One of the biggest issues with chain restaurants is quality. With so many locations to handle, it's hard to ensure that customers' basic needs are met - like not getting salmonella or insulted by waitstaff. And these chains failed epically. Read below as customers share their most horrendous experiences at chains, from the nastiest Chili's to the cringiest Olive Garden. It might be a good idea to think twice before going to these places again.
All content has been edited for clarity.
"One time I found a beetle in my meal at Chili's. I told the server, who told the manager, who refused to budge and insisted that I pay full price because of the chance that I put it in there deliberately.
Yeah, I just carry around a beetle in my pocket, and when nobody is looking, I throw it in my meal which I am paying for. I haven't gone back."
"I went to Chili's for lunch once after a doctor's appointment with my husband.
The place was empty. We were finally seated after a ten-minute wait (it was this or nothing, and I was starving). The waiter arrived, took our drink order (unsweet tea and Dr Pepper) and appetizer (chips and skillet queso).
He never came back. More customers arrived, maybe four tables, and he went and sat with what we assume were friends of his. We flagged down another waiter, who practically threw our drinks at us. He took our entree order (bbq chicken and a burger). He threw those at us too.
I realize we have no silverware. After trying to flag four people, my husband got our silverware himself. I cut the chicken and was surprised it didn't cluck and jump off my plate, it was so raw.
Original waiter came over and I showed him the still-pulsing bird, and he rolled his eyes and said, 'It's rare. You want me to microwave it for you?' I explained I wanted it cooked through, not heated, and poultry wasn't served rare. He snatched the plate and left.
I never got my food back.
Meanwhile, my husband was waiting on me (he's too polite) to eat. I finally told him to go ahead, at which point he opened the bun and found a fake fingernail.
We attempted to get someone's attention so we could pay and leave, but 15 minutes later we just got up and left.
I've never gone to another Chili's."
"I was a small child, in a small town where the fanciest restaurant was a Ponderosa Steakhouse. One night, my parents decided that a fine meal was in order, so we made our way there.
If you've never been to a Ponderosa: imagine a middle-school cafeteria buffet dropped into a steakhouse that needed to be remodeled in the 70's. The tables were plastic, the chairs were folding metal contraptions, the indoor-outdoor carpet had a disquieting green shimmer to it, and the blinds stayed shut so that you couldn't quite see what you were eating.
My father was a quiet, unassuming man. I can count on one hand the times I saw him get angry. Dinner at the Ponderosa was one of those times, and it was the only time I ever heard him swear in public.
When we arrived, it was clear that everyone working there wished they were working somewhere else. The hostess was surly, and the waiter acted like he was doing us a favor by taking drink orders. But, hey, it's a buffet/steakhouse, we weren't there to make friends. We were there to eat until we regretted it.
We didn't even get to eat a bite before we regretted it. My dad and I went to the buffet, filled our plates (and one for mom), and returned to the table. I slid my fork into the mashed potatoes. I brought the fork to my mouth. I realized the pepper flakes were moving.
'What is that?'
I dropped my fork. My dad's idea of harsh language was 'gosh-durn.' I'd never heard him lay down an f-bomb before, much less one fueled by that much rage, and it legit scared me. I was a small child. I began to cry. My father's gaze was fixed on his green beans, which were also moving.
A waiter came over, with a manager in tow. They began very sternly reprimanding my father for using such language in a family restaurant, and informed him that his behavior would have to improve if we wanted to stay.
My father, who stood just shy of 6'9, silently got to his feet and glared down at the suddenly quiet Ponderosa employees.
'Sir,' the manager started, much more respectfully this time.
'There are ants in this food,' my father interrupted him. 'About a thousand ants.'
'Sir,' the manager started again.
'We're going to leave. We're not going to pay. But first, you're going to apologize to my family for trying to feed them this trash, and you're going to apologize to me for speaking to me like that in front of my wife and son.'
By this point, everyone else in the restaurant (maybe four or five other families) had stopped eating and were either inspecting their food or watching this scene unfold. One guy got up and went to the buffet with a little pocket flashlight. He clicked it on, took a look at the food, clicked it back off, and began dry heaving.
The manager and waiter were frozen. Neither one was apologizing, and that was ticking my dad off worse.
'Come on,' my father said gesturing to me and my mother. The three of us walked out of the restaurant, with all of the other patrons following behind. The manager snapped out of his trance long enough to flip out and start shouting at everyone that they couldn't leave without paying. Turns out they could.
The Ponderosa closed its doors forever later that week. It belongs to the ants now."
"A few years ago, we had just moved back to the US after living in Japan. I let my jet-lagged kids pick the restaurant, and they chose Olive Garden. The 7-year-old ordered a pizza off the kids' menu.
When it arrived, the crust looked awfully charred. She turned it over to see if the bottom was as burnt as badly the sides. We found a piece of broken glass embedded into the crust. It was the same blueish/green color that their drink glasses are made of. It was pretty clear that the dough had fallen on the floor, and when they picked it back up, the glass was stuck in the dough and then baked into place.
I asked for the manager, and pointed it out. He didn't even notice the glass at first and thought we were just annoyed about the burned crust. I said that was also unacceptable, but I was really mad about the glass. He actually accused me of planting it. I wasn't looking for a free meal, I just wanted an apology and food that wouldn't injure my kid. I was so mad.
The piece of glass was clearly baked into the pizza. If I was going to plant it, I would have to sneak into the kitchen and jam it into the dough.
I like a free meal as much as the next guy, but that's much further than I'm willing to go.
Incidentally, we did NOT get the meal for free."
"Applebee's. Seriously. My server was incredibly rude, had two-inch-long fake nails (one that found itself on my wife's plate), long purple hair, and waaaaaay too much perfume. She never refilled our drinks (that she got wrong in the first place), and sat and talked to her friends in the next booth over, so we had to constantly smell that awful perfume.
Also, the food was terrible, and we never got our two sides with our meals.
We asked to speak to the manager when the bill came, and purple-hair got very indignant and proceeded to tell us that, 'It ain't easy to do what I do!'
As we were leaving (no comped meal or anything, but we weren't expecting that, we just wanted to tell the poor-life-beaten man that his ship was far from tightly run), the waitress ratted us out to the rest of the restaurant because we only left her a 10% tip. It was on my card, or else I'd have walked back and taken even that back.
I then watched my credit card bill to make sure that she didn't try to add more... She seemed the type to pull that.
So, yeah, Applebee's."
"Once my mom went through the drive-thru at McDonald's. They were on an advertising kick about how when you went through the drive thru they would mix in your cream and sugar for you (I guess previously they just gave you packets and expected you to deal with it in your car). So she orders a large coffee with cream and sugar. She pays, then pulls forward, and they hand her a bag. She looks inside and it's two chicken sandwiches. She looks back at the server and goes, 'Large coffee, cream and sugar?' The server gets a cup, dispenses the coffee, puts on a lid and thrusts it at her.
'Cream and sugar?'
'What, you want me to put it in there for ya?!'"
"I went in for lunch at Chili's once, and three days later I was in the hospital for Salmonella. They had no hot water and the dishwasher was broken. A lot of people got sick. I ended up being out of work for a month.
They closed down for a few weeks, reopened then finally closed for good. A new one opened up a few years later. It's actually a fascinating case study to read since the health department was able to track it so well and it was an uncommon strain of Salmonella which made it even easier to track in patients.
As far as litigation, I heard stories about people who were seriously injured or a pregnant woman getting sick, and they may have gotten a big pay day. This was for sure an isolated incident considering how much food they serve every day, but I just can't ever go back."
"I once ordered a steak in TGI Fridays. The chef came out and make me taste him in front of him to see if was ok. I took a bite. It was ok.
Then when I got stuck into it, it was basically just fat. I couldn't even chew it, never mind swallow it.
They said, 'We spoke to the chef, and you told the chef it was fine.'
I went mad, obviously, saying how unprofessional it was for him to come out in the first place and watch me eat.
She took it off the bill, which came to the same price as the meal.
She said, 'That's the price.'
I told her to shove her desserts where the sun don't shine.
I never went back."
"Freakin' Chili's. Our server spoke to us long enough to get our drink orders, and we never saw him again because he spent the rest of his time at the other end of his section with a couple he obviously knew. When another server brought us our drinks after we flagged her down, she caught on that he wasn't helping us. Then a third server took our order. By the end of it, we weren't sure who to tip because a fourth person brought us our food. We paid at the table after eating and left no tip, and haven't been back since. We saw through the restaurant windows that our original server guy came back to clear our table after we left, and he had the audacity to frown when he noticed no cash on the table."
"TGI Fridays is awful literally every time I go there. The worst was when two of us ordered their fried chicken salad. Out comes one fried chicken salad and one plain salad. We're like, 'Hey...what is this?' So they take BOTH plates back, which makes no sense to me, and out they come with two fried chicken salads, with half the chicken missing on mine. I called them out on it, and the manager comes over and tells us to leave. I kind of just stared in disbelief, and we both left without saying anything or paying. That was the last time I ever went."
"I went to Applebee's.
I ordered some chips and dip, and told the waitress I was allergic (discomfort, not deadly) to seafood/shellfish and to make sure that the chips would be cooked in oil that is not contaminated. She said sure.
About the third chip in, my throat got itchy and I started to break out in some mild hives.
I asked the waitress, and she said 'sorry' and took them off the bill. Then my burger and fries came. I started eating fries and the same thing happened but it got worse.
So a manager came up to me, and I explained what happened. I kid you not.
Manager: 'So....is there a problem?'
I looked at him. He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me. I looked at him, 'YES!'
I told him I would not be paying for the chips or my meal, seeing that I could not eat it. He tried to get me to pay by offering a dessert. I have not been back since."
"Oh Olive Garden. My parents and I went there for dinner one night just to try it out, my pop and I have always liked trying new places to eat just for the fun of it. We get there and the place isn't busy at all, there's just a few people eating. We go up and ask for a table for three in the non smoking area. They make us wait for almost an hour before seating us, and they seat us in the near empty restaurant right next to the smoking area, which was actually pretty full and had plenty of people smoking.
We just got up and moved to the other side of the room (there was no one else in this part of the restaurant so we had no trouble getting to the other table). They take our order pretty quickly, but we have to wait another hour before seeing our food. There was a short step down to where they seated us and the waitress carrying our food tripped over it and the food got flung all over the floor. She came over and apologized profusely and said she'd put it in again no charge. After another half an hour she brings our food out and it's ice cold, like they just took it out of the refrigerator cold. At this point it'd been over two hours. We just got up, my pop handed the waitress a tip (it was obviously not her fault the night was a mess) and we left and went to McDonald's."
"I was at an IHOP with my then fiancée having our usual Saturday IHOP treat meal. This location was always one of the better ones in terms of food quality and service, so we always went there.
That particular day was different however...very different. We had ordered our regular meals (blueberry topped, stuffed crepes for me, and a bacon and ham scrambler for her), and chatted for a bit while waiting. Everything was great so far, then the food came.
My crepes were cooked badly and cold, her scrambler is not the right one and also cold. We complained, (politely mind you, we liked this place after all) and wrote it off as a new cook. When the food comes out, I notice right away that my blueberries are missing and the food is cold again.
We tell the waitress, who gets the manager, who apologizes profusely and goes into the kitchen. We were seated in such a way that we saw the cook when the manager opened the door, and I noticed two things right away:
The cook is indeed new.
The cook clearly has a learning disability.
The manager comes back to us and explains that the cook used to be the dishwasher, but was shadowing one of the regular cooks and trying his best. The regular cook had called in sick that day, leaving the special cook to fend for himself. The manager comped us and said that he tried to help, but was to busy to constantly be back there. Then this happened.
The manager had one of the wait staff step in to cook while he BROUGHT THE DISABLED GUY TO OUR TABLE and had him tearfully apologize to us. That caused the manager to tear up, as well as my SO. Then the manager FIRED THE GUY IN FRONT OF US! We of course left pronto.
It overshadows any and all bad dining experiences for me. Snobby waitstaff? Not as bad as a crying disabled guy getting fired by a crying manager in front of my crying fiancee and myself. Hope dragged itself to the corner, bleated for its mother, and died that day."
"Red Lobster. I went in with my then-partner and another couple for a double date. We were seated very quickly, things were chill.
Nobody ever came to take a drink order, or even let us know the server would be around soon. Then, after about 10 minutes of waiting (which was my 'alright I'm leaving to go somewhere else' point), I hear two servers arguing just around the corner from us:
'I don't want their table, you take it.' 'I don't want their table either, you know their tip is gonna suck, it's a waste of my time.' 'Well I'm not helping them, so good luck.' 'I'm not either. They can just sit there.'
They were directly discussing my table (only one in the section with anyone seated at it), and I was so mad. I get it, servers need tips, and if they don't get tipped it costs them money (because they still have to tip everyone else out), but WOW what a fantastic way to MAKE SURE you get nothing on a slow night. I think I ended up telling a manager and complaining, but holy cow was I fuming.
I did not eat at Red Lobster for a long time after that (and have only gone back once, literally to a Red Lobster across the country, where I had the second worse service ever). Those Red Lobsters are the only two times I have ever complained to a manager at restaurants (and joke's on them because I tip 20% for POOR service, nothing below 25% for decent service)."
"In high school I would go every year to Red Robin for my birthday with my grandparents. It was our little tradition.
When I turned 21, I went there with the whole family and I was excited to get a drink with my Banzai Burger.
When we ordered drinks, the waitress asked for IDs and I proudly presented my ID which clearly stated that this was in fact my 21st birthday. She looked at it and said, 'We don't take verticals,' casually handing it back. My father told her today was my 21st birthday and that, as she could see, I am legal as of today. She insisted they didn't take verticals. We asked for a manager, who promptly repeated the same line. So my grandfather told them off and we left. I never went back to a Red Robin after that.
The silver lining is that the Elephant Bar we ended up going to afterwards was very nice, and by the end of the night, I had one of the waitresses' phone numbers. We dated for a month or two, it was nice."
"I'm allergic to fish, so I never order fish.
There was an Applebee's that just opened up the street, and we were excited to try. I worked at a store up the street, so I called and order some chicken strips to go. Got in, paid, picked up the order. Fries good, so maybe it's an OK place.
Opened up the chicken strips to take a bite. It tasted like fish. Wait... what? Looked at it, it was definitely chicken. But it STILL tasted like fish. It totally wasn't me.
Took it back immediately, praying that I don't get sick. Apparently some cook decided to FRY THE CHICKEN IN THE SAME OIL/FRYER AS THE FISH!
I went back 10 years later, and the food was OK, but bleh!"
"Denny's. We were picking someone up at the airport late, and they were hungry. Carrow's was closed. I waited too long to eat, so anything would work.
We ordered a starter of chicken strips, definitely chicken strips. The server brought out a plate of hot wings. He asked, 'Those look good, what are those?' 'Uh, wings.' We are confused at this point.
Our order comes up. Everyone gets food but me. The server comes back to see how things are. I ask where my food is, and then he goes back to the kitchen to see. He comes back out,
'The chef is being rude.'
'Sooo.. is my food coming?'
"When I was about 5 or 7 years old (can't quite remember), my mother, my two older brothers, my brother's friend and I went into an Outback Steakhouse. Everything was fine, we got our meals, we dug in. However, my mother had gotten the steak, and a tough one at that. Out of nowhere, she stood up and began to flail around, grabbing at her neck. She was choking on a hunk of meat, and being my young self, I had NO idea what to do. I began to cry, and my brothers began to cry out as well, and I remember my brother's friend's expression being of dazed, desperate confusion.
Everyone in the restaurant merely stared at the spectacle like it was some kind of circus act. The 30-something hostess by the desk watched wide-eyed before ACTUALLY walking backwards towards the kitchen. Two adults in a booth pointed, doing nothing except watching as my young self watched my mother choking.
Thankfully, my older brother got up from his booth, got behind her, and pressed on her stomach with his arms. The piece shot out of her mouth, and my mother was okay. If it weren't for my 12-year-old brother, she would probably have to be carried off to the ER, or even worse.
The memory is very easy to remember in my mind. Seeing waiters and waitresses staring, dazed and confused, wide-eyed and shocked, but never acting. My mother then asked to see the manager, and we got our meals for free. My brother's friend lightened up the moment, making a joke about how the steak was 'to die for.'
We've never gone to that restaurant again."
"My mom had PTSD flashback in a Texas Roadhouse because of the Happy Birthday song. We were sitting there, waiting for dinner, when all of a sudden a bunch of people gather behind us and start clapping their hands and singing/shouting. The unexpected noise set her off. The waiter felt terrible because my mom was just sitting there crying and shaking out of her skin, and I'm just like, 'No, it's all right. You couldn't have known. It'll pass.'
I probably should have put the original incident that caused the PTSD in the first place: We were trying to order our dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory when the Trolley Square shooting happened. I still haven't eaten at Old Spaghetti Factory."
"After a long day of fighting traffic for eight hours for what should have been a four and a half hour drive, my family went to dinner at a Bob Evan's in Silver Springs, FL. We were seated and a waitress takes our drink orders and says that another waitress will be serving us. The drinks come brought by a very obviously sick middle-aged woman. She's sweating, and not at all the right color. She's sniffling and making that 'guh' sound afterwards.
'Excuse me, I've just got a little allergy thing going on tonight.'
She pulls out a chair and sits down to ask us what we'd like. My mother and father are looking at the menu and ordering without really looking up. My sister and I on the other side of the booth are looking at this waitress and back at each other like 'what??'
Our eyes drift back over to her sitting there, writing my father's order into her little pad, when the BIGGEST SLIMIEST GAK LIKE SUBSTANCE FALLS FROM HER NOSE LIKE A BUNGEE JUMPING BOOGER. It reaches below her bottom lip before SNOOOOORRRRRRRRRTTTTTTTT and up it goes back into her sweaty head. My sister and I snap our heads away in horror, and we both stare straight ahead towards our parents, whose faces are still buried in the menus.
When she asked us our order, I said we needed more time, and she would have to come back. I told our parents we needed to leave, immediately. And we did, making a family emergency excuse."