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Ranking the Trashiest Chain Restaurants in America

READ TIME: 15 minutes. The video here is an audio version incase you don’t want to read. It includes some profanities though so this is your warning if you are going to listen to this in front of your kiddos. Just an FYI though, they should listen because I believe the children are our future and they need to join the good fight in destroying these restaurant.

Characterizing me as a restaurant snob may be an understatement.  It’s rare I ever walk out of a meal and say anything more than “eh, it was alright.”  If I am going to go out and pay for food, I want some effort.  Bring me something that is freshly cooked and make it look like it was prepared by a competent adult or I will make a scene (not really). Unfortunately at many chain restaurants, effort isn’t a pillar of excellence. To me the definition of trashy means to lack class, to be obnoxious, and to be overly foul. Many chain restaurants can fit that mold. Look, I don’t want to have to write this article but I’m a man of the people and someone needs to say it. We all need some trash in our lives every once in a while so it’s not like eating at these restaurants ever so often is the worst thing in the world, but…..it’s pretty close. I respect Cheddar’s and California Pizza Kitchen is legitimately good but we’re not here to talk about the ones that shine.  This is about all of the restaurants I despise.  The ones that make me feel subhuman after dining at.  This is a ranking of casual dining, sit down chains that make me feel like a piece of trash.  

8. Red Lobster

As much as it pains 8 year old me to put this anywhere on this list, I must do it as a self respecting adult.  Even though it was my favorite restaurant for at least a decade of my adolescence I need to swallow my pride and accept the Red Lobster for what it is, suburban trash. I’m so mad at my parents for making me believe that Red Lobster was the pinnacle of fine dining as a child.  I used to think that Red Lobster was the place where high class businessmen and politicians would go to get deals done.  This makes me laugh so hard considering that 80% of the restaurant was middle aged guys wearing Tommy Bahama bowling shirts, New Balance 407s and transition lenses glasses that never really go back to normal lenses after being outside.  Holy shit I was a dumb kid. 

I can close my eyes and reach into the deep recesses of my brain and smell an early 2000s Red Lobster.  They all smelled the same.  Stale pond water from the dirty ass lobster tank mixed with cigarettes and soiled carpet.  I’ve only been to a Red Lobster once or twice since smoking has been banned from restaurants but I’m sure they still smell the same. 

I have a few hard and fast no no’s when it comes to judging a restaurant. Near the top of that list is if said restaurants has any kind of unlimited offering, specifically if that is a protein.  Red Lobster has unlimited shrimp.  If you want me to respect you, absolutely do not do that okay???  The quality of that unlimited shrimp must be out of this world.  I was always a crab leg kid.  Half rack of crab, side caesar salad, and a few cheddar bays.  That was my order.  Luckily crab needs no chefing to taste awesome, a bit of steam and it is good to go.  You can’t mess it up.  Regardless, Red Lobster seafood….trash. 

7. The Cheesecake Factory

Speaking of hard and fast no no’s, somewhere near my rule about unlimited offerings is concerns about the size of the menu.  If it is too big I am not going to ever eat at your restaurant again.  The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is practically a textbook on contributing factors to obesity filled with pages upon pages of disgusting calorie loaded meals.  A big menu means one thing, everything comes frozen.  There is no way a restaurant can carry the inventory necessary to meet the demands of such a large menu without many of those items being frozen i.e., trash.  

I don’t believe any dignified person voluntarily eats at The Cheesecake Factory.  If you have another choice (one that isn’t ranked higher on this list) you need to go there.  What is even appealing about it?  Is it the luxury dining aesthetic they try to portray with the ornate lighting, giant pillars and fancy decor?  You fools, it is all plastic and vinyl trash.  The menus are spiral bound.  They serve you water in those ugly plastic mugs.  They unironically call their hamburgers, Glamburgers.  Thank God the few times I’ve eaten at a Cheesecake Factory I didn’t make it to page 47 where the Glamburgers live because if I saw the word “glamburger” I would take the fork in front of me and gouge out my eyeballs.

50% of the booths at The Cheesecake Factory are filled with pilled up, middle aged women sitting across the table from their husband who they share a loveless marriage with as they eat a 2700 calorie salad and pray for it all to be over.  The other 20,000 tables in the restaurant are occupied by boss babes treating their old high school classmates to a meal so they can convince them to join their pyramid schemes and ruin every relationship they have in their lives.  It is critical to the future of this country that we as Americans stop eating at The Cheesecake Factory. 

6. Buffalo Wild Wings

If restaurants had human names Buffalo Wild Wings would definitely be named Kyle.  I don’t know if I have ever had a good meal at a Buffalo Wild Wings.  The chances that food comes out cold are higher than the chances it comes out hot and it almost always takes 30 minutes or more to be served.  What are they even doing back there? Drop the food into the oil and sauce up the shit bag wings.  It can’t be too difficult.  How does a place that prides themselves on their wings have the audacity to have terrible chicken wings? And why are the dining areas always so dirty? There are crumbs and straw wrappers everywhere.  Be better. 

5. Cracker Barrel

First of all, 90% of breakfast restaurants can suck my ass.  Cracker Barrel is 2nd on my power rankings of these breakfast places.  You’ll see number one on that list next.  Breakfast is so easy to do well and somehow Cracker Barrel and many others still manage to completely fuck it up. Every time I go to a Cracker Barrel I somehow walk out with a $12-$15 bill and all I had was a couple of disappointing eggs and poorly cooked hash browns.  I’ve worked in a chain restaurant before so I have a little insight on what the kitchens of these places look like.  I get the feeling that the kitchens of Cracker Barrels are absolutely revolting.  I can picture the grease stuck in the grout lines of the tile on the floor and how gross the area they keep clean dishes is. Yuck.  

On top of the food that isn’t even good, I get the grand pleasure of having to eat my breakfast inside of a building that looks like a shitty thrift store.  Hey Cracker Barrel, too much stuff on the walls.  Have some fucking class and take down the garbage you have hanging.  It’s disgusting.  And don’t have a dumb as shit general store in your restaurant.  Be a restaurant or be a Dollar General but don’t be both.  

Do you really want to eat this garbage?

I know this is going to be an unpopular take because so many people have some undeserved attachment to Cracker Barrel.  Have you people ever had even a 5 out of 10 breakfast before??? Because that would be miles ahead of anything you could get from a Cracker Barrel.  

4. IHOP

I’ve only eaten at IHOP one time in my life but let’s be honest, I knew before I even walked into the restaurant it was going to be a horror.  I have the same sentiment with Denny’s.  My first IHOP experience, which will almost certainly be my last, was in Sacramento, CA on a road trip from Seattle to Las Vegas.  It is the kind of place where I wouldn’t be surprised to see a middle aged woman take her shoes and socks off to sit at the table.  Every single thing in the entire restaurant is sticky.  The tables, the chairs, the menus.  The syrup caddy with four different flavors of syrup is an abomination.  Don’t have so many syrups.  Maple is good enough.  Even pre-covid I have hated condiment dispensers that sit on tables.  I want my condiments brought to me in a clean ramekin from a person that better have washed their hands before they prepared it.  Those bottles on the tables never get cleaned as well as they should and guess who touches them? Kids.  And what do kids always have on their fingers? Boogers.  

IHOP isn’t even cheap.  A regular breakfast costs like $13.  I was prepared for it to be a  $5-$6 meal.  I got to the register to pay for me and my two roommates and when the waitress told me it was $50 involuntarily said aloud “No it’s most certainly not.” Breakfast places are the biggest of rip offs and that is why they can suck my ass.  IHOP being the first.  

3. Olive Garden

I hate Olive Garden.  One of the most unfortunate things that has ever happened to me is that my friend group loves Olive Garden because they are all disgusting people.  I used to be dragged into that godless hellhole anytime we all gathered together in the same place.  Do you know how sad it is to watch people you have associated yourself with gluttonously shove breadsticks into their mouths?  It makes me not want to live.  

Olive Garden is for high school students and that is it.  No person with any pride should ever eat at Olive Garden.  I love how in the mid 2000’s they had those commercials to try and make us believe that all of their chefs went to Italy to train in the practices of Italian cuisine.  You really expect me to believe that you paid for your “chefs” to do an apprenticeship in Tuscany so they could learn how to reheat the unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks?  Give me a break.  There is no point in pretending that you are a classy restaurant Olive Garden, you aren’t.

Truly grotesque

I will give Olive Garden credit for picking a couple of gimmicks and doing them well enough to fool people into thinking that they make good food.  However,  I have to include Olive Garden so high on this list because of the Never Ending Pasta Pass which is quite possibly the worst thing to ever happen to humanity.  Oh you don’t know about the Never Ending Pasta Pass?  You can sign up to become one of 24,000 pass holders where Olive Garden will send you a card to show that you hold the elite status of being able to go to an Olive Garden and gorge yourself on bottomless pasta between the dates of their promotional period.  They even sold Lifetime passes at one point.  Imagine how much you would have to hate yourself to go to Olive Garden multiple times per week in order to get your money’s worth after paying for the pass.  It’s a lot. How broken? How destroyed do you have to be to purchase one of these?

2. Applebees

Can you really be surprised to see Applebees at number 2 on this list?  A restaurant that likely goes through more ranch dressing than any other place in the world has to be on this list based on my own Ranch Dressing Hypothesis, a peer reviewed, groundbreaking piece of literature that can be summarized by this one image. 

Every meal looks like this

Applebees is the epitome of corporate trash.  Business Insider claims millennials are killing chains like Applebees but they fail to account for the suits in the corporate office doing all they can to cut costs, take shortcuts, and skimp on quality to better their bottom line.  Millennials don’t want to eat at Applebees because it is disgusting.  Make better food.  Is everything at Applebees cooked in a microwave? Yes.  I’m convinced they cook the steaks in the microwave and just draw grill marks on them.  Food quality doesn’t matter though because as long as the boomer generation is alive Applebees will be thriving and well.  Where else will the boomers have to go when they want to berate service workers? 

Just like Cracker Barrel, there is way too much stuff on the walls.  Instead of the faux antique garbage Cracker Barrel uses Applebees puts up photos of the local high school athletes.  It’s a neighborhood grill after all.  Plus, it is the perfect place for the guy who graduated high school a decade ago and never left town to drink $1 long island iced teas at the bar.  

1. Golden Corral

There is no way Golden Corral wasn’t taking the number one spot on this list.  It would be irresponsible of me not to put a restaurant that requires a permanent ambulance and EMT crew in the parking lot at number one.  The name Golden Corral itself infers that anyone who enters is a pig, which let’s be honest, probably isn’t too far from the truth.  It is the Wal-Mart of restaurants and their trademarked phrase “Help yourself to happiness” is a silly attempt to liven up the depressing horror that lives inside.   

There is nothing more grotesque to me than a discount buffet.  All of the food served at these places are despicable versions of the real thing dressed up under good lighting to make you think it is top quality.  Fully grown adults grab food with their hands.  Why do these places even have salad bars? No one who eats at a Golden Corral is going there to eat salad.  Do away with the vegetables and use that real estate for what the people really want, a lazy river filled with gravy and make it pass by every station so they don’t even have to get out of their chairs.  It can drop them off at their table when they’ve completed a lap.  

This is a real life Golden Corral

Everything about Golden Corral makes me believe that we are truly doomed as a Nation.  I would love to know what the average caloric intake per patron is at a Golden Corral.  I can’t imagine it is anything south of 2000 calories.  I don’t envy the people who work at Golden Corral one bit.  I once worked at a buffet in high school.  There is very little in this world that is more off putting than having to deal with irritable old people yelling at you because all of the chicken legs are gone and they can’t eat the thighs or breasts because they are too big for their teeth.  The clientele at discount buffets are truly a different breed.     

I was once on the brink of starvation on the return voyage of a road trip and was forced to eat a Golden Corral in Chillicothe, Missouri.  There were literally no other options and I was on death’s door.  I was accompanied by a young lass, who at the time, I was attempting to court.  This was not a proud moment in my life and I have tried relentlessly to expunge it from the depths of my memory.  Unfortunately this is an exercise in futility as the exchange I shared with this girl following our visit will haunt me forever and was one of the most disturbing, depressing, and disgusting things that a human being could ever say.  It was almost a decade ago that this happened and I still have yet to forgive her for saying it.  After we finished eating and I was done throwing up in my mouth at the thought of what I had just done we got back into the car and started the drive back home. We had only gotten a few blocks down the road and I swear to god dude, she looked at me with a straight face and said, “That was one of my favorite meals of all time.”  If you’re asking if I couldn’t make eye contact with her for the remainder of the trip and at least the following few weeks the answer is a resounding and obvious yes.  

I share this story with you because there comes a point in everyone’s life where they may need to take one for the team and turn a blind eye to their standards in order to go with the flow.  There are even times when a trash meal from a trashier place is what you need.  I hope that I never have to eat at one these places again but I know that is most likely not true which means this list will likely be ever changing.  I’m fairly certain nothing will ever top the disaster that is Golden Corral but never say never.  Nothing is impossible with God. Amen.

Note:

I know there are going to be cries saying “What about Denny’s!!” or “How is Old Country Buffet not on this list?” Trust me, they would certainly be on this list if I had the displeasure of dining at them but I have managed to avoid them for 27 years of my life so I couldn’t put them on the list in good faith.  If I was going to be fair and accurately rank the slop, I have to restrict the list to only restaurants I have been to.  I know for a fact that Denny’s and Old Country Buffet are repugnant by even reading the names but I can’t know the full extent of their shortcomings until I have forced myself to eat there.  The one other obvious omission from this list is Waffle House.  Waffle House cannot be on this list because it fully owns being a piece of shit and the people watching is top tier.  You know what you’re getting with Waffle House and they know that you know it isn’t going to be a 5 star meal.  These other restaurants think they are genuinely good which contributes to the trashiness.  For that reason, Waffle House has my respect. 95% of breakfast chains and 100% of buffets would be on this list had I eaten at every restaurant.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Cindy

    What a riot—thank you for this! The best way to start off the day/week is with a good laugh and I currently have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. I haven’t been to all of these places, but I agree with most. I know the Cheesecake Factory is trash, but if loving it is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. I’ll never get around to eating a third of the items on their menu because I go there maybe once or twice a year. It reminds me of Vegas where no matter how certain hotels might present themselves, really they’re all trash. Every now and then trashiness can be fun though.

  2. Cammie

    Cracker barrel is disgusting! But I will fight you about the ranch.

  3. Katie

    I have never laughed so hard at something 😂 this is so great.

  4. M. M.

    Golden Corral gave me PTSD! My FIL made us all go there once when visiting Boise, ID. We sat down and while everyone got up to get food, I was facing the dessert section of the buffet… Three unattended kids were taking the spoons from the various sundae toppings and using them to just walk around the desserts spooning things into their mouths, over and over again. A freaking employee was right there! I told my husband that there was absolutely no way I’d be eating there. He agreed and we ate the only thing that was served to us (bread rolls) and we pissed off my FIL because he had paid for us. While we sat there watching other people eat, it just got worse. We ended up getting Mexican carry out later.

    So vile, that place. This happened over 15 years ago and I can still picture it.

  5. Josephine

    I’m so glad someone else finally said it about Buffalo Wild Wings. For 27 years I thought I was the only one who thought their wings were awful!

  6. Kelli

    Make Americans Cook Again!!
    Really loved listening to this, thanks for your input Josh – this made me chuckle so hard!

  7. EB

    Buffalo Wild Wings literally blows, it’s the absolutely worst thing. The fact that their carrots are better than their wings says all you need to know.

  8. Louise Bennett

    Yes, you aren’t wrong! Golden Corral is disgusting. Bonus from COVID…no buffets. One place my family misses is Fresh Choice, though. :/

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