Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Applebee’s Is The New Chi-Chi’s, And You Cannot Change My Mind

“Fancy like Applebee’s on a date night…”

The radio sang this country song to my husband and I. As foodies, we exchanged glances in utter horror. I have a lot of things to say about having good taste in food, especially when it comes to date night. Applebee’s is not “date night” food for me unless it’s back in the day when I lived in a warehouse and was so strung out that I could barely function. 

But, this isn’t about me being a bitchy food snob. It’s about the fact that Applebee’s is starting to have an eerily similar track to another company that once ruled as the classic cheap food place: Chi-Chi’s. To a point, it almost felt like that country guy’s song was a swan song for the brand. 

Confused? Hear me out. There are a lot of reasons why these two chains are similar, even if their menus are not.

Both Applebee’s and Chi-Chi’s are chain restaurants that are a product of their unique time.

Chi-Chi’s was a Mexican restaurant that started out in the mid-70s in the American Midwest. As you can imagine, it was about as authentic as styrofoam. The food was awkward, but during that time, Chi-Chi’s was often the only exposure people had to Mexican food. So, of course it was great. 

With Applebee’s, they were founded in Kansas during the mid-80s. At this time, America didn’t really have any places that had a cheap but friendly fare in a pub setting. Initially, they were more high-end (they had quail). They toned it down to become the first fast-casual restaurant of its type. 

In other words, their success is because they were unique. 

The food at neither was particularly good. 

Chi-Chi’s was a restaurant that only got popular because people had never tried Mexican before. I’m not even joking. As soon as other Mexican restaurant chains started to kick up, Chi-Chi’s saw a notable drop in quality. 

Applebee’s is…well, honestly, it’s absolute garbage. Not fit for a dog. I mean, it’s made via a microwave. So, everything is reheated and oddly heated. Oh, and they also think that slathering everything in butter and sauce is okay. Can you tell I hate Applebee’s yet?

So, yeah, there is clearly a similarity here. Food was not what they were coasting on. 

Sales started to plummet, so both companies started to cut corners.

Chi-Chi’s began to struggle when people realized that what they served wasn’t actually good. Applebee’s started to see sales plummet as people started to get more into healthy eating and upscale fast casual. So, they both have to figure something out. 

There are two main things businesses can do when they have bad sales. They can scale back but try to keep quality up while they jack up prices. Or, they can cut corners, keep prices the same, and hope for the best. Both restaurants chose to cut corners. 

In both cases, the food became less fresh. It also became way more filler-filled. This gave both Chi-Chi’s and Applebee’s a menu that puts people at a higher risk of a sore stomach. 

Eventually, Chi-Chi’s died out as a result of multiple food poisoning outbreaks.

Chi-Chi’s had tons of restaurants close when their final blows were felt: multiple food poisoning outbreaks, including one of the deadliest ones ever recorded in the state of Pennsylvania. After lawsuits happened, Chi-Chi’s was done for. All they had left was their line of salsas, which are still viewable on store shelves today. 

Applebee’s has closed hundreds of stores in the past couple of years. And now, we’re seeing even more cutbacks. Could this trend continue? I’m hopeful that Applebee’s will shutter sooner rather than later—ideally with less fatalities. 

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart is a food critic, writer, and at home culinary enthusiast!


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  1. Talk is cheap! This article clearly trashes Applebee’s, without one shred of evidence. There is not one ounce of definitive discussion, such as, “food undercooked”, or “too much salt” , as examples. I am seeing a personal vendetta being played out. Anyone who has spent any time in the food industry will tell you the single most important feature in a restaurant is Management! Good management…good food. The idea of comparing a Mexican specialty restaurant against an American cuisine restaurant with an international menu selection, has no basis for comparison!
    Having said all of that, I will support my case with the fact that I have eating at Applebee’s many, many times. Was every meal perfect? No. But most of the time, it was delicious. In addition, their prices are very reasonable, compared to other chain restaurants. I like; the riblets, the bourbon chicken, and their chicken alfredo id great!


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