In the News: A Makeover at Applebee's?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I just read a New York Times profile of Julia Stewart, the CEO of IHOP, which is the parent company of Applebee's.

It seems that casual dining chains are finding that they blur together in consumers' minds and are fighting hard to distinguish themselves from the bunch, especially in this economic downturn. Ruby Tuesday pretended to blow up a (competitor's) restaurant as part of a marketing campaign to unveil the chain's new décor. Now, Applebee's is poised to make small but vital changes to its menu, which Stewart believes will bring it to the head of the pack.

Chain restaurants can be a healthy eater's Kryptonite, and that's not likely going to change any time soon, judging from Stewart's comments in the story:
"You don’t come up with a quesadilla burger by catering to dieters. Applebee’s flags some menu items that have been approved by Weight Watchers, but the company is not exactly cutting a path through the calorie jungle.

That’s because what people say they want and what they eat are often different, [Stewart] said as she sat in a booth at the IHOP. Nearby, a family of four was pouring different flavors of syrup over stacks of pancakes “That’s what people want,” she said."

Are sugary, heavy, greasy, cheesy, over-the-top foods really what people want? She might be right, but would people make better choices if healthier dishes were more readily available?

Are people choosing mozzarella sticks and riblets because there are no healthy dishes available, or are there no healthy dishes available because people are choosing mozzarella sticks and riblets? (I'm not trying to single out Applebee's, and in fact, they do have nine healthy choices on the menu. This argument could be applied to almost any restaurant, chain or local.)

What do you think? How do you navigate the giant menus and oversized portions at restaurants?

Photo: Screen capture of Applebee's website

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Like some posters, I don't eat out often and when I do, I'm not going to stress too much about the splurge. I might not have dessert or the bread basket, but if I want Prime Rib and a baked potato, I'm going to have it. Then, once back home and "real life", I'm back on the program. One meal out isn't going to mess me up.

For me I have allergies so I hardly eat but when I do I don't watch the calories-I put it to my treat for the month Report
What a coincidence! I just went to Applebee's this week. And BOY, was it difficult. There were a lot of entrees that I wanted to have, even a few on their WW menu. I ended up chosing the Italian Chicken & Portabella sandwich with a side of fruit. Priced, like most of their other items, at around $9.00.

IT WAS TERRIBLE. And, it was 360 calories. Not too high, but GEEZ! Everything, the chicken, mushroom strips, and even including the wheat bun was small and dried up (even SHRIVILING!). With items THIS unappetizing on their WW menu, I hesitate to try ANYTHING from that kind of menu again!

I would've much rather had one of the salads or other menu items I was considering, but without knowing the nutritional content I was scared away. I agree with everyone else - restaurants need to publish all of their info and let the consumer ACTUALLY decide. I mean, even a ("healthy") chicken breast gets turned into a monstrosity of calories and fat when it's panfried in butter and smothered in cheese. If they had one version like that and one that was grilled, but with the same sides and everything, and had info listed for both, I think that consumers would definitely choose the healthier option.

Restaurants add calories, salt, and fat because human bodies are programmed to seek these out. So, the higher the content of those items, the more out bodies say, "YES! EAT THIS!" It's a survival instinct that makes us coming back for more.

After my experience, not only am I less likely to trust or order from Applebee's rip off WW menu, I'm probably not going to be returning to the restaurant at all! Report
Wasn't there something in the news within the past year or so about the nutritional information not even being accurate? Depends on how they are making and I think it can vary from restaurant/region to restaurant/region.... Report
It would be nice if they all had healthy choice also!! Then those of us who WANT a better choice can still eat at our fav. places and not hurt our waist lines!! :) Report
I would love a restaurant that I could trust to serve healthy food choices (South Beach Diet sugestions0. I would eat there at leat 4 times a week. It is having to correctly plan and prepare my meals and snacks that keeps me from losing and keeping the wieght off. Report
I never finish whats on the plate any more. And try NOT to let my DH do it for me! Instead take it home for left overs. Report
I eat out every weekday for lunch, and at least once or twice on the weekends, but I've had months where lunch was out, work late with catered dinners, and since I don't have time to go grocery shopping on the weekends, out or takeout then too. So on good weeks, about 50% of my meals, bad weeks, 90%. How do I cope? I frequent places that have nutritional information posted, or if it's a local place that doesn't, use my judgment comparing food of the same type that I do have information for, and how much bigger/smaller, how it made me feel, etc.

I am a big fan of soup/salad bars, sandwich joints, asian food, and places that will serve me a kiddie burger without complaint. Things I stay away from are grilled chicken sandwiches in sitdown restaurants (look at the calories on the ones at chains, you might as well get something that doesn't feel like you're trying to be good) and salads I haven't gotten a calorie count on or crafted myself (if I want to eat a 1200 calorie meal, it surely isn't going to be a salad). The one thing I realized is that unlike a lot of you folks, going out to eat is NOT a treat for me, it's just how I eat most days, so instead of treating each day like a special occasion, I make sure to get something I would normally eat if I could make it at home. Report
The Applebee's in my area doesn't even carry the Weight Watchers foods, and I have tried so hard to find nutrition info online but they don't have it. When it comes down to it, I would rather go somewhere else where I either know there is healthy options or where I can at least find nutritional information. Report
I commend them for having the healthy options available however IF I choose to have the mozzarella sticks or the riblets, they should still provide me with the nutritional information. I'm not going to stop eating the big greasy burgers all together, but I might choose to split one into 2 meals or similar so I can have the special treat and know what I'm getting myself into and how many hours it would take me to burn it off!!!! Report
Well, to be honest -- when I go OUT to eat, I don't worry so much about calories. I cook at home most of the time, and I cook low-cal and low-fat, so I don't really enjoy the idea of going to a restaurant and ordering something I could make at home. We don't eat out that often, so it's not that big a deal for me. Report
I think there are some people that care about what they are eating and some people that don't. I know that the two of us in my family do a lot of sharing. I can tell you which places in town have good salads and then we split and entree. No one needs as much food as they are giving.
I believe places can serve healthy choices a long side the CRAP, but it is up to the person to choose. I go to IHOP and I have pancakes, but if you have the shortstack with no butter and very little syrup it isn't bad. That is only SOMETIMES what I want. I never NEED a 2000 calorie meal. Report
The only thing I have ever orderd at Applebies is their great Pecan crusted chicken salad. The smaller one. if it is too large for you can always take home half. Report
I believe that even the most stringent of us goes "off" every once in a while. When I am out to eat and really want something sweet, I ask if anyone wants to share and then I very discretely take a bite or two and let the others finish it off. If you are going out to eat, then you have to be open to what is served and just go with it for the enjoyment of your group. If I don't want to get tempted I just opt not to go. That being said, I applaud all those chains that are making it easier for the "dieting" public to join their families and go out to eat by providing those healthier choices on the menu. Everyone can enjoy the experience together again! Report
I love Applebee's Weight Watcher menu. The food is very tasty and allows for a sensible alternative to the other menu items. Report
I agree with smaller portion sizes. I also look for healthier choices on the menu but if it's going to be the same old cottage cheese tomato dish, i splurge and try not to eat the whole thing which is usually too greasy anyway. Restaraunts need to come up with TASTY healthy far, hey we can do it at home, why can't they? Report
I think its unrealistic for us to expect chain restaurants to turn healthy. If you want healthier food, check out local restaurants that use local foods! My rule of thumb when eating at any restaurant is to keep portions in mind. Most restaurants serve portions that are at least three times to much. Then add in the appetizer and drinks and you're done for! So, for me, I typically don't order an appetizer. Then I only eat half, or less, of the entree. The rest goes home and I have it for lunch over a couple days. This way, the portions are more in line and I'm still able to enjoy my favorite restaurant on occasion. Report
I'm not a big fan of Applebee's because of their lack of healthy menu options. If I end up going there I usually settle for a salad because I know exactly what I'm eating. The first thing I do when I get to a restuarant I ask for a list of their healthy menu options. I've found that some restuarnts including Cracker Barrel does not have that listing. The company is working on it but still hasn't produced a list. Report
I'm a vegetarian and normally I try to avoid Applebee's at all costs since their Weight Watcher's menu consists of either desserts or items that contain meat in it. Previously I've asked for the "Chicken Tortilla Melt" without the chicken and they were able to cater to me. Tonight however; when I asked for it, they told me it was already pre-made. The waiter told me that they have Veggie Burgers on the menu now, so I was happy that there was something that I could eat there. Report
Applebees is my favorite restaurant and the most frustrating to eat at. I have many food allergies which make eating out difficult. Add to this the fact that my husband gets angry when I ask for any information on an item. Applebees has blatantly refused to disclose any ingredients or nutritional information for its items. OTOH, when I do ask a question, such as if they would check a package for an ingredient or request the chef be asked if a menu item contains something, Applebees generally goes out of its way to comply with my request. I have one item on the menu which Iove and generally order that. Report
I can remember crying in an applebees once. I'm a vegetarian, and I knew going there was a bad idea because of it, but my mother wanted to go, and I couldn't figure out what to order that was both vegetarian and decent. I didn't want to end up disecting the menu items to order and be a pain in the butt for the staff, but that's what I ended up doing. The waitress felt so bad for me she brought me a free sundae afterward which just compounded the problem and made me feel worse after eating it, and it was just plain embarassing! Report
I too struggle because we eat out a LOT. BUT, I have learned in the last while which places have better options. Believe it or not, being a mom of 4 little boys, McDonalds is where I CAN eat healthier... Crazy though it may be, I continued to lose 2 lbs a week eating at McD for 3 meals a day when our home was flooded and we had no kitchen. Egg McMuffin without butter is under 300 cals. Grilled chicken sandwich without mayo is also under 300, side salads, apple dippers, and heck even their ice cream is low fat and only 120 cals for a cone. SO... we just gotta look at the non obvious locations and tell them how to make it for you. ALSO, I use napkins and BLOT all meat in sandwiches, yes even grilled chicken. IT cuts the fats....
I know that a lot of people want calorie counts on every menu item as some of you have said (I do too!). However, the Ruby Tuesday's by my house did that a few years ago and as far as the restaurant is concerned (i.e., making money) their business took a serious dive after that, and soon they stopped posting them again. Although there are some things on the menu you might not expect to be so healthy there were a lot that were insanely bad for you. Instead of doing whatever they wanted, people just didn't go anymore (I don't know, maybe they assumed that TGIFridays down the street was healthier even though they didn't post their nutritional info). I can say that it's really hard to order a bacon cheeseburger when the nutrition facts are staring you in the face... Report
People do not need to forget that these "healthy options" that the chain resteraunts are touting are sodium drenched. My mother got that guiltless gourmet platter at chilli's b/c they talked about the reasonable calorie count only to discover that it had her entire days worth of sodium in it. That is one thing that I don't think will ever change. I am not goign to look at any food item as "healthy" until I see a complete listing of it's nutritional data. Resteraunts will advertise what they want you know. Report
I also get the "special treat" mindset when I go out. Like SCENTEDLILACS said, as a kid we only went out to eat for special occasions. I would love to see calorie information on menus. At least give people the opportunity to make an informed decision. Granted -- we "know" when we shouldn't eat something bad, but if the information is not posted it is so much easier to overlook. Report
DAWNO64 - I live in Seattle and there is no restaurant that post calories next to the food items. If you ask for a list they laugh at you. I've lived here for almost 23 years and never see calories poseted on the menu. Report
I wish I lived in NYC or Seattle, where calorie counts have to be posted next to prices in the same size font. I have a hard time staying strong when we go out to eat, and hate the fat and calorie counts I see when I enter my nutrition. I'd like to see more healthy choices on restaurant menus; from what I read, when some restaurants in NYC posted the calorie counts, they suddenly sold out of their healthier options. I think if it became a federal law, people would eat healthier and restaurants would therefore make healthier food - it's a Catch 22. Report
I find that I get the "special treat" mindset when I order at a restaurant... growing up I only got to eat at restaurants on my family's birthdays. We ordered things we didn't get at home. I think I also tend to order certain kinds of food that I associate with certain kinds of restaurants. I always order chicken friend steak, hashbrowns, and pancakes at Denny's or Shari's.... small burger and fries at Wendy's.... soup, salad, and lots of breadsticks at Olive Garden... you get the picture. I eat out a lot more often then I did growing up, so I need to get it out of my head that nutritional caution can be thrown to the wind.
More people would opt for healthier menu items if the nutritional content was posted for ALL MENU ITEMS and not just the ones earmarked as 'healthy'. I don't see why New York is the only city to have this legislation passed- we all need to follow their example.

It is criminal how little we as a society know about nutrition (I used to think white rice was a good food choice, and bagels were health food!). Most people know how many calories the average person needs in a day, and when they see their lunch clocking in at 3/4 of that total, I would hope they would make smarter decisions.

Some people will eat poorly no matter what, but at least they will have been warned. Report
Hi all
I like to go out for dinner sometimes. That said I find it hard to find something on the menu I want to eat. I like healthier foods and get upset when I don't find the information I want. My D-H tells me to forget about the healthy eating and just enjoy the meal...... How can I? My mind is wondering about what am I eating?
I think that more people would enjoy eating out if they had better choices and the dietiary information was there. Have you ever tried to get information from the waitress... the funny look, the long wait because even the cook has no idea how to answer your question. Report
I try to stay healthy even in restaurants but I find if I'm craving something not so good for me I either split it in half with a friend or simply put half of it aside before I even start eating it. If I can get it in a box and off the plate (and out of eyesight) I forget its even there and I have a tasty lunch the next day... providing I remember to bring home my to-go box! Report
I have to agree with the IHOP rep. I work in food service as a chef/pastry chef and I have offered some really tasty dishes that were low in fat, carbs, and sugar. People don't think their kids will eat it, not even letting them try it first! So they opt for the higher calories/carbs/sugar. I have hope though that America is learning, albeit slowly, to make healthier choices. Report
I like the fact that some restaurants are providing nutritional information on their menu. I have printed out a lot of the info on various restaurant's web sites, but it's not practical to carry all of it with me when I dine out. I went to Chili's not long ago and they had info on some of their dishes and I was able to make a somewhat good choice (low points for me; I'm a W8Watcher). Report
I've read a lot of these comments that people suggest america really wants to eat healthy and doesn't want to load up on a plate full of crap. I've just gotten back from a visit to america and I have to differ with you. If this were indeed the case there would not be 30-40 mins waits in line for restaurants like Outback, LoneStar, Applebee's, Chili's, TGIF's and Ruby Tuesdays.

We stopped at an Outback on the way to the airport and on a Monday night, the first day back to school for kids there was an hour wait and the restaurant was so busy they were behind on washing utensils so that we could have forks to eat with. ON A MONDAY NIGHT during the school year.

I find eating out a challenge because even when some things look healthy on a menu, I don't really know how many hidden calories there are. It would be great if restaurants were required to provide diners with nutritional information just like products we buy in stores for eating. Report
I love Applebees,that is one of my restaurants of choice. I usually order off the weight watchers menu , but if i do not, I follow my regular restaurant procedure. I ask for a doggie bag WITH my dinner. I divide the meal in 1/2 and eat that and take 1/2 home.
At some point we have to take responsibility for what we put in our mouth. Report
I hadn't eaten at Applebee's in a long time. About 2 weeks ago I went and ate dinner with friends. I'd been wanting the Orange Chicken bowl ... I was shocked when I got home and realized I had eaten 1,700 calories !!

I'd love to see them make lower calorie, healthier meals.

Randy Report
I have not eaten at Applebees. When I do eat out, I check out what's on the menu that stays within my calorie count for the day and stick with it. Report
Eating out is one of the times I try not to limit my choices too much. I want to enjoy myself and if it takes a burger and fries to do that, then that's what I do. I also will make smarter choices that day and the day before or after to compensate what I had. It's all about moderation. I'm trying to make better choices, but I'm not going to deprive myself either. Report
I think if alot of these restaurants offered a healthier menu in addition to the regular menu, they would find that there are alot more out there who would eat at their restaurants. It's hard to eat out, especially when you are from a smaller town with limited choices like I am. I appreciate the WW choices at Applebees though. Shame more can't follow their lead. Salads just plain get old folks!!!! Report
I don't eat at restaurants like this. Fortunately, I have a lot of healthy eating out choices where I live, and don't have to eat at chain restaurants at all. I ate once at Applebee's and got food poisoning. That put me off from eating there again! :-) Report
There is a lot of information one can gather to get healthier and make wiser choices. Albeit, that fast food chains and restaurants prey upon the instant gratification desires of the public, for now that is their freedom. We need to become thinkers instead of being pulled into the trap. We are learning what our trigger foods are, what atmosphere causes us to be more lax in our choices and what environments tend to lend to our compulsions. Knowing that, we need to steer away from the situations and places that are unhealthy for us. There are places around the nation that are getting the picture. America wants to eat more healthy. Some restaurants cater to that. They are more expensive, but it can give an opportunity to make a special lunch or dinner an occasion to pamper one's self. Report
I try to avoid this restaurants. However, if I'm going with friends or family I will look up the nutritional information for the menu online. Then I'll decide what i'm going to eat before I enter the restaurant. Report
Ya so I'll just try to avoid these places all together, unless I'm set on a big cheat. I walk in with good intentions, but somewhere between finding something almost healthy and placing the order, it all falls apart. I see yummy high fat, sodium etc and order away. I have stopped ordering the fries (unless they are hand cut) and opt for a salad with dressing on the side. So knowing my weakness I tend to eat out as a treat and add a little extra excercise at the gym for a couple of days. Report
Unless they work on the sodium levels in their foods, I'll continue to avoid Applebee's. They are absolutely outrageous. No one needs that much sodium in their food. It's just not healthy. I always check out the nutrition on the company website, and plan my dinner before I even walk in the door. Report
In restaurants I always look for the healthiest choices at the back of the menu or at the bottom of menu pages in smaller print. It's almost like they make it less prominent because they want you to order the fattier and higher calorie menu choices. But I love ordering from the grilled, heart healthy sections of the menu. From the american restaurants such as Chili's, TGIF's, Applebee's, or Ruby Tuesdays I can usually find a fish that sounds good or grilled chicken dish and I request no extra oil or butter to be sure it's truly not swimming in fat. But the most successful I've found is the grilled salmon at Chili's. I usually prefer a more upscale restaurant though where I can order directly as I want. I'm use to living in other countries where restaurants appreciate a customer's specific requests. But in the US service can be so rude when you request special orders unless you are at the better restaurants where truly, the customer is king. Or queen as the case may be.

As far as the notion that people do not go out to eat and pay money to order grilled chicken and broccoli, I do go out to dinner to be waited on and cooked for by someone else and to enjoy a nice social setting and atmosphere. I'd rather eat a meal that is going to sit well with my stomach and not cause me to be nauseous because it's swimming in fat. I use to eat that way but now my digestive system can't tolerate fatty foods. So I'll pay $20 a plate for grilled fish or chicken with steamed veggies and a smart carb. I've come to understand that the $20 isn't the issue but the size 12 instead of the size 20 is the issue. I'd rather pay a premium dollar for a healthy dish that will make me feel good, than an economical dollar for mounding heap of fat.

I see eating out as an opportunity to splurge or treat myself, mostly to reward my son. He loves Applebee's and pizza. But, when I go to these restaurants I try to eat off the healthier side of the menu and ask for dressings and such on the side. A lot of the nutrituional information is found online so before you frequent a restaurant check out there site for that information so you can make a better meal selection. Report
I agree that restaurants should be required by law to make nutrition figures available, but they will certainly fight this. I've also read that the nutrition guides that are given aren't always accurate; it depends on the individual chef. Report
I love Applebee's WW menu. It taste cood, you get the right serving size, and I go away totally full, sometimes I just eat half and take the rest home with me. I think all the restaurants should have more menus like this. What I have found at others is that they have the "salad" of some sort for their healthy living. That is fine, but I eat salad at lunch every day, I would like something else when I go out to dine. Report
I personally have not eaten at Applebees.I love to eat out and when I do I always pick a healthy choice.The problem that I have is all the healthy choices cost more and give you less!I think more people choose healthy. Report
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