Shady Things About Applebee's Menu

It was 1980 when the very first Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar location opened in Decatur, Georgia. Despite its attention-catching name, it didn't offer its patrons apples or bees, but classic American-style entrées, cocktails, and a comfortable, easy atmosphere that kept its earliest customers coming back in throngs. This single start-up location in the Southern United States developed into a chain reaching far and wide, with around 1,650 worldwide locations to its name as of 2024. Applebee's is considered one of the most successful casual dine-in chain restaurants in America, coming second only to well-known Italian-themed chain Olive Garden in sales in 2023.

It's easy to see how the franchise's consistent menu of easy-to-love classics like the Prime Rib Dipper, the Classic Broccoli Chicken Alfredo, and the Quesadilla Burger appeals to eaters seeking crowd-pleasing meals. However, when it comes to your next bite at Applebee's, there are a select few questionable tidbits regarding its menu you should be aware of prior to placing your order. From overpriced soft pretzels to hidden charges and watered down alcoholic beverages, here are a few shady things about the Applebee's menu.

The fried items all come frozen

When it comes to frying up a delicious, juicy basket of chicken tenders, wings, or thighs, there is one vital step that must be completed prior to the selected proteins being dropped in the frying oil. We're talking about hand-breading, of course; the step which creates that perfect crispy outer layer. Some chicken chains, such as Popeyes or Chick-Fil-A, hand bread their own fresh chicken daily prior to frying it on site. Applebee's, however, takes a different approach ... one that does not require employees' hands to be drenched in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs at the start of the day.

According to worker admission across numerous online platforms, the breading process does not, in fact, happen in the kitchens at Applebee's. All of the casual chain's fried items come to the store frozen in bags and already pre-breaded. As orders come in, these foods can simply be thrown into the fryer straight out of the freezer — no early-morning prep required. While this method certainly saves time and effort for employees, it may not appeal to the consumer looking for a basket of freshly-breaded, never-frozen poultry, similar to what they may find at other chains specializing in chicken. Depending on your personal comfort level and preferences, you'll have to do with this information what you will. 

The 2 for $25 deal isn't as clear cut as it seems

The 2 for $25 deal at Applebee's offers double entrées and an appetizer for the discounted price of $25 ... or does it? While the title of this promotion suggests that patrons pay a flat fee for their food, in reality, there's a slew of hidden upcharges on many items that can cause that final bill to skyrocket well over the $25 mark.

"Why does it say 2 for $25 when almost every item has an upcharge?" reads the title of a Reddit thread in which users discuss the deal that some find misleading and confusing. The post features a screenshot on the user's Applebee's app, where the promo is referred to as the "2 for $2X." This "2X," users assumed, was a way to account for the extra fees attached to the majority of the entrées and appetizers offered. "Why do I need a math degree and philosophy degree to understand what [...] this promo is supposed to mean," joked one user. This is hardly the only discussion among consumers pointing out sneaky changes made to the 2 for $25, which has eliminated the clear-cut, lucrative aspect previously offered. While there appears to be a select few items that do not to come with hidden charges, you may have to choose between limited choices to stay within that $25 limit, or forking up extra to order what you really want. The choice is yours.

Employees say that when it comes to appetizers, the pretzel sticks are a rip-off

The Brew Pub Pretzels at Applebee's are a mouthwatering appetizer of soft pretzel sticks sprinkled with salt, served alongside a cup of beer cheese dip for dunking — the perfect, delicious prelude to the meal itself. However, when it comes to the price you pay for this particular salty snack as compared with what you receive, even employees of the chain are a bit skeptical.

On the subreddit r/IAmA, one alleged employee of the Applebee's franchise shared their thoughts on what they believed to be the most overpriced item on the menu. Without hesitation, they named the pretzel sticks. "4 for 8 dollars is insane," they explained, referencing the four mid-sized straight pretzels you receive on the platter. This particular Reddit conversation took place around 2017, however, and the price of the pretzel sticks has done nothing but rise since. The Brew Pub Pretzels and Cheese Dip are now listed at about $12 on the Applebee's online menu, not the $8 of the past — making the relatively small plate of pretzel sticks even more expensive than when this particular employee called them out. Whether or not this savory prelude is worth the money is going to vary among patrons, but whichever side of the debate you fall on, you should be mentally prepared to receive only four of these mouthwatering, chewy pretzels after ordering — regardless of what you paid for them. 

The gluten-sensitive meals aren't actually allergy safe

People with gluten sensitivities, allergies, and aversions have long faced obstacles when it comes to finding acceptable options for dining out. To meet these wanting consumers where they're at, Applebee's has an identified list of meals that are free from this sometimes-problematic ingredient in its official online Allergen Information sheet. But these meal options, while indeed gluten-free at their baseline, cannot be relied upon to be completely safe for those with more severe sensitivities.

Sadly, Applebee's gluten-free meals are not considered safe within the celiac community. This is due to the risk of cross-contamination, which even Applebee's itself acknowledges via its online allergy disclosure form. Due to the high volume of other gluten-inclusive meals being prepared in close proximity, there is always the chance of a small splash of infected oil or a gloved hand that previously handled gluten-filled bread accidentally contaminating the plate of a person with serious allergies. Unfortunately, incidents of people becoming ill after consuming a cross-contaminated meal from Applebee's do exist on online platforms. So, if you or a family member falls into the celiac category, you may want to consider leaving the franchise off your list of acceptable eateries completely.

The boneless wings aren't wings at all

Chicken wings, with their crispy outer skin and juicy meaty innards, are a classic American staple offered across sports bars, grills ... and yes, Applebee's locations everywhere. They come two ways from the popular franchise; bone-in, or boneless, and there is a major difference to note between the two options. While bone-in chicken wings are the actual wings of the chicken, the boneless ones are not composed of wing meat, at all.

Unlike bone-in chicken wings, boneless ones are made up of different chunks of chicken flesh which are pressed tightly together and breaded to form wing-shaped pieces. While this usually includes breast meat or tenderloin, it does not include wing meat — despite what the dish's name suggests. While this mixture is typical of all boneless wings found in restaurants, it is something to be aware of when it comes to Applebee's All You Can Eat Boneless Wings promotion. This eat-your-fill deal has been resurrected a few times by the franchise, and could be so again in the future. But never fear — just because the boneless wings aren't actually wings, doesn't necessarily mean indulging in endless baskets won't be an enjoyable experience if you choose to partake. One recent Reddit post on r/Applebees featured a consumer begging for information about the franchise's boneless wings' supplier due to their apparent deliciousness. Mix of random chicken bits or not, this speaks highly of the product's taste, at the very least. 

The one dollar drinks may contain more water and sugar than actual alcohol

If there's one thing for which Applebee's is certainly well-known, it's its celebrated dollar drink promotions. From the Dollarita to the Dollar Jolly to the $1 Long Island Iced Tea, the chain has brought in countless consumers hoping to celebrate happy hour with a bang ... and, for a very minor dent in their pocketbook. But if it feels like the unbelievably low price point on Applebee's various dollar drinks is too good to be true, unfortunately, you may be right. The reason that the beverage specials at Applebee's can maintain their single dollar status without the franchise losing out significantly from a financial standpoint is because they reportedly contain very little alcohol.

Per both employee admission and reviews posted by disappointed consumers, the various Applebee's dollar drinks generally have a very low alcohol by volume (AVB) content, and a whole lot of filler. One Facebook video posted by an Applebee's worker in 2017 evidenced this in real time, featuring the shocking drink-making process for the famous Dollaritas. The method involved dumping one gallon of sugary margarita mix concentrate, one gallon of cheap tequila, and a whopping three gallons of tap water into a bucket. How does this watered-down concoction taste, you might ask? Well, one Redditor described their dollar margarita as being akin to the "lemonade you get from a PTA meeting." This feels relatively self-explanatory to us. 

The price of the grilled chicken is extremely marked up

There are numerous dishes featuring grilled chicken as the star up for grabs on the Applebee's menu. The Grilled Chicken Breast or the Fiesta Lime Chicken, for example, both offer a slightly lighter take on a poultry dish than the chain's fried chicken counterparts. While the reception surrounding these grilled dishes seems to be relatively positive, there is one aspect in which the entrées might be considered questionable. This involves their price point: According to one alleged manager on Reddit, the grilled chicken at Applebee's is extremely marked up.

"Anything with grilled chicken," they answered in response to a question regarding meals that were expensive compared to their acquisition price. "Those chicken breasts, individually, cost like 30 cents. I think those are our biggest profit margin items. [...] That's why you see so many grilled chicken items on the 2 for 20 and 12 minute lunch deals." This claim isn't too hard to believe when you consider that an entire 22-ounce bag of frozen grilled chicken breasts from Walmart, for example, comes in at $8.98. When both the currently-offered Applebee's grilled chicken dishes' prices are taken into account — $15.48 for the Grilled Chicken and $15.79 for the Fiesta Lime in some locations – one can see that they are paying nearly double or more for a single breast meal. This may warrant some consideration as to whether or not the grilled chicken entrées are worth having. 

Some dishes may be prepared before you order them

While a certain level of prior preparation is to be expected in busy restaurant kitchens, most of us like to believe our food is cooked only upon placing our orders with the server. However, according to an off-putting employee admission on Reddit, certain Applebee's dishes may be ready-to-go in advance of your requesting them.

An alleged manager shared some kitchen secrets with the world via a post on Reddit's r/IAmA, addressing one user's questions regarding food preparation. The worker admitted that a significant head start is made in the morning when much of the food for the day is prepped. As orders begin rolling in, the microwave is then used to heat them back up quickly. "I have heard stories about other Applebee's prepping items for the week, but we don't do that here," the manager continued, suggesting that food at some locations may sit for a more prolonged period of time.

This is hardly the only instance in which the method of food being warmed, rather than cooked to individual order, has been suggested in regard to the franchise. On another Reddit post, a user described how an Applebee's server allegedly announced that the kitchen was out of medium rare steak, and could only serve medium or medium-well for the rest of the day. This suggested, of course, that a certain number of steaks had been previously readied, and that deviation was impossible ... evidencing the manager's original claim. 

Your final course will be microwaved

For many eaters, there's nothing more heavenly than a sweet-smelling dessert fresh out of the oven to finish off a scrumptious meal. But if a from-scratch, fresh-baked, never frozen pastry is what you seek when it comes to your perfect final course, you aren't likely to find it at Applebee's. According to numerous online employee admissions, the franchise's various hot desserts, such as the Sizzlin' Butter Pecan Blondie or the Triple Chocolate Meltdown, come to the kitchens both pre-cooked and frozen. Then, when an order for one is placed by a patron, it goes into the microwave to heat.

One alleged employee on a r/KitchenConfidential Reddit post explained that both microwaving and decorating desserts after they are warmed is a job designated to employees working the fry station in the Applebee's kitchen. Along with salad-assembling and dumping various items into hot frying oil, preparing these sweet final courses falls under this individual worker's responsibilities. While the preparatory process for your dessert at Applebee's may not involve cracking eggs, measuring flour, or mixing dough, will you be able to look past these pastries' frozen beginnings and take a chance on them anyway? The choice is yours.