviews beforehand so I make sure I get the most bang for my buck and leave feeling fully satisfied.


Read the original article on Business Insider