Applebee’s Netnography

Niraj Sharma |
 06/06/11 |
4 min read

To write this netnography, we analyzed thousands of posts from consumers about Applebee’s and identified the top positive and negative themes. The large-scale analysis is performed by a natural language processing (NLP) engine, then refined by human sampling.

Applebee’s has some effective differentiators—Carside to Go Service and Weight Watchers menu items—but, according to consumers, needs to implement them consistently. The chain is based in Lenexa, Kansas, and is the world’s largest casual dining chain, with approximately 2,000 locations in 49 states, 15 countries and one U.S. territory. The restaurant chain prides itself on its “fun, family-friendly atmosphere and signature bar and grill menu.”

Positive Themes

Diners love the “great menu selections” at Applebee’s, especially the Weight Watchers (WW) options, salads, chicken and drinks.

  • I am in my 40’s and its been really tough to lose it and this has been the miracle for me. Still have some more weight to lose to reach my goal. Yes the applebees salad is yummy!! (source)

“Great customer service” brings diners back.

  • It’s never as loud as chilis. their spinach dip is delicious,as is their sirloin. in the end i choose applebees b/c it’s not as crowded, they have better prices overall, and the service is pretty consistent. (source)

Diners like the “great deals” at Applebee’s.

  • A second way to find Applebees coupons would be in the local newspaper. Restaurants love putting coupons in the local newspaper. There you will be able to search through the many coupons and if you are lucky, you will find a coupon that you can use an Applebees restaurant. The best day to search the local newspaper would be the Sunday edition. Usually the Sunday edition will have many specials and discounts from all of the local restaurants in the area. (source)

Now here’s a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.

  • Everything else, though, was lacking. It sorta felt like a Portuguese Applebees. But even Applebees has a good alcohol selection, so you can drink to forget the fact that you’re at Applebees. This place has no good drank. Okay, I don’t know what they told Rachel L. but these brothers passed themselves off as Portuguese and if they are Portuguese, I don’t think I want to go to Portugal. (source)

Applebee’s offers Carside to Go Service, delivering hot orders to cars waiting in a designated parking spot. Several diners said they like the service.

  • Applebees Carside To Go is kind of awesome. (source)

Negative Themes

The biggest negative theme is “not good tasting,” which is kind of a big problem for a restaurant.

  • @pixls I think it’s our guts that hate Applebees… Their food is just plain awful. Dry, overcooked and greasy. (source)
  • Just, stressing. We had Applebees and mine was salty and spicy. So much so it hurt my throat. What’s up with that? I think it’s just me.
  • The BBQ sauce is amazing simple – It has only 6 ingredients! Not sure if they sell the Barbeque Sauce by the bottle at the restaurants or online (If anyone knows, please let me know.).  Now I must warn you that Applebees boils their ribs. The problem with boiling is that you throw away a lot of your meats flavor in the water. But this is a method of cooking designed to be quick and easy – which it is. (source)

We saw in Positive Themes that some diners like Applebee’s service; many others don’t.

  • Will boycott that particular restaurant in the future. Case #6 Applebees (today, lunch, daughter off school, so hubster took both of us out) . Normally, we stay away from Applebees as the service ALWAYS STINKS. The kidlet loves it and we usually boycott her suggestions, though they have the BEST boneless hot wings. Today we went. (source)
  • Applebees in East Peoria was the most memorable worst customer service I have ever experienced. My son was going through chemo and had to have his food throughly cooked, he wanted a chicken dish they were advertising on tv, so we went to East Peoria Applebees between lunch and supper hours, to avoid a large crowd. We ordered our appetizer and main. (source)


“Food quality” also gets low marks from many consumers.

  • Not good as in flavor, good as in probability of death. Her Chicken Penne featured a colorful array of pink, microwaved chicken atop a bowl of overcooked, watery pasta. Apparently, Applebees doesn’t even TRY to to make their entees look appetizing. The consistency of the pasta sauce was similar to rat milk… and it smelled like a musty slipper. (source)
  • @bflay Applebees sucks. Their plates are always dirty, the fries cold and gross and the staff… dont get me started. (source)


To summarize our netnographies, we distill our findings into useful insights about how the brand we studied is positioned and perceived. We can provide confidence intervals for the percentages in the theme charts upon request.

Like Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s is not a gourmet dining destination, and sometimes it seems posters—especially foodies—are judging it by unfair standards. Diners probably need to be realistic about what to expect from the food; the same goes for the atmosphere. Applebee’s prides itself on being “family-friendly,” so when diners complain about the noisy atmosphere, well, perhaps they should have been prepared for that.

The chain touts its Carside to Go service, and that seems like an intelligent innovation—people are in a hurry and they like staying in their cars. It gets a positive response from diners, but it’s not available at all locations.

The Weight Watchers agreement, where the chain serves “less-caloric alternatives,” gets mixed reviews. If the chain is going to do this, they should commit to it at all locations and provide the WW points information that diners on the WW program expect. It could be a valuable differentiator, but only if it’s executed consistently; doing it inconsistently creates ill will when a customer comes to an Applebee’s specifically for that reason, only to find this dining option is not available there.

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