Chain Restaurant Appetizer Combo Platters, Ranked Worst To Best, According To Customers

More than just a way of satiating immediate hunger, appetizers are an appealing prelude to a main meal. They set the tone for what lies ahead, tantalizing the taste buds with a range of flavors and textures. Additionally, starters are usually relatively small, which tends to encourage experimentation. Patrons are generally more willing to try out unfamiliar ingredients in a smaller portion, as opposed to committing to them in a full entrée. There is also a social aspect to appetizers since they are frequently shared between groups of diners.

With so much going for them, it's not surprising that many chain restaurants offer an extensive appetizer selection. And with so many choices on offer, selecting just one appetizer can be tricky. This is where appetizer combos can be a game changer. Featuring three or four items, samplers allow customers to savor a variety of flavors in a single dish. Furthermore, appetizer combos also encourage sharing and socializing, making them a popular option for meals with friends or family.

Whether you're into seafood or meat, or enjoy vegetarian dishes, there's an appetizer combo option out there to suit your preferences. If you're not sure where to start, check out our list of chain restaurant appetizer samplers, as ranked by customers.

12. TGI Fridays: Classic Fridays Combo

This may come as a surprise to many, but the family-friendly TGI Fridays was once a bar. Founded in 1965, the watering hole turned into the chain we all know and some of us love over the next six to seven years. Today, TGI Fridays boasts over 270 locations, each catering to families with American favorites such as burgers, ribs, and steaks. The chain also offers the Classic Fridays Combo, an appetizer designed for sharing that includes a choice of traditional or boneless wings, mozzarella sticks, and loaded potato skins with melted cheddar and crispy bits of bacon.

Although the Classic Fridays Combo hasn't garnered much online attention, most reviews about the dish have been less than favorable. One unhappy diner says, "The combo had boneless wings that were dry and shriveled, potato skins so overcooked you could use them as a weapon, [and] cheese sticks were ok. The cook clearly doesn't know fried food can be overdone. [...] If you eat here stay away from anything fried." Another reviewer agrees, saying, "Friday's apps are gross like sludge."

11. IHOP: Appetizer Sampler

Founded way back in 1958, IHOP specializes in pancakes and other breakfast and brunch dishes. After all, there's a good reason why the chain's name is an abbreviation of the International House of Pancakes. In light of this, some may be shocked to discover that the chain's Appetizer Sampler doesn't feature any pancakes. Instead, the dish comes with mozzarella cheese sticks, onion rings, and buttermilk chicken breast strips — all served with marinara sauce and ranch, honey mustard, or IHOP sauce.

IHOP's Appetizer Sampler has received a lukewarm to negative reception from diners, indicating that it's probably best to stay away from the menu item. On a somewhat positive note, one customer says: "Not bad overall. Friendly staff and food came quickly. Pretty good value for what you get. I had the appetizer combo and it had mozzarella sticks, onion rings and chicken strips. Not the best but not bad either." Another reviewer doesn't agree with this assessment, however, presenting a very different perspective on the dish. "My daughter's chicken strips and mozzarella sticks were overcooked and very brown, and all the cheese had leaked out of the mozzarella sticks in the fryer, leaving empty tubes of breading," they say.

10. Buffalo Wild Wings: House Sampler

Just as its name suggests, Buffalo Wild Wings is famous for its Buffalo-style chicken wings, as well as a wide range of sauces and seasonings. As such, it should come as no surprise that the chain's House Sampler features chicken wings cooked with a sauce or dry seasoning of your choice, ranging from mild to wild hot. Diners can choose from 28 sauce and seasoning options such as mango habanero, Nashville hot, orange chicken, and lemon pepper. The appetizer also comes with beer-battered onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and nachos served with pico de gallo, pickled hot peppers, crema, cilantro, and salsa. There's also a bunch of dipping sauces to choose from, including Southwestern Ranch and marinara.

The House Sampler has been the subject of mixed online feedback from diners. One reviewer says they "love the sampler," adding that it's their favorite menu item at the restaurant. On the flip side, another diner says that while they enjoyed the chicken wings, they weren't a fan of the onion rings since they were served coated in soft, rather than crispy, batter. Perhaps the most damning feedback comes from a DoorDash reviewer who says: "Everything was moderately warm, the ultimate nachos were nasty!"

9. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen: Cheddar's Trio Sampler

With around 185 locations across 29 states, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen is recognized for its comfort food and a menu that emphasizes freshly made dishes. Their culinary selection features salads, soups, steaks, ribs, and seafood. Listed in the restaurant's appetizer section, the Cheddar's Trio Sampler is perfect for those struggling to choose just one starter. Rather than offering one option, the platter comes with a Santa Fe spinach dip, four hand-breaded chicken tenders, queso, salsa, and house-fried tortilla chips.

Most customers have expressed satisfaction with the Cheddar's Trio Sampler, praising its quality and taste. One happy reviewer says: "The appetizer was delicious and the portion size of the appetizer [was] large for the price. The spinach dip was the best part of the trio. The flavors were good and it had the right balance of spinach and cream. The queso was delicious as well and the consistency was thick." Other diners describe the dish as good, yummy, and a favorite. On the downside, one customer calls the trio sampler "the worst," explaining, "The 'spinach dip' was not a dip. It was thawed spinach with a bland watery sauce.... NO CHEESE!!!! The cheese dip was very watered down with NO FLAVOR. The chicken strips were overcooked and bland."

8. O'Charley's: Top Shelf Combo Appetizer

The expression "top shelf" is often used to refer to something of the highest quality. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Top Shelf Combo Appetizer at O'Charley's, the phrase doesn't quite fit. The sampler platter, meant to showcase the best of O'Charley's apps, falls somewhat short of delivering the premium experience it promises.

Composed of loaded potato skins, spicy Jack cheese wedges, and chicken tenders, the Top Shelf Combo Appetizer has garnered both praise and criticism from restaurant-goers. On the positive side, some reviewers found this winning; one described the sampler as "absolutely delicious." However, other patrons give it less favorable feedback. A couple of reviewers have complained that their Top Shelf Combo Appetizer looked nothing like the picture that advertises the dish. Another diner calls the dish "nasty," elaborating, "The potato skins were so dry, the chicken looked like it's been sitting for days [and] it was just reheated from the fridge. The cheese wedges were so thin they didn't cook them all the way, and it tasted more like dough than cheese."

7. Ruby Tuesday: Ruby's Signature Sampler

If you have a fondness for classic American comfort dishes like sticky ribs, steaks, pot roasts, and burgers, chances are you've experienced a meal at Ruby Tuesday. Since the chain's menu is relatively large, you can simplify your dining experience — or at least its first part — by kicking things off with Ruby's Signature Sampler. Perfect for sharing, the appetizer is composed of three items. The boneless wings are tossed in your choice of condiments, such as hot or mild hickory bourbon, garlic Parmesan, or chili lime rub. The creamy spinach and artichoke dip comes topped with shredded Parmesan cheese and tortilla chips on the side. Last but not least, the breaded mozzarella sticks come served with a marinara dipping sauce.

While Ruby's Signature Sampler sounds great on paper — or rather the menu — the appetizer has failed to turn heads, with most reviewers describing it as pretty mediocre. For instance, one diner says: "The food was nothing special. The dips accompanying the Signature Sampler were barely enough for a quarter of the sampler items. They were remarkably stingy amounts and the spinach artichoke dip was somehow both starchy and watery." Another unimpressed reviewer agrees, saying, "[The] Signature Sampler was just okay. The chicken was tough and the whole thing was COLD."

6. Carrabba's Italian Grill: Classic Combinations

Founded by Johnny Carrabba and his uncle, Damian Mandola, in 1986 in Houston, Texas, Carrabba's Italian Grill has been inspired by the duo's Sicilian background and love for Italian cuisine. While the chain may no longer be operated by the family, Carrabba's Italian Grill continues to serve pasta, steaks, and other Italian specialties. One of these is the Classic Combinations platter, which comes with breaded mozzarella sticks, hand-breaded calamari, and mushrooms stuffed with ricotta, Romano, Parmesan, and mozzarella.

Carrabba's Classic Combinations has received mixed feedback from diners, with most praising its mozzarella sticks and four-cheese mushrooms but not the calamari. For instance, one reviewer says: "These stuffed mushrooms are just amazing! I get them every time I dine there!" Another diner also expresses their love for the mozzarella sticks, saying that they are the best they have ever sampled. Unfortunately, the calamari hasn't received such a positive reception. One Facebook user sums the general sentiment up, saying, "Why did you change your calamari? It's like big onion rings now and the breading is horrible. You were famous for your excellent calamari and you had to change it."

5. Applebee's: Classic Combo

Founded in Atlanta in 1980, Applebee's has grown from strength to strength. In fact, in 1998, the restaurant was the first casual dining chain to open 1,000 branches. Today, this number stands at over 1,500. While Applebee's growth rate might have decelerated slightly over the years, the chain remains a firm favorite for its value for money and wide range of menu offerings, both of which are exemplified by the Classic Combo. Just as its name suggests, the Classic Combo at Applebee's features the chain's lineup of classic appetizers, including boneless wings, chicken quesadilla, mozzarella sticks, and spinach and artichoke dip. The dish comes with a choice of sauces such as salsa, marinara, and ranch.

Erin McDowell, who sampled the Classic Combo for Business Insider, says that while the platter was generously sized, it wasn't "mind-blowing or filling." McDowell praises the quesadillas for being flavorful and the boneless wings for their juiciness and delicious tempura-inspired exterior. However, the reviewer is less enthusiastic about the app's other two items. In particular, they describe the spinach and artichoke dip as both bland and watery, with barely any hint of artichokes, and the mozzarella sticks as inadequately melted. BlaineC2040 agreed, saying on his YouTube channel that even though the mozzarella sticks were filled with plenty of cheese, they lacked the desired "mozzarella stretch."

4. Texas Roadhouse: Combo Appetizer

Perhaps the most memorable appetizer of Texas Roadhouse's menu is the Cactus Blossom, an onion sliced into petals, coated in batter, and deep fried until crispy. Unfortunately, at a hefty 2250 calories, it's also one of the restaurant's least healthy apps. On a more positive note, the chain's Combo Appetizer clocks in at 1170 calories, approximately half the calorie count of the Cactus Blossom, offering a slightly less guilt-inducing choice for your indulgence. It also comes with three items, letting you enjoy a variety of flavors in one dish.

The Combo Appetizer at Texas Roadhouse features boneless Buffalo wings in a hot or mild sauce, tater skins, and rattlesnake bites with jack cheese and jalapeños. If you don't like one of the items in the dish, you can substitute it with the chain's fried pickles. While the appetizer hasn't received a lot of online feedback, it seems that diners agree that it's worth their time and money. Jackson Fowler from the Daily Dot recommends the Combo Appetizer to those who find it difficult to make up their mind when ordering dishes. Similarly, another diner says that all the items that make up the appetizer had "nice portions and good flavor."

3. Joe's Crab Shack: Joe's Classic Sampler

With around 30 locations across the U.S., Joe's Crab Shack has been serving affordable seafood to hungry diners since first opening its doors in Houston, Texas in 1991. However, with a menu chock-a-block with crab, shrimp, lobsters, mussels, clams, and fish, it can be hard to settle on just one dish. This is where Joe's Classic Sampler can be a lifesaver. Composed of a crab and shrimp dip, crispy calamari, and an item called the Great Balls of Fire (made from shrimp, crab, and jalapeños), the appetizer is a great way of kicking off your dining experience.

Joe's Classic Sampler has received enthusiastic reviews, especially from those with a penchant for zesty flavors. The Florida Panhandle praises the trio, highlighting that the crab and shrimp dip was deliciously creamy. Other reviewers describe the app as the best, tasty and hot, and delicious. On a slightly negative note, one diner complained that while they enjoyed most of the dish, they don't like jalapeños and wished they could have replaced the shrimp, crab, and jalapeño balls with another appetizer.

2. Ocean Prime: Smoking Shellfish Tower

Ideal for seafood enthusiasts, Ocean Prime's "Smoking" Shellfish Tower is a sight to behold. The multi-tiered display features layers of aquatic delights, beautifully presented to tantalize both the eyes and the palate. Best of all, diners can load the tower with seafood of their choosing, including succulent shrimp, juicy oysters on the half shell, and chilled Maine lobster. The custom-built tower is garnished with an array of fresh lemons and a selection of dipping sauces. Additionally, a unique feature of the "Smoking" Shellfish Tower is the dry ice that sits on the top tier of the structure, creating a smoky fog that cascades down the levels.

Ocean Prime's "Smoking" Shellfish Tower has garnered praise from seafood aficionados, who seem to appreciate both its exquisite taste and visual presentation. One TripAdvisor reviewer calls their evening at Ocean Prime an "excellent experience," adding, "The seafood tower was superb." Other diners seem just as impressed with the appetizer, describing it as delicious and over the top.

1. Chili's: Triple Dipper

A highlight of Chili's menu, the Triple Dipper lets you mix and match three appetizers in one platter. Choose between such options as bone-in and boneless wings, brisket or chicken and bacon quesadillas, and Southwestern Eggrolls with chicken, black beans, and jack cheese. Diners can also complement their meal with the Dip Trio. Served with corn tostada cheese, the dish comes with three dips of your choice, including offerings such as fresh salsa, fresh guacamole, skillet queso, and white queso.

Although the Triple Dipper is listed as an appetizer, according to Sami Cone, it's sizable enough to share between diners. And with such an abundance of choices, it offers something for everybody to enjoy. Erin McDowell, who reviewed the Triple Dipper for Business Insider, agrees, saying that the dish is large enough to share between two as an entrée. This makes the dish great value if you're on a tight budget but want to eat out. Best of all, the app provides a great opportunity to sample a variety of flavors without committing to a single larger dish.