- Applebee’s and TGI Fridays have struggled in recent years, overhauling their menus and marketing to convince Americans to return.
- We visited both chains to see which is succeeding in their mission to win over sit-down, casual-dining customers.
- Applebee’s superior deals and $US1 drinks triumphed over Fridays’ heavenly mozzarella sticks.
Applebee’s and TGI Fridays are scrambling to escape the death trap that is the casual-dining industry.
In 2017, Applebee’s closed 99 locations after millennial-centric marketing campaigns fell flat. TGI Fridays, meanwhile, announced plans to overhaul its entire menu, trying to distance itself from the struggling casual-dining business and returning to its “singles’ bar” roots.
Basically, two of the most iconic sit-down neighbourhood-dining chains are desperate for a change.
In an effort to see who is winning in the battle between TGI Fridays and Applebee’s, Business Insider visited both chains to try a mix of classic menu items and attempts at something new. And, the winner between the two was abundantly clear.
First things first: the drinks. At Fridays, we ordered the classic Best Fridays Margarita (BFM). It was fine, but not too boozy and forgettably sweet.
Applebee’s Long Island Iced Tea doesn’t beat the BFM on quality, but it certainly is a win for budget shoppers, priced at just $US1.
Applebee’s began its $US1 drink deals in October. While sales didn’t immediately skyrocket, the deals served as a crucial cornerstone in the chain’s turnaround, as it persuaded customers to visit Applebee’s again.
Quality aside, the drink was a success, with at least one reporter feeling significantly tipsy after spending just $US2 on alcohol – a true success in New York City.
Both TGI Fridays and Applebee’s are known for their appetizers, so we went all in, ordering combo platters from both chains.
Applebee’s combo features mozzarella sticks, boneless wings, quesadillas, and spinach-and-artichoke dip. TGI Fridays also offers mozz sticks and wings, in addition to potato skins.
Of all the appetizers we tried, TGI Fridays’ mozzarella sticks are the only dish we are still dreaming of weeks later.
Fridays has struggled with the iconic item’s quality in recent years. Ordering the appetizer, we were nervous – we’ve both snacked on some rubbery sticks with flaky, cardboard-esque coating masquerading as mozz sticks on Fridays’ menu.
We needn’t have worried. The melty cheese stretched into a silken strand, a perfectly crafted cheesy delight.
This is Fridays’ menu revamp done right. If every item on the chain’s menu could be retooled to such a degree of perfection, the chain would be dominating the casual-dining industry.
In comparison, Applebee’s mozzarella sticks were a rubbery mess.
We still ate them all, but it must be acknowledged that an Instagram-worthy cheese pull does not a mozz stick make.
Fridays’ wings had a nice kick thanks to the sauce, but the meat itself was somewhat dry. Alack, alas.
Applebee’s had the opposite issue, with chicken that was slightly too fatty to be the perfect wing. Still, Applebee’s dodged the bullet of serving up an overly dry and stringy piece of meat.
Overall, the boneless wings were a bit forgettable, but they packed a nice zing.
After the wings and the mozz sticks, the two chains diverge in their app offerings. TGI Fridays serves up a hearty plate of loaded potato skins.
The cheese doesn’t really melt into the starchy potato as much as one would hope. Still, this appetizer could basically double as a (carb-loaded) meal, so we can’t complain that much.
Meanwhile, Applebee’s serves up a merely passable quesadilla. It’s a fine dish, but also one we felt we probably could have whipped up in the microwave in the comfort of our own apartments, for better or worse.
Far superior is Applebee’s spinach-and-artichoke dip. The standard chips were nothing but vehicles for shoveling the rich and decadent goop into our mouths.
While the dip was a major power player among Applebee’s app lineup, TGI Friday’s divine mozzarella stick guaranteed the chain’s ultimate domination in the appetizer face off.
Winner: TGI Friday’s
Onto the main course! TGI Fridays’ Big Ribs were one of the worst things we ate at either chain.
The sauce and fries were tolerable, but the meat itself was so tough that the ribs provided more of an arm workout instead of achieving that falling-off-the-bone texture one so desperately craves.
We also tried a new menu item at TGI Fridays — the vegetarian Beyond Meat cheeseburger. It fell similarly flat.
Instead of creating a viable option for vegetarians, we found the Beyond Meat burger to simply offer a weaker imitation of the real thing.
At Applebee’s, we decided to opt for the two-for-$US29 deal for dinner — one of the budget-centric deals that the chain is pushing to win over customers.
The deal and its sister deal (two for $US20, which involves different entrée options) allow customers to choose two entrées from a list, as well as two salads or appetizers.
Ordering the steak, which is served with mashed potatoes and green beans, we felt as if we got our money’s worth and perhaps a little bit more.
The steak wasn’t the best we’d had, but it beat out some far pricier cuts of meat. The sides were par for the course, with a sort of garlicky butter sauce lackadaisically drizzled on top.
Applebee’s mac and cheese with chicken tenders called to mind a meal a parent would make to please a picky child with the most stereotypical cravings possible.
That’s not to say it was bad, as the honey pepper sauce provided a surprisingly light and sweet glaze. The dish, however, was certainly less than the sum of its parts.
The deal also includes either an appetizer or a side salad. Since we went all in on the app combo, we got the Caesar salad — a dressing-drenched classic.
The limp lettuce wasn’t anything fancy, but it fulfilled a certain craving and fooled us into thinking we were making healthy choices.
While neither chain blew us away with their main courses, Applebee’s did have some solid offerings. What is more, Applebee’s provided a deal – something that is almost as satisfying as a perfectly-crafted dish.
Dessert is where things really spiraled out of control at TGI Friday’s. Behold, the red velvet cake shake.
Frankly, it is impossible to ignore the similarities with New York City’s Black Tap Pub’s shakes, which went viral in 2016.
As is often the case with menu items that seem created first and foremost for Instagram, the shake failed to live up to its image. It was tasty, but extremely rich. The addition of the soggy cake pushed the shake from an enjoyable decadence to a stomachache in the making.
Applebee’s, meanwhile, is still pushing its classic dessert menu, including the Triple Chocolate Meltdown.
Before we even took a bite, the familiar chocolatey aroma of brownies baked fresh from the box engulfed the table.
It’s a gooey, chocolate-filled mess that is deeply fulfilling on an almost chemical level. How could it be anything but delicious?
Solid food and stellar deals push Applebee’s to victory over its casual-dining rival.
For those keeping score at home, Applebee’s has three wins against TGI Friday’s single triumph. TGI Friday’s crowning glory – the mozz sticks – was better than anything else at either chain. But man cannot live on fried mozzarella alone.
Dining at Friday’s was also roughly half the cost of our meal at Applebee’s. Our meal cost about $US60 at Applebee’s, compared to $US120 at Friday’s. So, not only was the food overall better, it was also cheaper.
It’s a no brainer, folks. Applebee’s reigned supreme in this matchup of the casual-dining heavyweights. Now, it’s time to celebrate with some $US1 drinks.
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