Applebee's Vs Chili's: Which Is Better?

Applebee's and Chili's composite image
Applebee's and Chili's composite image - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

In a modern world that seems to be increasingly moving toward take-out and to-go over more traditional sit-in dining, some restaurants are still managing to keep the seat-and-eat business model alive. Two of them are the well-recognized, large-scale chains Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar and Chili's Grill & Bar. Both of these food industry powerhouses are considered to be among the most successful casual dining chain restaurants in America. Given their similar business models, menus, and overall atmospheres, the two have often found themselves pinned against one another, sometimes causing fiery debate among consumers as to which restaurant is superior.

So which is the better restaurant ... Applebee's or Chili's? To put this age-old debate to rest once and for all, we've taken into account both company's menus, the writer's personal dining experiences, as well as countless customer observations expressed through online discussion, blog posts, and reviews. Using this information comprehensively, let's explore whether Applebee's or Chili's comes out on top.

Read more: The Most Overrated Chain Restaurants In The US, According To The Mashed Staff

The Chili's Menu Has A Southwestern Vibe, While Applebee's Offers Traditional American Staples

Chili's potato skins poster
Chili's potato skins poster - Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

Tex-Mex is a style of cuisine originating in the border states of the Southwestern United States. It infuses flavors introduced to the U.S. by the Tejano people (people of Mexican descent living in Texas) into traditional American dishes. While Tex-Mex is not considered as spicy as traditional Mexican cuisine, the food generally comes with a bit of a kick. Chili's, which originated in Texas, took a regionally-beloved Tex-Mex approach with its menu from the very start. You'll find fajitas, chipotle bowls, burgers garnished with cilantro, quesadillas, Mexican rice, Texas cheese fries loaded with jalapeño peppers, and more up for grabs among Chili's menu items -- giving credence to the spicy pepper logo for which it is known and the Mexican influences it has clung to from the start.

Applebee's, on the other hand, upholds a different flavor reputation when it comes to its fare. The chain's various cheeseburgers, ribs, melts, salads, pastas, and more have a distinctly American vibe -- and though there are some Southwestern-inspired items to be found on the menu, such as the Quesadilla Burger or the Fiesta Lime Chicken, they contain decidedly less spice than one would expect to find in true Tex-Mex. If you prefer your spice more muted, you may appreciate this; however, if spice is your jam, you'll likely find yourself better satisfied after a meal at Chili's.

Both Chains' Kids Menus Are Comparable, But Chili's Includes A Mini Dessert

Chili's mini lava cake
Chili's mini lava cake - Chili's

A decent kids menu can be lifesaving for any parent bringing their hungry (and potentially cranky) children out to eat. Thankfully, both Chili's and Applebee's offer up all the kid-friendly staples in the children's sections of their menus, such as macaroni and cheese, mini burgers, chicken tenders, personal pizzas, and grilled cheese sandwiches, among others. In fact, there doesn't appear to be much differentiation between the two kids menus at all ... until you spy the chocolate dessert, that is.

While Applebee's does not include a kids-sized dessert option on its menu, Chili's does. The company thoughtfully offers a Mini Chocolate Molten; a small version of its adult-sized chocolate cake dish. If you like the idea of ordering your child something for dessert -- but would prefer they have a smaller portion size than what they'll get if they order from the standard menu -- Chili's has a leg up.

If You're A Non-Drinker, Applebee's May Be The Place To Go For A Celebration

Triple Cherry Shirley from Applebee's
Triple Cherry Shirley from Applebee's - Applebee's

From ice cold beers to frozen margaritas, both Applebee's and Chili's offer an impressive array of specialty drink options and happy hour specials. This makes them attractive to those organizing celebratory dinners, as a refreshing Dos Equis paired with a plate of saucy wings can serve as a delightful treat after a graduation or retirement ceremony.

But what about the non-drinkers in the group who want to raise their glasses for a toast, too? Well, Applebee's might be the place to reserve a table in that case. Unlike Chili's, the company has a dedicated non-alcohol beverage section on its menu that offers non-drinking consumers a few options that are just a little bit fancier to sip on than your standard soft drink. The Triple Cherry Shirley, for example, with its pink hues and maraschino cherries on top, is always readily available for pour, as is the more recently-introduced Mai Tai Mocktail, with its tasty tropical notes.

While we would assume Chili's has the ability to whip up a mocktail for consumers, information regarding fancier alcohol-free beverages from the chain is difficult to find. Given Applebee's highly-publicized mocktail options, you're more likely to find something that will have the non-drinkers in your party feeling every bit as included during that celebratory swig.

Healthier Options May Be Slightly More Attainable At Chili's

Chili's classic sirloin with avocado
Chili's classic sirloin with avocado - Chili's

Let's face it: Eating out can sometimes mean putting your daily nutrition goals at risk. Just as with any other restaurant, some of Applebee's and Chili's celebrated entrees come with elevated calorie counts -- and that can be tricky for those wanting to limit their caloric, fat, or sodium intake.

But whether you're on a weight loss journey or simply craving something a little lighter, there is hope to be found at Chili's. The casual-dining franchise has a separate section on its menu called the Guiltless Grill, which features proteins that have been grilled as opposed to fried, ultimately keeping the overall caloric count lower. The Guiltless Grill includes mouthwatering entrees such as the Classic Sirloin with Avocado, a steak drizzled in cilantro pesto and fresh avocado, or the Ancho Salmon, a juicy slab of fish coated in a chili dry rub and served on a bed of Mexican rice. With options like these, consumers shouldn't have to sacrifice good taste while simultaneously meeting their daily nutrition goals at dinner.

Though there are, of course, healthier options to be found on the Applebee's menu, they are not grouped separately the way they are at Chili's, so you may have to do a little research prior to heading in to dine.

Vegans And Vegetarians May Be Better Equipped At Applebee's

meatless side salad from Applebee's
meatless side salad from Applebee's - Applebee's

Both vegetarians and vegans are often met with challenges when it comes to finding something to order when dining out. Given the heavy emphasis on meat-forward dishes at both Applebee's and Chili's, this rings true for our restaurants in question, as well.

However, if either a vegan or vegetarian diet applies to you or someone in your party, you may be better off at Applebee's. Though the franchise doesn't offer any vegetarian-specific entrees in and of themselves, it provides meatless consumers with a very detailed ordering guide. This includes a full list of ingredients, as well as instructions on what to avoid and how to customize your order to fit your specific dietary needs.

You'll find no such guide from Chili's -- at least, not an official one. Lists and helpful tips have been compiled by numerous vegetarian bloggers on how to go about ordering something acceptable from the chain, but when it comes to going the extra mile to assist those avoiding animal products, we have to give this one to Applebee's.

Chili's Might Be Slightly Costlier, But Your Portions Will Likely Be Larger

dipping chicken tenders from Chili's
dipping chicken tenders from Chili's - Chili's Grill & Bar / Facebook

When it comes to the pricing at Chili's and Applebee's, the two are relatively comparable but Chili's comes out as being just slightly more expensive overall. Applebee's burgers, for example, stay within the $14 to 16 limit, while the Chili's burger prices can climb as high as $17 to 19 (both are served with fries). This pattern remains relatively consistent across both menus as a whole, with another notable example being the company's steaks: The most expensive Applebee's steak goes for $24.99, while the costliest one from Chili's is $30.89.

Though the Chili's prices are higher if you just look at the numbers, it's worth noting that you may also receive more food for what you pay. Numerous online comparisons exist in which reviewing consumers describe Chili's as having superior portion sizes to Applebee's -- something which might just even out those few extra dollars listed on the bill at the end of your meal. Either way, prices and portion size are certainly points worth considering.

Applebee's Has A Pasta Section On Its Menu, Making It The Superior Choice If You're Craving Noodles Or Breadsticks

Applebee's chicken pasta dish
Applebee's chicken pasta dish - Applebee's

Though many tend to associate pasta with Italy, it has evolved into an extremely popular American staple over the years. Dishes like spaghetti, baked ziti, and fettuccine Alfredo make mouths water from sea to shining sea, and if pasta is your thing, Chili's may not be the place to best satisfy your craving. Except for one Cajun-style pasta dish, noodles remain decidedly absent on the celebrated chain's menu, which instead specializes in Tex-Mex staples.

Applebee's, which leans more heavily into traditional American foods, is a different story. There's an entire section of the franchise's menu dedicated to pasta dishes, such as the Classic Broccoli Chicken Alfredo, the Three-Cheese Chicken Penne, or the Four Cheese Mac & Cheese With Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders, to name a few. Each entree is served with one of the chain's signature buttery breadsticks on the side, of course -- making Applebee's the clear winner if having ample, cheesy pasta dishes to choose from is your preference come your next night out.

Both The Chain's Bundled Meals Offer An Economical Dining Option, But Only The Applebee's One Offers Double Entrees

Chili's burger
Chili's burger - Chili's Grill & Bar / Facebook

Deals on food certainly come highly appreciated by consumers everywhere, and both Applebee's and Chili's offer bundled meals which give eaters the ability to save a few dollars while dining out. The Applebee's 2 for $26 and Chili's 3 for Me offers each take a slightly different angle. While the Chili's option gives the customer the choice of one appetizer, one entree, and one beverage for a discounted price (dependent on the entree of choice), the Applebee's bundle bypasses the drink, instead offering two full entrees and an appetizer for a flat fee of $26.

Determining which is the better deal here will depend heavily on what you're ordering, as well as how many people are eating. Though the least expensive food item on the Chili's 3 for Me menu starts at $10.99, the bundle can go as high as $16.99 -- and that price will double if you're dining with a partner, seeing as you'll have to order two separate bundles. 2 for $26, however, offers multiple customers the opportunity to share in the flat rate, seeing as it offers two full meals right off the bat. However, there is the drink to consider, as well, which does not come as part of the Applebee's bundled price. Ultimately, the most economical deal here will vary based on each customer's order.

Their Availability Is Neck And Neck

split image Applebee's and Chili's
split image Applebee's and Chili's - Jet City Image & Diane Macdonald/Getty

When it comes to the question of whether or not an Applebee's or a Chili's location is easier to locate, the truth is, they are pretty neck and neck as far as the number of restaurants you'll pass by when your stomach is rumbling. While Applebee's had 1,642 locations worldwide as of the end of 2023, Chili's had 1,605 -- numbers which should make finding either of these restaurants a relatively easy feat. However, the concentration of each will vary slightly depending on your region of residence.

Chili's restaurants in America, for example, tend to be more highly concentrated in the South and on the East Coast as a whole, with the highest number of locations in Texas and Florida. Applebee's, on the other hand, has its highest concentration of locations to be found in California and New York, with an additionally heavy presence in the Northeast. Whichever is closest to your doorstep will depend on your location, but seeing as both are present in nearly all 50 states, we'd consider your chances of finding either to be fairly advantageous.

Consumers Feels Passionately About Their Preference, Whichever One It Is

woman eating salad at restaurant
woman eating salad at restaurant - Morsa Images/Getty Images

The topic of whether or not Applebee's or Chili's is the better restaurant chain is hardly a newly debated one. The question has been rehashed time and time again across various blogs, websites, and online discussion platforms such as Reddit. Consumers tend to have strong opinions about the winner as they see it.

"I ordered from Applebee's and Chili's over the pandemic, definitely prefer Applebee's, they actually cooked my steak to order," argued one consumer on one of the many posts comparing the two chains. "Chili's because they have better deals/coupons," declared another confidently on a separate thread. The arguments seem to go on endlessly, with customers citing details like specific entrees, better drinks, or superior service as contributing to their ultimate decision. This exceptionally wide range of opinions leads us to believe that an objective answer in this case may never be reached.

Your Flavor And Dietary Preferences Will Determine Your Personal Winner

Applebee's storefront New York
Applebee's storefront New York - Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

In the battle between Applebee's and Chili's, declaring one of these sit-down casual restaurants the winner is -- at least, objectively speaking -- impossible. The answer to which is the best is going to be highly subjective. While these two companies may have similar atmospheres and business models, they also have differences which will undoubtedly contribute to one person's preference for one versus the other.

With its Tex-Mex vibe, Chili's will likely be the winner if you often crave Southwestern-inspired staples. Applebee's, on the other hand, will likely come out on top if you prefer more traditional American food. While the Applebee's bundled meal deal might work if you frequently dine out with your significant other, Chili's may be the better fit if you tend to eat out solo. When further elements such as readily available dietary information, healthy meal options, prices, and kids' choices are taken into account, it becomes clear that there's no real right or wrong answer. Both restaurants have plenty going for them; so whether or not you personally declare Applebee's or Chili's the winner, we wish you happy eating.


front of Chili's location
front of Chili's location - Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

To develop our comprehensive comparison of the Applebee's and Chili's chains, both restaurants' food and beverage menus, online consumer reviews and reports, as well as the writer's own eating experiences were taken into account. While we believe the information presented has led to a fair and accurate assessment, it is important to note that taste is subjective, and opinions and individual experiences may vary.

Read the original article on Mashed