Applebee’s is in the middle of a major renovation to recoup their image and liven up their menu. In addition to renovating the restaurant exterior with modern stones and paint, the interior is finally shedding the clutter and making the bar a piece of interest. Applebee’s even sold a bunch of their wall and décor pieces online while making room for their new look. For $350 million in upgrades, let’s hope their improvements actually push them beyond middle of the road. Moving away from the old and tired vibe and towards the modern world of “See You Tomorrow,” they’re hoping to attract a wider clientele and provide more tantalizing options. 

 

Ripping Down the Cheap Awnings 

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The brighter paint colors, contemporary metal accents, and cool stone do speak to a wider audience and move away from the chipped plastic signs and sad, monotonous color palette of before. Inside the larger TVs are more sports bar but a good addition, and the change away from the dark yellow lighting to stylish, luminous fixtures helps to give the space some life back. In order to grab more attention and a wider selection of the population, Applebee’s chose to focus on a bar in the middle of the restaurant to pull in after-work drinks and younger patrons. The redesign definitely helps support their new image but does the menu stand up to the task of pulling in new customers?

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Reimagining Casual Dining

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Over the past few years, Applebee’s has replaced or updated 85% of their menu and now includes contemporary plates such as fiesta lime chicken, a quesadilla burger, and grilled chicken wonton tacos. They still have some old standbys including the chicken tenders platter, traditional steaks, and hand-battered fish and chips, but most of their menu has been revitalized. 

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When Applebee’s went back to work from scratch, they altered several pieces including changing from frozen to fresh beef for their burgers…uh…they weren’t using fresh beef before? That makes me question what else was microwaved or defrosted on the plate.

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The change to go to fresh, seasonal ingredients would help improve texture, mouth-feel, plate depth, and interest but it seems they’re mainly drawing attention to “fresh-squeezed lemon,” “sautéed fresh spinach,” “fresh avocado,” and a few strawberries on a salad. I think most wouldn’t consider a meal “fresh” just because a half a lemon or a bit of spinach shows up on the plate. 

Interviews and marketing materials suggest that their focus on seasonal ingredients means just a few little items added and pictures on their website that include seasonings like cilantro look sparse at best. They are trying to revamp the entire menu with new recipes but I am skeptical so far as to what’s “fresh” and what’s frozen.

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For those looking to stay light on calories, Applebee’s also features a new under-550 calorie menu with options approved by WeightWatchers. However, if you’re looking for the options on their website, the “Have It All” tab is where they’ve hidden the options. For a chain that advertises the healthy options on TV all the time, you’d think they’d want to make it easy for people to cruise that particular menu online. This menu includes items such as Thai shrimp salad, savory cedar salmon, and roma pepper steak.

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Vegetarians may find it difficult to find an entree to fit their tastes. All of the salads, sandwiches, and main dishes include meat. You’d have to custom order almost anything on the menu to avoid beef, chicken, or seafood items. If you pick from the sides, some soups and side salads do not have meat, but overall the pickins are slim. Vegans…I would suggest you just go to an entire restaurant altogether.

 

New Ideas for a Better Experience

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One major positive of the total Applebee’s renovation is their 2 for $20 menu, which started trending in restaurants throughout the country. With the economy still a bit rocky, an appetizer and two entrees for only $20 is great for those dining on a budget or those who want to eat out every so often without regretting it come credit card due date. They do have some great options, however, I feel like they could widen the selection just a bit.

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Although the menu is light, the selections do cover a wide variety of tastes. The bourbon street chicken and shrimp is great for those looking for a meal with a kick and the oriental chicken salad mixes an Asian-style vinaigrette with all-American chicken strips. A 7 oz. house sirloin is available for diners wishing to carnivore out and three cheese chicken penne is always a great choice if you can’t decide what you’re in the mood for.

Appetizers including their boneless wings, the spinach and artichoke dip staple, and choice of two side salads gives you a chance to swing healthy or cheat day. It’s nice to have the option to choose between entrees and starters, but I feel there could be a wider selection available since they have a pretty large menu.

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With all the new menu items and alterations, now is as good a time as any to check out the facelift at Applebee’s. Even though there are some hiccups along the way, the effort to try to improve their image after 32 years seems to be worth checking out. As the largest casual dining chain on Earth, Applebee’s reaches its French fry fingers all over the globe and is working hard to impress not only Americans but those across the pond as well.

 

Coupons and Deals

Since the slow climb of the economy is still crushing some wallets, checking into coupons and deals is always a good idea when eating out. As mentioned above, one of the best deals Applebee’s offers is their 2 for $20 menu. Again, choices are sparse; however, some menu items are good to check out and fall in line with today’s trends. It’s also a great money saver that allows you to try something new every time (something Applebee’s is really striving for to keep you returning to their establishment).

Applebee's eClub birthday coupon

Another wonderful option for grabbing coupons and deals is to sign up for their eClub. Some of the offers include winning a $50 gift card in their sweepstakes (going on until November 14th) and on your birthday, you receive a surprise. The birthday treat is usually a free dessert but they may have changed that with all the updates to their menu and restaurant structure. The eClub sends out information about Applebee’s in addition to exclusive offers for eClub members only. If you want to sample what their new menu has to offer without spending a ton of extra money, joining their email eClub is the best way to go.

Don’t want to give out your email or constantly send offers you don’t like to the trash? Look for coupons elsewhere on Groupon, RetailMeNot, or Coupon Sherpa. I use these websites all the time to help me find savings on everything from trips to treats to tickets.

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Groupon showcases excellent deals including two entrees with one plate starting at $10.99, discounted gift cards, lunch combos starting at $6.99, 50% off appetizers, and a kid’s meal for $0.99. Expired Groupon deals include free kid’s meal with adult entrée, $5.99 burger and fries Monday special, and $0.45 wings. Many of these coupons are already available at participating Applebee’s locations so Groupon just compiled them all in one space for easy viewing. Applebee’s is running a lot of promotional offers to get new customers in the door and visiting their website will most likely match up with Groupon offers.

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RetailMeNot, a website I visit especially when online shopping, is great for meal coupons to Applebee’s as well. They feature the same type of deals as Groupon at the moment but typically RetailMeNot is an excellent source for new coupons. Coupon Sherpa stands slightly above the other two since they have coupons you can purchase such as $5 off $25 for as little as $2. Other coupons on Coupon Sherpa include a burger for $5 at certain locations, two lunches for $10, and purchase a $50 gift card and receive a $10 bonus card back. Many of the coupons and deals make the prices so low that trying Applebee’s a few times when eating out is a steal.

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Coupons.com is also a great resource to use and at the moment, their coupons match the other websites so not many deals to be gained at the current time. 

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A two lunches for $10 coupon is a wonderful way to save money if the service is fast and you can get in and out during your lunch hour. Free children’s meals may even help bring you back to a time where you were just dating and the bill wasn’t nearly as high. Coupons and deals at Applebee’s really do help bring down the cost and they’re trying to give great promotions to bring in new customers. Trying out Applebee’s new menu and saving while eating out doesn’t sound too shabby. 

 

To Applebee’s or Not to Applebee’s?

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I still think of Applebee’s as the restaurant in a shopping center where I ordered half-priced apps as a high schooler. Their boneless wings were always made well even if the spinach and artichoke dip and chips were a little greasy. Their new menu items look great in pictures, but what about “fresh” flavors and taste? It’s not exactly clear what their definition of fresh is besides adding items on top of other entrees like berries, avocado, lemon, lime, and cilantro. Something to consider when you dine there.

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The move from frozen to fresh was a large step for the chain, however, that still leaves the question of how far the change resonates. Has the entire menu changed from frozen to fresh or just a few entrees? Is anything microwaved anymore? Can we expect the entrees to look like the pictures and not like a plated mess when they arrive at the table? Will the restaurant stay clean and is the bar upgrade enough to actually attract younger clientele?

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I think Applebee’s is going in the right direction to help salvage their image and refresh their menu. The décor looks updated and comfortable without steering too far way from their “Neighborhood” feel and the entrees do stick more to current trends while staying somewhat All-American. They kept a few of their top sellers and improved on almost all of the entrees, which is a large feat for such a big chain restaurant. And even though they lost their top chef to McDonald’s, the effort to improve the dishes from the ground up does show in the overall impression.

A recommendation: I would give them a shot and try out the entrees before completely making up your mind. They have a history of tired, dusty carpets, lackluster flavors, and slower service, however, it seems like Applebee’s is trying hard to make a comeback. 

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If you’re not willing to make the full commitment with your wallet, the restaurant is running several promotional deals and many coupons to help generate business. You can try their food at half-price or swing by at lunch to see if the changes actually helped. Although their customers are slowly leaking to competing local eateries and chains, Applebee’s commitment to making a better dining experience shouldn’t be overlooked; try it out.

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I am in deep-fried love with food and travel. With Italian roots, I have a weakness for bread, marinara, and mozzarella. I’ll try anything once and am constantly searching for intriguing places to visit. When I'm not savoring the last bite or organizing my next trip, I'm indulging my inner bookworm and writing about my adventures. If you turn on college football and give me a local craft beer, you’ll see the happiest Hokie on the West coast.

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