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Applebee's vs. Chili's: 4 Major Differences to Know Before You Dine

These popular restaurant chains have a few distinctions that set them apart from each other.
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One of the biggest charms of a restaurant chain is consistency. No matter where you are in the country, TGI Friday's will have its famous loaded potato skins, P.F. Chang's will offer its beloved lettuce wraps, and the Cheesecake Factory will be stocked with its signature cheesecake options. This guarantee of specific menu items in a familiar atmosphere not only helps make ordering a meal somewhat easier, but it can also provide a sense of comfort to diners.

Whether you're looking to grab American fare in a family-friendly environment or score a happy hour deal with friends, there are plenty of restaurant chains that will meet your criteria. However, some have a more notable industry presence than others, like Applebee's and Chili's, which both recently earned a spot on FSR Magazine's list of the top full-service restaurant chains in America.

Known for offering a casual dining experience, along with drink and meal deals, these popular bar and grill restaurants share multiple commonalities. But among the overlap in restaurant features and menu items are some elements that set these eateries apart from each other. The next time you're debating on dining at Applebee's or Chili's, there are a few differences that could help sway your decision. Here are four distinctions between the two restaurant chains.

The menu items

chili's chicken, bacon, ranch quesadillas
Chili's Bar & Grill / Facebook

Step into Applebee's or Chili's, and you'll get to choose between various burgers, sandwiches, salads, and other American staples. Although both restaurants offer many of these same menu items, Chili's has a distinct Tex-Mex vibe, hence its iconic red pepper logo, and serves many specialties that you simply can't get at Applebee's.

Scan the the Dallas-based chain's menu, and you'll encounter dishes like fajitas, chili, and the zesty Chipotle Bowl. Even the soups and salads come topped with tortilla strips. And what would a trip to Chili's be without sinking your teeth into the fan-favorite Southwestern Eggrolls? Yes, Applebee's offers a few Tex-Mex flavors, too, like quesadillas, chips and queso, and its own Southwest Chicken Bowl. But, if you're craving fresh grilled meats served on a sizzling skillet with a side of tortillas, then your choice is easy: Chili's.

Likewise, Applebee's has a few specialties that the rival chain lacks, as well. If you're hungry for hand-battered fish and chips, for instance, you won't find it at Chili's.

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The healthy options

chili's classic sirloin with avocado and roasted asparagus

Although both restaurant chains have lighter dishes on their menus, Chili's makes it far easier for customers to  find these healthier options. The restaurant chain currently has a separate menu dedicated to these choices known as the "Guiltless Grill." Applebee's currently doesn't designate a specific section for this.

According to the Chili's website, the Guiltless Grill selection features "healthier menu items that pack all the Chili's flavor while keeping the calorie count low." Some of the options include the classic sirloin with avocado and roasted asparagus, ancho salmon with Mexican rice and steamed broccoli, and the Santa Fe Salad.

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The drink deals

applebee's margarita
Applebee's Grill + Bar / Facebook

One major draw of both Applebee's and Chili's is their alcoholic beverage deals. But they each roll them out in their own unique ways. For example, as part of its Margarita of the Month promotion, Chili's encourages guests to try something new by offering a limited-time margarita for $6 all month long. Currently, the restaurant chain is advertising its Trick or Treat-a-Rita, which features Lunazul Blanco Tequila and Tito's Handmade Vodka shaken with fresh sour and strawberry purée, topped with classic frozen margarita and sweet and tart Halloween candies.

Meanwhile, Applebee's regularly releases its own drink deals, with the current promotions being even cheaper than Chili's. Right now, customers can score $1 margaritas, playfully dubbed the "Dollarita," during the month of October. Additionally, the restaurant chain is offering not one, but two different Halloween-themed beverages known as "Spooky Sips," which are both available for $5—one dollar less than Chili's Halloween margarita.

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The food deals

applebee's food and to-go bag
Applebee's Grill + Bar / Facebook

Just like their drinks, Chili's and Applebee's offer various deals aimed at helping customers save some money on their meals. However, the current offerings vary in food quantity and price. At Chili's, customers can opt for the 3 For Me value meal, which starts at $10.99, and includes a choice of a beverage, appetizer, and entrée. Applebee's, on the other hand, offers a higher-priced deal for more food. With prices starting at around $25 to $38 depending on the location, this offering consists of two entrées and one appetizer. Which deal is right for you? Well, that depends on whether you're dining solo, as a couple, or just really, really hungry.

Brianna Ruback
Brianna is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! She attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Communication Studies. Read more about Brianna