We compared meals at Applebee’s and Chili’s — and the winner was obvious

The Cajun Chicken Pasta at Chili's.

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The Cajun Chicken Pasta at Chili’s.
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Lindsey Updyke

  • Applebee’s and Chili’s are trying to make comebacks after a disappointing couple of years.
  • We visited both casual-dining chains to compare dishes and drinks from their new meal combination deals.
  • Applebee’s had impressive appetizers, but based on the rest of the meal – and the price – Chili’s came out on top.

Like many other casual-dining chains, both Applebee’s and Chili’s are trying to make a major comeback in 2019.

The past couple of years have been tough for the two restaurants, as the chains have struggled to win over the appetites and wallets of millennial diners. Applebee’s closed more than 100 restaurants in 2017 and 2018. Likewise, after cutting 40% of the items from its menu in 2017 and experiencing a data breach in 2018, the future of Chili’s wasn’t looking too bright either.

But monthly deals on drinks and meal combinations have proven to be both chains’ saviors, and they’re starting to win over the millennial market that was killing them before.

Read more: We compared meals at Applebee’s and TGI Fridays as the chains battle for dominance, and the winner is clear

Last week, I visited both restaurants in hopes of finding the most delicious meals and best deals for my millennial wallet.

And, by the end of both of my visits, the winner was clear.


First up: drinks. At Applebee’s, I ordered the “Perfect Cosmo” drink, which was basically just their version of a Cosmopolitan cocktail. It was both sweet and boozy, but nothing special or that memorable.

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Lindsey Updyke

The Applebee’s I visited in New York City doesn’t participate in the $2 promo-of-the-month cocktail deals, so I paid a whopping $14.99 for my cocktail.

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Lindsey Updyke

Read more: The CEO behind Applebee’s reveals how the Dollarita played an essential role in the chain’s turnaround


Its saving grace was that the shaker tin was left at the table to drink from, and I was able to fit three full pours in my glass before it ran out.

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Lindsey Updyke

My “El Presidente” margarita from Chili’s, however, was strong and delicious. With the purchase of my meal deal, I only had to pay $5, which also won me over.

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Lindsey Updyke

As you can see, Chili’s left the shaker tin, too. And, to my satisfaction, it also provided me with three full pours of tequila goodness.

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Lindsey Updyke

After earning a bit of a buzz and only paying $5, Chili’s seemed to win over my taste buds and my wallet at the end of the drinks round.

Winner: Chili’s


For my appetizer at Applebee’s, I decided to go for the boneless Honey BBQ wings. Although a portion size of five wings isn’t huge for a typical appetizer, I found them to be surprisingly delicious. The wings were juicy, and the honey barbecue sauce was tasty and plentiful.

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Lindsey Updyke

I also ordered the chicken quesadilla. It was probably something I could make myself in my own kitchen, but I was ultimately pleased with the taste.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The three-course meal at Applebee’s also included a side salad. I love Caesar salads, but I wasn’t expecting much after the portion size of my wings. The Caesar was fine, though it did look and taste fairly bland.

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Lindsey Updyke

At Chili’s, I gleefully accepted a loaded baked potato soup to precede my entrée as part of its 3-for-$10 meal combo.

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Lindsey Updyke

For a proper app, I ordered the BBQ wings at Chili’s to compare. To my dismay, the nine boneless wings I was served were rather dry. The barbecue sauce was not nearly as generous or tasty, and the meat almost tasted rubbery.

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Lindsey Updyke

Though the loaded baked potato soup at Chili’s crushed my Caesar salad in comparison, the juicy wings and cheesy quesadillas at Applebee’s won over my appetite by the end of this round.

Winner: Applebee’s


Entrée time! I was disappointed to receive a very sad-looking Chicken Tenders Platter from Applebee’s. Maybe it’s a plating issue, but I wasn’t exactly excited to hop in. Regardless, the chicken had a nice crunch to it, though it was nothing to brag about. To their credit, I enjoyed the thin, salty fries, and the honey mustard gave a good tang to the dish.

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Lindsey Updyke

The three-course meal deal at Applebee’s runs on three prices, $16.99, $21.99, and $26.99, with a variety of dishes under each price. My meal of choice was $21.99, so I was hoping for a yummier-looking plate.


Meanwhile, at Chili’s, I was thrilled when my Cajun Chicken Pasta was served. The creamy, yet spicy pasta dish was filling and I was happy to take leftovers home. The chicken was tender, and the Cajun spice provided the perfect amount of zing to the almost-too-rich pasta sauce.

The Cajun Chicken Pasta at Chili's.

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Lindsey Updyke

The dish was paired with a warm piece of toasted garlic bread on the side. Aside from the bread being a bit overtoasted, it was delicious.

While neither chain knocked my socks off, the portions and meal choices at Chili’s ultimately won me over in the end. Plus, the three-for-$10 deal at Chili’s proved to be a far better deal in price and overall quality compared to my $21.99 Applebee’s three-course meal.

Winner: Chili’s


The solid food choices and attractive meal and drink deals at Chili’s reigned supreme in the end.

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Shutterstock/James R. Martin

Although Applebee’s won the appetizer round, Chili’s defeated Applebee’s in the two other categories I judged.

Though both casual-dining chains provided respectable meal deals, the three-for-$10 deal at Chili’s is seemingly more attractive than a three-course meal for as little as $16.99 at Applebee’s. Not to mention, the deal at Chili’s also provides you with a $5 drink deal.

The absence of a drink deal at my Applebee’s location to compare certainly hurt my wallet more, too. While my Chili’s meal cost just over $25, I spent nearly $60 at Applebee’s. With far more impressive portion sizes and overall better food, I ordered the same amount of food at Chili’s for just half the Applebee’s price.

By the end of my judgment, the winner was clear. Chili’s blazed ahead in the casual-dining matchup for this millennial’s approval.

I’ll definitely be back soon for some $5 margaritas.