Huge Scandals That Rocked Applebee's

Applebee's seems like the most basic of basic chain restaurants. The kind of place where Mom, Dad, and their two point five offspring would go for a "kids eat free" meal deal, while across the restaurant in the bar area the gals from HR whoop it up on a ladies' night out with $1 margaritas and half-price quesadillas, and a men's softball team stops by for post-game beers and wings while they catch the game on the big screen TV. Ho-hum, just another typical night in suburbia. Or so we thought. (Cue suspenseful sound effect... dun-dun-DUNNNN!)

Surprise! Applebee's, too, has its secret side, and it's much, much darker than we ever imagined. Read on for the hidden history of this seemingly innocuous company, complete with discrimination, debauchery, drunkenness, drug dealing, mayhem, and even (gasp!) murder most foul. As a special added bonus, we'll even reveal the real reason their food tastes so bad.

The Applebee's shady wage practices scandal

Applebee's can be a pretty tough place to work. As of July 2019, it only rates 3.2 on Glassdoor, with reviews citing long hours, late nights, rude customers, and overwork brought on by understaffing. Fair compensation, it seems, is also an issue. 

A 2016 class action lawsuit filed on behalf of employees at 23 Applebee's restaurants in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky made the claim that they were being stiffed on their wages. These employees, all of whom were considered to be servers and bartenders and thus paid only the $4.25 per hour due to tipped staff (minimum wage minus a $3 per hour "tip credit" taken by the restaurants), were nonetheless required by their managers to perform non-tipped labor such as washing dishes or cleaning the parking lot for that same low wage.

Federal wage law, however, does not actually permit the restaurants to claim that $3 per hour "tip credit" should the employee not actually earn at least $3 in tips for each hour worked, nor can they pay less than minimum wage during those times that employees are performing non-tipped work. So, whoops! Applebee's, looks like you got some splainin' (and perhaps some compensatin') to do, but there's no word on a settlement for these shady wage practices yet.

The Applebee's $1 margarita scandal

By 2017, Applebee's was in big trouble. Since the year before, they'd closed over 100 locations. That summer, though, Texas Applebee's locations hit upon a brilliant promotion — sell margaritas for just a dollar! Oh hellz yeah, said just about everybody in Texas over the age of 21 (or in possession of a reasonably convincing fake ID), and that July, Texas Applebee's sold more margaritas that month than ever before. By October, the newly-christened "Dollaritas" had rolled out nationwide. Hordes of happy drunken people, a revitalized restaurant chain, and all is well under the big red apple, no?

Not quite so fast. Shortly after Dollaritas themselves went viral, so did a video posted on Facebook by an Applebee's bartender sharing the secret Dollarita recipe Applebee's really does not want you to know: one gallon of bottom shelf (Azteca brand) tequila, one gallon of margarita mix, and three gallons of water, making the drink only one-fifth booze (minus any added ice). Although Applebee's promptly flipped out, issuing denials and casting doubt on whether the anonymous video poster was even an employee of theirs, a quick scroll through the video comments revealed, news flash: no-one really cared. A dollar drink is a dollar drink, and just about everyone was quite happy to keep on downing those Dollaritas no matter what went into them.

This journalist uncovered why Applebee's food tastes like plastic

Author Tracie McMillan, researching her 2012 book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, spent a year working at poorly-paid, entry level jobs in the food industry, including stints as a grape picker, a Walmart produce clerk, and an Applebee's prep cook.

It was during this last-named gig that she unearthed some information that will come as a shock to practically nobody: Hardly anything served at Applebee's is actually fresh. Almost everything that comes out of an Applebee's kitchen is prepackaged, frozen, or dehydrated, and yes, most of the so-called cooking takes place in, you guessed it, a microwave. She did, however, reveal one extremely icky but heretofore little-known fact: In many cases, the plastic dishes in which the Applebee's food is microwaved melt a little bit, leaving remnants that stick to the food and must be wiped off before it is served. Wiped off, one hopes, but it seems some of that melted plastic taste still lingers. Yuck. But at least we've finally had our suspicions confirmed.

An E. coli outbreak was linked to a Minnesota Applebee's

At least seven people who dined at a Minneapolis-area Applebee's in the summer of 2014 came down with food poisoning caused by a rare strain of E. coli,  one that had been previously unknown in the U.S. Of the seven diners who reported that they'd become ill after eating at that Applebee's, four of them had to be hospitalized. 

Investigations pointed to the Oriental Chicken Salad (which was already handicapped by an egregiously un-PC name) as a possible culprit, so Applebee's temporarily removed it from the menu statewide. They also reportedly "changed suppliers," although refusing to disclose just what it was that those suppliers would now be supplying, as well as the names of either their previous or new suppliers. Speaking of changing, though, what's up with not at least renaming that salad? As of 2019, it's still on the menu as Oriental Chicken Salad. Asian chicken salad sounds equally tasty and far less offensive, not to mention having no negative E. coli-related baggage.

The Applebee's sexual harassment lawsuit scandal

Ever since the #MeToo movement began gaining ground, women in numerous industries have been speaking out with hair-raising tales of harassment, but it turns out that the restaurant industry may be one of the biggest violators when it comes to workplace impropriety. And even amongst its industry competitors, Applebee's is a standout — it is seemingly tied with only IHOP as the restaurant with the most individual federal sexual harassment lawsuits filed against it during a time period ranging from 2010 to 2018.

Details from some of these court cases are pretty disturbing. In South Carolina, two sisters employed at an Applebee's detailed an assistant manager who would inappropriately touch them. A North Dakota Applebee's manager was accused of even more heinous acts — he would expose himself to employees, and in one case, even coerced an employee into a sex act in exchange for a raise. Eww. We sincerely hope that that employee received the lion's share of the $1 million settlement Applebee's paid out to the 17 workers involved in the North Dakota lawsuit.

This Tennessee Applebee's served booze to kids

A family with three kids aged 9, 10, and 11 visited a Johnson City Applebee's for dinner one evening, and when the server asked what the kids wanted to drink, they asked for root beer. Happy to oblige, she went off to fetch them three bottles of what she thought was soda. Eagle-eyed Dad, however, noticed that what she'd brought was something called Not Your Father's Root Beer which is, in fact, 5.9 percent alcohol. He argued with the server, who insisted she'd served soda as requested, and then, still upset about the matter, called the police as well as Applebee's corporate.

The 9-year-old did complain of some stomach pain after drinking the beverage. He was checked out at a hospital, but was released and expected to be fine. The 10-year-old hadn't even touched her drink. The server involved was suspended from her position, and management apologized profusely, promising to retrain all of the restaurant staff in beverage management. The family likely got their meals comped, although the kids never got any real root beer since that Applebee's did not have any of the non-hard stuff on their menu.

This Missouri Applebee's was accused of racial profiling

In February 2018, two women had their dinner at the Independence Center Applebee's in Missouri interrupted by a visit from a police officer, a mall security guard, and the Applebee's manager. When the women asked what the problem was, they were accused of having "dined and dashed" the day before. The woman protested their innocence, insisting that this was their first visit to that Applebee's, but they were nevertheless told to pay up, get out, and stay out. One of the women had been recording a video on her phone while the incident was playing out, and later posted it to Facebook along with her suspicions that the entire incident had occurred because both she and her friend are African American.

Not surprisingly, the video went viral, causing an embarrassed Applebee's to issue a public apology as well as firing the manager and the two employees who had been involved in profiling the diners. In fact, Applebee's was so rocked by the accusations that they ended up closing the Independence restaurant — not a temporary closure, as they'd originally planned, but what turned out to be a permanent one.

A pastor stiffed her Applebee's waitress, then got her fired

In 2013 a pastor dined out at her local St. Louis Applebee's with several members of her congregation. As the group numbered eight or more people, Applebee's followed their policy of automatically tacking on an 18 percent tip to the bill. The pastor objected, crossing out the included gratuity and leaving a note for her waitress saying, "I give God 10 percent why do you get 18." Another waitress, who says it wasn't even her table, took a picture of the receipt with its 0 percent tip and uploaded it to Reddit. The image and subsequent commentary, you guessed it, instantly went viral.

What really blew things up, however, was Applebee's disastrous response. Not only did they fire the waitress after the pastor complained, but they did so for the most hypocritical of reasons. They claimed that posting this receipt was a violation of customer privacy — an obviously newly-created policy, seeing as how the company had itself posted a receipt revealing a customer's full name just a month earlier. As internet users grew vocal in their demands for Applebee's to rehire the waitress and talk of boycotts began, Applebee's responded by picking fights with Facebook followers, spamming, deleting comments, and then lying about the deletions. As one user commented, "I for one am enjoying Applebee's PR suicide."

The former waitress went on to become a commentator and spokesperson for food server's rights, and Applebee's... kept on being Applebee's.

A murder took place at a New Jersey Applebee's

The story you are about to hear is true. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent because they're not going to be mentioned anyway. It was Tuesday, November 14, 2017 in the small, quiet New Jersey town of Lawrence. A town that had not seen a single murder since back around the turn of the millennium. All of that peace and quiet was about to come to an abrupt and shocking end in the early morning hours. 

A young man sat enjoying a last drink in the bar at his local Applebee's, shortly before the restaurant would close for the night. Into the bar rushed another man, known to the victim, and one with whom he'd had some sort of long-standing disagreement or perhaps even a decades-old family feud. Before the first man could even turn around, the second man fired his weapon, delivering a single bullet to the victim's head killing him instantly.

The slain man left behind him many grieving friends and a small child. The killer was indicted on a murder charge. And the Applebee's location, shockingly, reopened the day after the shooting.

Drug deals went down in the bar at this Applebee's in the Bronx

A popular drink you can order at just about every Applebee's is a rum and Coke. At one Applebee's in the Bronx, though, you might have been able to get a rum... and coke. As in, the white powdery stuff, not the sweet, bubbly cola kind. The dealer that patronized this bar ordinarily transacted his business in Staten Island, where he and several business associates were also involved in distributing heroin and fentanyl, but on at least one occasion in 2018 he sold cocaine to an undercover cop (oopsie!) at the Marble Hill Applebee's.

Perhaps the Applebee's visit might have been due to it being the dealer's custodial weekend, or, who knows, maybe even drug dealers like to observe Take Your Kids to Work Day. At any rate, while Daddy was dealing in the bar, his three kids sat at a table nearby where we hope they at least had some Neighborhood Nachos to keep them occupied. While they waited, Pops sold the nice policeman 58 grams of cocaine for $2,775. Lucky for the kids (and the bartender), the subsequent arrest did not occur until a week after the Applebee's transaction took place.

A New Jersey man used Applebee's takeout as his alibi for wife-killing

A man in Woolwich County, New Jersey had an argument with his wife one summer afternoon in 2017. He felt she might be wanting to leave him, and as he had some substance abuse and (obviously) anger issues, she most likely had her reasons. Unfortunately, their argument turned violent, and when it was over, the wife was floating lifeless in their swimming pool.

The husband, once he saw what he'd done, used some paper towels to clean up the crime scene, then got in his car and drove to Applebee's to pick up a takeout dinner "for two." When he returned home to "discover" the body and call 911, he allegedly tried to use the Applebee's excuse as his alibi, but it didn't fool anybody. He wound up confessing to what he called a "terrible, tragic accident," although his late wife's friends and family called him a "monster" instead. The guilty plea to a manslaughter charge got him off with just a 15-year jail term, but at least for the next decade or so, Alibi Man will be eating food that makes Applebee's not-so-haute cuisine seem like cordon bleu cookery in comparison.

This Applebee's CEO threatened a hiring freeze over Obamacare

Zane Tankel, CEO of Applebee's NYC-area franchise, Apple-Metro, is pretty outspoken on business issues in general, as witnessed by his frequent appearances on Fox Business where he shares his opinion on diverse subjects including trade tariffs, minimum wage laws, and soda sales bans. One of his opinions, however, almost led to a boycott of his restaurants.

Apparently less than thrilled by President Obama's reelection in 2012, or at least by the fact that this reelection meant that Applebee's would need to come into compliance with the Affordable Care Act by offering healthcare options to its employees within the next two years, Tankel raised his voice in protest, boldly sticking up for the rights of embattled billionaire business owners everywhere. Rather than shell out what he estimated would cost him millions, he promised to stop hiring workers or opening any more restaurants, essentially saying he was going to take his ball and go home rather than play by the president's rules.

Needless to say, Tankel's remarks didn't play too well with Applebee's employees, customers, and even with Applebee's parent company. Eventually Tankel worked out an insurance plan that would allow his franchises to stay in business, but the backlash he received did nothing to stop him from continuing to share his two cents (or two dollars, what with his rising expenses) on anything and everything, whether it's wanted or not.