What Is America’s Worst Restaurant Chain?

We originally ran this piece a few years ago, and the topic really struck a chord with people (heck, we’re still getting comments to this day), so we figured it was time to give it a 2015 update. And as much as I respect the opinions of our former Supertaster, James Norton—he rightfully singled out Sbarro and White Castle—I think there are a few restaurants that missed out on our vitriol.

I’d like to propose a few additional restaurants that we left out the first time around (also, since I’m an unapologetic fan of KFC, I think we need to scratch it from the list). So without further adieu, here are my choices for the top three worst restaurants in America.

The Pizza Snob

Coming in with a shameful bronze—and a repeat offender in our eyes—is Sbarro. Despite filing for bankruptcy (again) last year, Sbarro is still alive and kicking. Given that you can get mediocre pizza anywhere in America—Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and Domino’s come to mind—I don’t know why anyone would ever think to order a slice from Sbarro. Luckily, it seems like the chain is limited to malls and turnpike rest stops at this point, limiting the damage that it's able to inflict on America.

Olive Garden

Our silver medal restaurant, unfortunately, is very much alive and kicking. Even after its 2014 rebrand, Olive Garden is still pumping out terribly inauthentic Italian food to the masses. For a chain that has publicly claimed to train their chefs in Italy (cough, cough, BS) you would think that they could at least get the Italian basics down, right? Nope. Olive Garden’s menu is filled with Chef Boyardee–quality food masquerading as Italian-sounding dishes like Lasagna Fritta and Pizzaiola Flatbread. I actually feel bad for anyone that thinks that the cibo disgustoso Olive Garden is serving is real Italian.


And for our gold medal winner, one word: Applebee’s. While I could wax poetic about the reasons why Applebee’s is terrible, let’s just go over a few quick points:

1) Their menu is a mess. I understand the need to give customers options, but who in their right mind is ordering Shrimp & Broccoli Cavatappi at Applebee’s? On second thought, I guess America loves crappy pasta (see Olive Garden above).

2) The 2 for $20 deal is way too cheap. You shouldn’t be able to get two entrées and an appetizer for that much money. Even Chinese takeout for two ends up being like $25. You have to assume that they are cutting some corners for your meal to cost an Andrew Jackson.

3) But the biggest sin, in my eyes at least, is the stubborn refusal to just admit they are serving food of the lowest common denominator. Adding words like “artisan” and “handcrafted” is all smoke and mirrors to cover up the fact that most of the food is reheated on-site. It’s irony and BS of the highest degree, but hey, that’s marketing!

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments if there are any restaurants that YOU think are worse than the ones on my list.

Dan McKay is a Canadian actor, film director, screenwriter, and musician—oh wait, that's Ryan Gosling. Dan is a Philly-based freelance writer, photographer, and digital marketer. He has written for Eater and Thrillist, in addition to other publications. Outside of work, you might run across him in the Asian market or in one of Philly’s local drinking establishments.


This post was originally written on May 5, 2011, by James Norton.