28 Popular Restaurants That Might Not Be Worth Your Money

Chain restaurants are popular for a reason, whether they evoke nostalgia for a simpler time, have fan-favorite foods, or are strategically placed to attract weary travelers or families on a night out. They might not be known for fresh food or great atmosphere, but they’re a part of the fabric of their communities.

However, some popular restaurants consistently let diners down—to the point where some wonder how they stay in business. Here are some of the most disappointing restaurants you should probably avoid if you value your money.

1. Applebee’s

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One hilarious commenter online said they’re convinced Applebee’s isn’t a real restaurant, just a takeout spot for gas station food in the area. With cluttered decor, subpar food, and an overwhelmingly cheap atmosphere, Applebee’s is bottom of the barrel when it comes to dining.

2. Domino’s

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One person online said they struggle to understand how Dominos stays in business. Considering their awful pizza and atmosphere, I have to agree. Apparently, they’ve changed their pizza recipe recently, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to see if it’s an improvement.

3. Fazoli’s

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This fast food chain stretches the definition of Italian food to its limit. While some remember this as a childhood favorite, the quality of the food has only gone downhill. With dinners that look like they come from the frozen aisle at the grocery store, I would avoid this one at all costs.

4. Cracker Barrel

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This is another one that’s gone downhill recently. While I have fond memories of the store and decent food, I doubt they would hold up now. Someone online even called them “the new Applebees,” which is depressing for everyone involved.

5. Subway

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Did you know Subway is the biggest chain restaurant in the world, with over 75,000 locations? I’m not sure how they’ve achieved this with their soggy sandwiches and faux deals for $5 footlongs. They’re never $5. One online commenter says they’re still lost about how this franchise stays in business.

6. KFC

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A question for the ages asked by an online commenter: How can a chicken place be out of chicken so often? KFC can be okay when they actually have the food on the menu, but even then, the chicken and sides are never made with love; they’re fried with malice. Frankly, Colonel Sanders is a conman.

7. Olive Garden

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I’ve never once felt like family when I was there. Instead, I feel like I’m being given reheated Italian TV dinners served by staff who clearly want to burn the restaurant to the ground. Italian food has to be made with love, and Olive Garden is a soulless and bland place that offers chewy pasta and tasteless sauces.

8. Burger King

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Why is everything from Burger King so soggy? From their chicken tenders to their fries to their burger buns, everything tastes like it was sitting in a sauna before being bagged up. I guess their burgers are kind of edible, but not worth suffering through the spongy bun and wilting vegetables.

9. Golden Corral

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As one individual online put it, Golden Corral is an abomination. I’ve actually never been to one, as they’re not popular where I grew up. But based on the menu and the hateful online comments, I’m going to take my lack of experience with Golden Corral as a win. Also, a corral is often a feeding area for livestock, which many say is all too accurate.

10. Pizza Hut

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Every single time I’ve been to Pizza Hut, I had a heinous experience. From servers who give you dirty looks to mice scampering across the floor to the slop they call pizza, it’s a horrendous place I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy. How they’ve survived as a business is beyond my comprehension.

11. Long John Silver’s

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Fish and fast food are a match made in purgatory. Simply put, fish should always be fresh, so places like Long John Silver’s are almost always disgusting. While they’re pretty successful and have been around for over 50 years, most people consider it a garbage place to get food, especially fish.

12. TGI Friday’s

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Despite the enticing appetizer platter, TGI Friday’s food is pretty disappointing. The menu is uninspired, the decor is aggressive, and the entire vibe of the restaurant screams low-quality and cheap. I haven’t been to one since I was a child, and even then, I knew this place was unacceptable.

13. Tim Hortons

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I’ve never had the displeasure of visiting a Tim Hortons, but according to people who have been there, meaning mostly Canadians, it’s unpredictable and subpar. Apparently, they change their menu like we change our clothes, so aside from the coffee and donuts, you never know what’s going to be available.

14. Chili’s

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Chili’s is right in line with Applebee’s, except they serve Tex-Mex food. From the sour margaritas to the soft tortilla chips to the overdone steaks, it’s hard to find something edible on the menu. Supposedly they’ve improved their menu in recent years, but I doubt it’s a vast improvement.

15. Sonic

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I’m glad to know others think Sonic is as horrendous as I do. The things they do are unforgivable. From putting Powerade into a slushie to flaccid mozzarella sticks, everything they make is a culinary tragedy. I also hate those two annoying guys from their commercials who act like man-children.

16. Chick-Fil-A

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Chick-fil-A gets a lot of hate for political reasons, but there are plenty of other reasons to despise this place! While many people seem to be obsessed with the chicken chain, I, and others on the internet, find their chicken dry, crusty, and flavorless. Sure, the staff is nice, but I simply cannot comprehend how the drive-through is always crowded.

17. McDonald’s

McDonald's Meal
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This one offended me a little bit, as I adore McChickens, but I understand where people are coming from. Everything from here seems unnecessarily greasy and looks haphazardly slapped together. It does make me sad when I open a McDonald’s cheeseburger to see two tiny pickles stacked on top of each other in the center of the burger.

18. Taco Bell

Taco Bell
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Aside from the Crunchwrap Supreme, everything on this menu is boring and unappealing. People have lots of gripes with Taco Bell, from the wilting lettuce to the adulteration of tacos. Personally, I hate them for giving me hot sauce labeled as “Diablo” or “Fire” only for it to be as mild as a dollop of their watery sour cream.

19. Panera

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I used to enjoy Panera salad, but they’re really going downhill as their quality standards plummet and their prices climb. I once heard someone describe Panera as “expensive hospital food,” which is wildly funny and painfully accurate.

20. Papa John’s

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Papa John’s is just mediocre in every sense of the word. I’ve never been offended by their food or restaurants, but everything they make is abhorrently boring and tasteless. Plus, their menu is fairly limited, so there are no exciting toppings to explore or interesting appetizers, just dull, greasy pizzas.

21. Buffalo Wild Wings

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BWW is all about chicken wings, and I consider myself an avid chicken wing eater. The first time I had BWW will be the last. The chicken is rubbery, soggy, and completely gross. How does a chicken wing place make disgusting chicken wings? How are they still in business? Their fries are also trash, but I could’ve forgiven that if the wings were tasty.

22. Ruby Tuesday

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Another chain restaurant that fails to achieve the bare minimum, Ruby Tuesday, is known for its burgers, but their burgers are terrible. The patties are thin to the point of being depressing, and their ingredients taste frozen despite their claims. I think they make their fries bad on purpose so people won’t abuse the endless fry refills they offer.

23. Arby’s

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If you look at Arby’s menu online or watch their commercials, the roast beef sandwiches look meaty, robust, and juicy. Sadly, this is a lie. Whenever I get Arby’s, and by whenever I mean those two times it happened, I feel like I’ve been catfished, as I wind up with a sad, tiny sandwich with dry meat.

24. Little Caesar’s

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While I strongly dislike Little Caesar’s, you get what you pay for with this one. They make no claims to be high-end, but they promise to have a hot pizza ready for you at any moment and will only charge $5. But those pizzas are $5 for a reason, and the reason is they’re awful.

25. Sbarro

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Sbarro isn’t as big as most of the other chains mentioned on my list, but the pizza is bad enough that they deserve a spot here. As one individual said, it takes a lot of work to ruin pizza. However, Sbarro manages to make their pizza slimy and flavorless, and you can taste the disdain in every bite.

26. IHOP

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I love pancakes! Who doesn’t? They’re one of the hardest foods to mess up. But IHOP, despite selling itself as the ultimate pancake spot, makes the worst pancakes I’ve ever tasted. They fall apart on the fork and have a dry, mealy texture that forces you to drown your plate in syrup to get away from the texture. Just make pancakes at home.

27. White Castle

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One online commenter said White Castle doesn’t even attempt to make good food. I guess if you want cold, bland burger sliders, it’s a great spot, but anyone who has ever had a decent slider will be appalled by their food.

28. Carl’s Jr.

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With a lot of these fast food chains, Carl’s Jr. is either a beloved restaurant or it’s hated. The Western version of Hardee’s often is cited for having bad food and some people really don’t like going back there after one time.

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Author: Christopher Alarcon

Title: Journalist

Expertise: personal finance, side hustles, time management


Christopher Alarcon is a journalist with a deep passion for personal finance. He has contributed to major online publications, including MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Business Insider.