We had recently received a gift certificate for one our favorite local diners, “Sharyn’s Place.” We call it Betty’s Diner because that’s what it used to be called but Sharyn owns it now and someone owned it between Betty and Sharyn but that’s not really relevant to the story. What is relevant is that “Sharyn’s Place” was closed on a Saturday night at supper time. This is slightly alarming, since I’m sure that people would like to eat out on a Saturday night. I decided to continue the trek down River Road to the next eatery, a local installment of the chain Applebee’s.

I will say that experiences at this Applebee’s has been uneven at best over the years. A few months ago we went in and they were on a new kick where the server had to shake the hand of each person seated at the table and get to the first name of each member of the party. They then used your name in ways that turned out to be uncomfortable for everyone involved for the rest of your visit. What was meant to be friendly was ultimately creepy, so I was happy to see that when we arrived they couldn’t care less about our names.

The hostess looked stoned. She acted it too. She informed us that there would be a five minute wait. She asked my name, I always give them “J.P.” instead of my last name because despite the fact that my last name has only four letters, people like to add extra vowels to it and make it sound like “Wayne”. Cute people like to see “howdy, partner” when they think my last name is “Wayne”, but the cute fades fast when I glare and/or kick them in the nuts. When I informed the waitress with the eyes narrowed down to slits that my name is “J.P.”, she asked how to spell my name. I fleetingly thought of spelling it out “Jaye P.” just to be uber gay, but I decided against it and said that it was spelled like sounded, two letters. I don’t know why she was asking because she didn’t write anything down.

Fifteen seconds later she asked, in an uncomfortably loud voice, if we were the Patterson party. I indicated that we weren’t and in fact the other five parties that were waiting five minutes or less also stated that they weren’t the Patterson party either. We don’t know who the Pattersons were, but I’m sure someone in the room thought a fond thought about them.

The hostess then decided to write down the names of everyone due to the absence of the elusive Pattersons; but she didn’t remember the order of each party’s arrival. She then just randomly bellowed out “J.P.” I made a hasty appearance at her elbow, where she was mumbling and struggling with the assembly of the menus. She then motioned towards the dining room. We followed her and sat down.

The waiter came over and offered us a Bud Light or a “tasty cocktail”. I wonder what people in recovery think of these offers. We both ordered unsweetened iced tea.

Rule #1 of this Applebee’s: “Conserve your beverage.”

When Mr. Waiter came back, he asked if we were ready to order, where we asked for the twisty potato chip appetizer, a salad for each of us and the same exact food for both, the sizzling steak thing, medium rare and the accompanying mashed potatoes are fine.

Mr. Waiter asked in what order would we like our food brought out or did we want it all at once.

Rule #2 of this Applebee’s: “Some assembly required.”

We asked for salad, appetizer, entree, in that order, figuring the salads would be the easiest to get together and bring to the table. As Mr. Waiter made his way around the hostess that was now flailing her arms like some sort of turkey trying to fly as she sat another party near us, we settled in with our drinks and awaited some grub. As we conversed, we overheard murmurs from parties around us. The murmurs were not indicative of a pleasant nature. Two bears and a Mom (maybe that’ll be a new show for the 2012 television season), indicated that they didn’t think the hostess could find her way out of a circle. Earl and I chatted a little bit when a woman came flying out of the kitchen with our salads and our appetizers all in one load.

She threw them down on the table and departed. The twisty potato chip things were really, really brown. Actually, they kind of had that charcoal look to them. They smelled burnt. We tasted them and confirmed that they were burnt.

Mr. Waiter made his way to the table to check on us and I spoke up, something that I usually don’t do at a restaurant, and I politely said, “I’m concerned about these potato chips as they seem to be overly done.”

“Okay”, was his only response.

“You might want to let the kitchen know that they’re burnt so that other people don’t have to eat them like that.”

“Would you like more? It’ll only take a minute.”

Rule #3 of this Applebee’s: “Time is fluid and shall not carry definition.”

Mr. Waiter made a hasty departure as we nibbled on our salads (which, to be fair, were just lovely). Two bears and a mom left. One bear gave me the “good luck” nod. Not a good sign.

Mr. Waiter then came back and asked Earl if he would like more iced tea.

Rule #4 of this Applebee’s: “Thinking you’re getting a refill on a non-alcoholic and therefore non-chargeable drink, is not only whimsy but it is also folly.”

I could see Mr. Waiter walking around from table to table and heading into the kitchen in a concerned manner once in a while but he never came back to the table. A surly woman that could only have a name like Ruth or something walked by with more burnt potato chip things, but she was a decoy that headed to another table, because two seconds later, an ornery man came with our sizzling entrees.

“Careful, these dishes are very hot.”

Rule #5 of this Applebee’s: “There is no such thing as hot.”

Sometimes Applebee’s wants you to check how well the meat was cooked, but this was not one of those cases, because the departed couldn’t careless. Had he asked, the answer would have been “well done but not as bad as the chips.” I wasn’t shocked, since we had both ordered medium rare.

Earl cut into the mashed potatoes on his very hot skillet and they made a clinking noise because the center was still frozen. Luckily, mine had a suggestion of heat to them so I could eat them.

Rule #6 of this Applebee’s: The iced tea will never arrive. Ever.

Mr. Waiter came by to check on us and said the potato chips would be right up. We told him to skip them. The original version still sat in the middle of the table. We suggested he should take them. On his way out with them, he told the skillet delivery person that we just didn’t want them.

We made our way through this entree experience that I had instantly dubbed “Fire and Ice” (I thought that was quite witty). Mr. Waiter came by and Earl brought him up to speed as to where we were with the dining experience. Earl was even nice about it.

Rule #7 of this Applebee’s: “Conversations regarding the status of your meal are meaningless.”

Mr. Waiter came by with the bill and offered to take the payment up when we were ready. The only problem was, the burnt potato chips were on the bill. When he came back to take payment, Earl told him we weren’t paying until the chips were removed from the bill. He seemed shocked that we would ask such a thing, but he went off to the kitchen where they probably then spit into some random entree and came back with a little lighter bill.

We paid, left a suggestion of a tip and made our way out. The stoned hostess waved to us as we left, but she was looking out the window when she did so, a complete 90 degree turn from where we were. There was no one by the window.

Rule #8 of this Applebee’s: If you really want to eat in the neighborhood, drive to another neighborhood.


  1. I had a friend who worked at an Applebees. Everything except the salad arrives frozen and they basically unfreeze-and-microwave it. This is why I never eat at chain places.

    1. I suspected that to be the case. One of my goals for 2012 is to eat at home more often and if we go out, to eat at a locally owned eatery. I hope to stay away from the chain places as well.

  2. It’s nice to see that I haven’t missed any changes to the service level since the last time I stepped foot in an Applebees. Which has to be going on at least a year now. I wonder how that chain stays in business.

    1. I am really hoping that that was the last time we visit Applebee’s, though I don’t know if I convince others to follow suit. The problem is that the chain restaurants have taken over the area and many of the locally owned eateries have closed down.

  3. I thought Applebees was ok several years ago, then I had a less than pleasant experience and have mostly gone there to use gift cards since then. I’ve been to the Herkimer, New Hartford, and North Utica locations, and they all seem to be the same.

    After ordering, they always make me wait a long time, which might be ok for people who keep getting refills on alcoholic beverages, but not for me when I order water with lemon. I used to order unsweetened iced tea with lemon, but one waitress got it horribly wrong by giving me a yellow drink that was mostly lemon juice with little tea and after failing to get it right two times, I gave up and asked for iced tea without lemon.

    The menu is different each time I go there, which is somewhat understandable since I don’t go there very often, but they completely removed “fish and chips” from the menu for a while, which seemed odd since that dish is popular in this area. One visit when I wanted something cholesterol-healthy, I discovered they replaced the cedar plank salmon with salmon cooked a different way but served on top of rice that was drowning in butter. Sometimes it’s difficult to find anything on the menu that I might be in the mood for.

    I don’t think I’ve had anything that was frozen in the middle, but I’ve had some items that were just warm and one other time they provided me with a small cup of BBQ sauce (I think it was for dipping the slightly over-cooked onions rings in) that was microwaved so long it was the most painful burn my mouth had experienced in all of my 40-something years on this planet.

    Back to how long it takes to get your food, two times I forgot what I ordered and one time I started to fall asleep. There weren’t many customers in the place, either, so I’m pretty sure they intentionally take a while to serve your food. Maybe the other reason they do that is to make people think the food is freshly cooked instead of microwaved. Even if the food was freshly cooked, why does it take so long for “ribs that are slow-cooked for hours” to make their way to the table? I can save money and get ribs that are just as good by buying the pre-cooked ones in the grocery store and heating them at home.

    I still have a gift card that I haven’t used up yet and I’m holding onto it as a last resort, like when I don’t want to cook and it’s too late to eat at a better place or the other places are closed that day, etc. Hoping Applebees will get better if I wait a while is not an option, because I’ve already tried that several times and it didn’t work. The only people I know who still like Applebees either get burgers, order their food “to go”, or don’t mind waiting and are willing to accept sub-standard service for some reason. I can be somewhat forgiving in the case of restaurants that just happen to be having a bad day, but my recent experiences at Applebees has me thinking that every day must be a bad day. Complaining on their corporate web site hasn’t helped, either, and I wonder if they just don’t care as long as their restaurants remain profitable.

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