Secrets Applebee's doesn't want you to know

Who doesn't love hitting Applebee's for some appetizers and drinks with friends and coworkers? It's a great, casual place to get together and de-stress, and they've built an empire on their friendly-neighborhood sort of approachability. But — like all American institutions — there are some things they probably wish you didn't know about. Let's take a deep dive into some of the secrets every fan of Applebee's should probably be aware of. 

Their sides might contain plastic

Author Tracie McMillan spoke with The Fiscal Times in 2012. She was talking about her new book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. Like the title suggests, she did some undercover research and found out some fascinating stuff, including what she will and won't eat at Applebee's.

She says she'll stick to things that come right off the grill, because their method of making sides efficiently and with consistency leaves something to be desired. She uses broccoli as her example, saying the florets come pre-cut, and they're not taken out of the bag until right before the plate goes out because they'll start to congeal. Since they're heated in the bag, she says the plastic has a tendency to flake off, "So you're sending out these sides that have little flakes of plastic stuck on them. If I were a diner, I would think that it was salt."

They've given up on trying to attract millennials

You might think a business would strive to stay relevant by appealing to new markets, but in the case of Applebee's? Not so much.

In 2017, The Chicago Tribune reported on a bizarre about-face that saw Applebee's president say he was giving up on the idea of reinventing their image to make them more modern and more appealing to millennials. "I think, in retrospect, we may have tried too hard to attract new guests," John Cywinski said. "That left some of our fans shaking their heads, asking 'What happened to Applebee's?'"

That means they decided to get rid of the updated decor, as well as many of the updated menu items, and bring back the old menu. They also reversed direction on all-you-can-eat specials and 2 for $20 items, bringing both back after kicking them to the wayside. In other words, they're giving up on impressing millennials and heading back to what Raymond James analyst Brian Vaccaro called "the roots of their business."

Club Applebee's is an (unofficial) thing, and it's not family-friendly

Applebee's is about as Middle America and family-friendly as a restaurant chain can get, but at some Applebee's, there's something entirely different going on. According to the Houston Press, the official concept is innocent enough. It's called Club Bee's Late Night, and the idea was simply that some restaurants would stay open a few hours later, serve half-price appetizers, and be a place for people to have fun while still being safe and responsible.

They left it up to franchisees to decide what they were going to do with the concept, and while some opted to go the karaoke route, others went the "girls covered in whip cream dancing on the bar" route. Business Insider says it's the Applebee's in Florida that really go a bit nuts, holding blacklight parties, encouraging customers to cut loose for an experience that's definitely more nightclub than family-friendly.

They were sued by a transgender hostess

In theory, every workplace should strive to provide an environment where their employees feel safe, but according to a 2017 lawsuit, one Applebee's was anything but. The suit was brought to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and according to the claim a transgender hostess referred to in the suit only as Danielle was subjected to extreme harassment. Lohud reported that not only did Danielle report the harassment to her general manager on no less than three occasions, but some concerned co-workers went even higher up the chain of command to try to get a resolution. The lawsuit says the same day the chain's area director met with that location's general manager, Danielle was fired "in retaliation for engaging in protected activity, namely opposing sex harassment".

And it's not the only time Applebee's has gotten in hot water over how it handles harassment. In 2014, BizJournals reported on a lawsuit brought against Applebee's by the EEOC, pointing out the illegality of an agreement employees were forced to sign as a condition of their employment. Anyone who wanted to work for Applebee's needed to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement stating any charges of discrimination wouldn't be taken to court. How shady is that?

They fired a waitress amid a social media meltdown

In 2013, Applebee's got caught up in a bizarre social media meltdown. Writer and child advocate RL Stollar documented the blow-by-blow showdown on his blog, and it started when Pastor Alois Bell left a receipt with no tip and the note, "I give God 10% why do you get 18". The receipt — with signature — was posted on Reddit by Chelsea Welch, a co-worker of the server who got the nasty note. Welch was immediately fired for violating a customer's privacy, which not only garnered thousands of comments, but comments from some people pointing out that Applebee's had technically done the exact same thing only days before, when they posted a note — with signature — from one of their customers.

It got more bizarre, and at around 3 a.m. the next morning, the Applebee's social media team not only posted a comment on their status update regarding the situation, but blocked people, deleted negative comments, and replied to others with the same copy-and-paste response over and over. From there, the social media person inexplicably started arguing with other protesting people, and the internet watched with equal parts delight and horror as Applebee's committed what Stollar called "the exact definition of social media suicide".

They were hit with a lawsuit over failing to follow wage laws

It's no secret that restaurant staff is subject to different wage laws than other workers, and in 2017 a federal judge gave the go-ahead for a class action lawsuit filed against 23 Applebee's restaurants on behalf of employees in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. The lawsuit started with April Hill, who worked as a hostess in Beckley, West Virginia. Lexology says that according to Hill, she and other employees were paid the standard $4.25 an hour even while performing tasks they weren't getting tipped for. So, for instance, while they were out cleaning the parking lot, they were getting paid $4.25 an hour without the benefit of tips many wait staff rely on to make ends meet.

That's not the first time Applebee's has gotten into trouble, either. In 2012, The Los Angeles Times reported on the Supreme Court's decision to turn down an appeal from Applebee's on the case filed on behalf of 5,500 servers and bartenders. They claimed that with more than 20 percent of their work time spent performing jobs that didn't entitle them to a share of tips, they should be paid at a minimum wage rate for those hours. For their part, Applebee's claimed it was all part of the job.

They were sued over the music they use

Image is everything, and when you hear music like AC/DC played, it's clear you're walking into a fun place. But in 2017, Applebee's was sued by Sony, with Sony claiming Applebee's used their properties "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" from AC/DC and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" from C+C Music Factory in commercials without bothering to get the proper licenses. Sony says they were contacted by an ad agency representing Applebee's and quoted them pricing for the licenses they needed, but were never paid before the music was used in their commercials. The fees are no small potatoes, either — they needed to fork over $250,000 for AC/DC and $50,000 for C+C Music Factory. Sony says Applebee's agreed to the terms, but never fulfilled them, leaving them no choice but to sue for breach of contract.

People were confused about their "Girls Night Out Goddess"

Sometimes, advertising campaigns succeed beyond a company's wildest dreams, and other times... not so much. Applebee's would probably prefer it if you forgot about their short-lived campaign starring their Girls Night Out Goddess, a character who was more than happy to remind women across the country that they're spending their social time all wrong.

AdWeek got a statement from the ad agency behind the campaign, Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, on the day after the "Life is Better Shared" campaign kicked off. The agency wanted to explain the message behind the ads and why they shouldn't be misconstrued as demeaning. While a good part of public opinion was that it was condescending toward women, they wanted to clarify that's not what they meant at all by the advertising campaign that tells women to get off the computer and get to Applebee's. If you have to clarify, you're probably not getting the message across like you should be, and the campaign was a major flop. The videos have been since removed from YouTube, but it's embedded in the video above, so you can form your own opinion. Condescending, or not?

One Applebee's franchisee hates Obamacare and threatened hiring freezes

In 2012, Applebee's struggled to do damage control after one franchisee went on a tirade about Obamacare. According to ABC News, Zane Tankel was CEO of Apple-Metro, who owned 40 Applebee's restaurants. When details emerged about what Obamacare would mean for business owners, Tankel declared that not only would they not be building any more Applebee's, but that they were done hiring people who were just going to cost them money. Think Progress picked up his interview with Fox Business News, and Tankel even threatened to start laying off employees in the face of rising costs.

Applebee's president, Mike Archer, tried heading the whole thing off before it gained momentum, but people were already calling for a boycott of Applebee's by the time his statement went public. Tankel wasn't spouting off the opinions of Applebee's, he said, and "our franchisees remain committed to growing our business and providing opportunities for employees in the future."

They've had a problem with serving alcohol to underage people

In 2016, WJHL reported police were called to a Tennessee Applebee's after an employee accidentally served three children — ages 9, 10, and 11 — an alcoholic root beer called "Not Your Father's Root Beer," a drink the server repeatedly claimed wasn't alcoholic. Only the 9- and 11-year-old drank any of it, and the younger child was taken to the hospital after complaining of stomach pains. Applebee's apologized, and promised the staff would be retrained.

There was ultimately no harm done in that story — the boy who complained of stomach pains was fine — but another incident The Tampa Bay Times reported in 2012 didn't end so well. Patrick Osmond and his friends were served alcohol in a Florida Applebee's in spite of being underage, and after leaving the restaurant they were involved in a car accident that left Osmond an incomplete quadriplegic, with limited strength in his arms and complete paralysis in his legs. Applebee's settled, and Osmond was awarded an undisclosed amount.