What did Applebee’s take off their menu?

Applebee’s, the popular American casual dining chain, is known for its extensive menu of American fare like burgers, ribs, steak, and pasta. However, like many restaurants, Applebee’s frequently rotates dishes on and off their menu. Over the years, Applebee’s has removed several beloved dishes that were once menu mainstays.

Why Do Restaurants Remove Menu Items?

There are several reasons a restaurant may remove an item from their menu:

  • Declining popularity – If an item is ordered less frequently, it may be removed to streamline operations.
  • Ingredient costs – If the cost of ingredients for a dish become too expensive, it may be taken off the menu.
  • New menu options – Older items are often removed to make room for new menu additions and innovation.
  • Seasonal availability – Some menu items rely on ingredients that are only seasonally available.
  • Supply chain issues – Disruptions in a restaurant’s supply chain can cause shortages resulting in removing menu items.

Menu changes allow restaurants to respond to consumer preferences and improve profitability. While diners may miss their old favorites, menu rotation is a reality in the restaurant industry.

Notable Applebee’s Menu Items Removed

Here are some of the most popular and notable dishes that Applebee’s has taken off their menu over the years:


Applebee’s signature riblets were removed from the menu in 2020. These bite-sized boneless pork rib pieces were tossed in a tangy barbecue sauce. They were an Applebee’s staple for decades and a fan favorite appetizer. Their removal from the nationwide menu caused dismay among many loyal customers.


Applebee’s offered several quesadilla options including steak, chicken, and spinach-artichoke. They removed these Tex-Mex staples in 2017. The quesadillas were removed along with other beloved menu items like the Oriental Chicken Salad in a menu revamp that year.

Low-Calorie Options

Applebee’s was once well-known for its “Under 550 Calories” menu which featured a lineup of lower-calorie dishes. Options like grilled shrimp and mandarin chicken were aimed at more health-conscious diners. However, these options disappeared from menus in 2015 as the chain shifted away from that branding strategy.

Chicken Fried Steak

This Southern classic comfort food dish disappeared from Applebee’s in the late 2000s. Chicken fried steak features a breaded and fried beef cutlet smothered in creamy pepper gravy. It was served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The high-calorie dish was a menu staple for years before being retired.

Riblets of Fire

In 2013, Applebee’s launched a spicy riff on their popular riblets called “Riblets of Fire.” The fiery riblets were tossed in a sriracha-bourbon barbecue sauce. They were removed from menus after just one year, much to the disappointment of spice-loving customers.

Seared Ginger Shrimp

Applebee’s used to offer multiple shrimp dishes including seared ginger shrimp. The shrimp were lightly fried and glazed with a sweet and tangy ginger sauce then served over rice pilaf. This Asian-inspired dish was removed in the late 2000s as part of ongoing menu shifts.

Enlightened Entrees

For a brief period about a decade ago, Applebee’s offered a menu section called “Enlightened Entrees” with lower calorie dishes. Items like lemon thyme chicken and cedar-grilled lemon chicken were specifically targeted at dieters but didn’t last long on the menu.

Mozzarella Sticks

What American casual dining chain doesn’t offer mozzarella sticks? For a time in the early 2010s, Applebee’s actually removed this appetizer staple from their menus. The removal resulted in enough backlash that the mozzarella sticks were eventually brought back due to popular customer demand.

Shrimp Wonton Stir-Fry

Applebee’s used to have a selection of Asian-inspired stir-fry dishes. The shrimp wonton stir-fry featured sauteed shrimp, veggies, and crispy wontons in a ginger-soy glaze over rice. It disappeared in the mid-2000s along with the rest of the chain’s stir-fry menu options.

Rack of Ribs

Ribs have always been a cornerstone of Applebee’s menu. For years they offered a half and full rack of ribs with classic barbecue sauce. Eventually the racks of ribs disappeared from the menu. Only individual rib entrees remained. Bringing back ribs in their original form could attract nostalgic customers.

Factors That Led to Removal of Popular Items

There are some key factors that likely influenced Applebee’s decisions around removing certain beloved menu items over the years:

  • Increasing health consciousness – Items perceived as less healthy like ribs, fried foods, and heavy comfort foods became less popular. Light options were added to appeal to changing preferences.
  • Menu redundancy – Some removed items like quesadillas overlapped too much with other offerings, allowing cuts without losing variety.
  • New leadership – New corporate executives often overhaul menus to put their own stamp on the brand.
  • Focus on core menu – Applebee’s concentrated more on signature items like burgers, chicken, and steak dishes.
  • Quality inconsistencies – Riblets and quesadillas reportedly had execution issues that led to their removal.
  • Higher costs – Dishes using more expensive ingredients like shrimp may have been nixed to improve profit margins.

While Applebee’s hasn’t explained each individual menu removal, it seems clear they aimed to reduce menu complexity, improve profitability, and update their offerings for changing consumer tastes over time.

What Was the Public Response?

Applebee’s frequently draws the ire of their loyal customers when removing menu items that were once staples at the casual dining chain. Some of the more passionate responses include:

  • Online petitions begging for the return of riblets, which were signed by thousands of disappointed diners.
  • Social media outrage over the loss of popular appetizers like mozzarella sticks and riblets.
  • Reviews and comments on sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook expressing anger and frustration over discontinued favorites.
  • Boy cotts and threats to no longer dine at Applebee’s after withdrawal of items like riblets and quesadillas.
  • Nostalgic diners lamenting the loss of old classics like chicken fried steak and low-calorie dishes.

In some cases like mozzarella sticks, Applebee’s responded to the passionate negative reaction by adding the items back onto menus. Other removals resulted in long-term damage to their reputation among enthusiasts of those specific dishes.

Potential Strategies for Winning Back Upset Customers

Applebee’s managers have their work cut out for them in soothing customers upset by disappearing menu items. Here are some potential strategies they could employ:

Limited time returns

Bring back popular retired items for brief promotional periods, like riblets or quesadillas for a month. This creates excitement and nostalgia that may lure customers back in.

New recipes

Tweaking recipes for problem dishes to improve quality issues that led to their removal, then reintroducing them in updated form.

Menu polls

Survey Applebee’s email subscribers asking which old favorites they’d most like to see come back.

Social media outreach

Respond to disappointed comments on social media channels explaining removals and hinting at possible returns.

VIP taste tests

Invite influential brand fans and critics to provide feedback at tasting events for potential menu comebacks.

Applebee’s classics

Designate a separate “Applebee’s Classics” section of the menu for favorites from the past like ribs and fried steak.

Secret menu

Train cooks to prepare discontinued items as off-menu orders for in-the-know diners.

With creativity and commitment to making customers happy, Applebee’s has potential strategies to convert menu item complainers into brand loyalists once again.

Dishes Unlikely to Return

While customers may clamor for it, there are likely some discontinued Applebee’s menu items that have so little chance of returning that diners shouldn’t get their hopes up:

  • Low calorie dishes – These failed to drive excitement and aren’t a menu priority anymore.
  • Quesadillas – Considered too similar to other apps still on the menu.
  • Steak options – Unlikely to come back due to high beef costs.
  • Shrimp dishes – Expensive and frequent supply chain issues.
  • Oriental Chicken Salad – Already resurrected and removed again due to poor sales.
  • Enlightened Entrees – Didn’t align with Applebee’s core brand identity.

Of course, no menu decision is ever final. Down the road, shifting priorities and leadership could make currently unlikely dishes reappear. But diners probably shouldn’t base their next visit solely on hopes for these hard-to-resurrect Applebee’s classics.

New Dishes That Are Here to Stay

While old favorites have disappeared from Applebee’s over the years, they’ve continuously innovated by adding successful new menu items as well. Some recent additions seem poised for long-term staying power:

Handcrafted Burgers

Unveiled in 2017 to much fanfare, these upscale custom-built burgers represent Applebee’s renewed focus on delivering quality classics. Options like the Whiskey Bacon Burger and Quesadilla Burger are here to stay.

Crispy Chicken Tenders

Added to the menu in 2021, these breaded and fried chicken tenders fill the void left by chicken fingers being discontinued years earlier. Tenders have proven a crowd-pleasing replacement.

Chicken Wonton Tacos

This fusion-style dish debuted in 2018 combining crispy wontons, chicken, slaw, and pico de gallo. The unique tacos have earned a quick following among younger diners.

$1 Long Island Iced Teas

In 2020, Applebee’s jumped on boozy drink deals by offering dollar LIT’s for a month. The prices are back up but heavily discounted LIT’s remain a weekly special.

Cajun Shrimp & Tortellini

Introduced mid-2021, this cheesy shrimp pasta dish has already become a top menu item. It marries Applebee’s two strengths – Cajun flavors and indulgent pastas.

3-Cheese Chicken Penne

Another recent pasta hit, this decadent dish layers grilled chicken, penne, and a rich blend of three different cheeses. It quickly gained a following as comfort food fans rejoiced.

Rather than simply removing dishes, Applebee’s strategically evolves its menu by doubling down on core products, pursuing trendy items, and indulging cheese-obsessed diners. Expect the latest additions to stick around and become the classics of tomorrow.

Bringing Back Customer Goodwill

The removal of beloved dishes understandably upsets loyal Applebee’s customers. But strategic menu updates keep brands vibrant. To balance exciting new options with honoring classics, Applebee’s could:

  • Bring back at least one highly demanded retired item, even as a limited promotion.
  • Feature “Retro Menus” that highlight old school dishes customers pine for.
  • Give free dessert coupons via email lists apologizing for removals.
  • Run social media polls asking which discontinued dishes to unretire.
  • Make clear why items needed retiring to avoid speculation about corporate motives.

With transparency, active listening to customers, and selective resurrection of classics, Applebee’s stands a strong chance of regaining goodwill. The beloved brand need not be defined by menu subtractions, but additions that show Applebee’s is still focused on serving their guests old and new favorites.

Year Removed from Menu Discontinued Applebee’s Menu Item
2020 Riblets
2017 Quesadillas
2015 Low-Calorie “Under 550” Dishes
Late 2000s Chicken Fried Steak
2013 Riblets of Fire
Late 2000s Seared Ginger Shrimp
Early 2010s Mozzarella Sticks
Mid 2000s Shrimp Wonton Stir Fry
2000s Full Rack of Ribs

The Future of the Applebee’s Menu

While Applebee’s will continue modifying its menu based on business factors, some predictions can reasonably be made about the direction of changes:

  • More premium burgers and sandwiches as the core
  • Innovative takes on classic comfort dishes like pastas
  • Ethnic-inspired shareables like wonton tacos
  • Buzzworthy protein options like Nashville hot chicken
  • Boozy drink specials to attract younger budget-conscious guests

Diners disappointed by the loss of their Applebee’s favorites can find hope in these strategies. With a balanced approach between innovation and nostalgia, Applebee’s looks to its established strengths to build an even better menu for the future.

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