Grabbing a drink from a chain restaurant can be a slippery slope. Restaurants like Applebee’s and Red Lobster aren’t necessarily known for their high-quality crafted cocktails served up by a mixologist, after all. And for those who are cocktail snobs, it’s generally better to rethink your priorities when it comes to a visit to your neighborhood grill.
Some people are of the opinion that chain restaurants intentionally serve up overly-sugary drinks to cover up the fact they’re using bottom shelf liquor and under-pouring. And it’s possible that is the case. But for those who couldn’t care less about quality and just want a happy hour drink for a good deal, chain restaurant bars are generally the way to go. In fact, some chains even intend it that way, like when Applebee’s introduced cocktails for only a dollar.
But while those giant, neon blue sugar bombs have a special place in our heart at some point in our lives, there are a few cocktails that you should absolutely never order at chain restaurants. Whether it’s because of their insane sugar content, the potential danger their list of ingredients may pose, or the fact they just taste plain awful, we put together a list of chain restaurant cocktails that you should really reconsider ordering.
Red Lobster’s Caramel Appletini
If you’re looking for an absolute sugar bomb, then Red Lobster’s Caramel Appletini may be just the drink for you — but who really seeks that out? Made with vodka, DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker, a splash of citrus, and swirled with caramel, this cocktail sounds like it would taste just like a caramel apple… sort of.
Libation Magazine says a balanced cocktail should feature alcohol, sweet, bitter, and sour to achieve the ideal mixture. And while this cocktail employs ingredients that would seem to create the ideal cocktail, the sweet caramel has the ability to overpower everything else in the glass.
According to Matt Merkin for Liquor, this stop on his chain restaurant cocktail crawl offered him pretty much exactly what he expected — a caramel apple soaked in booze. But as he reflects on the visit, he goes on to note, "I try to remember the last time I went to a dentist, and am still worrying about this as I pay and leave." Cavity cocktail, anyone?
Outback’s Huckleberry Hooch Moonshine
Going out for a few drinks can mean taking in hundreds of extra calories, so it’s understandable that you might be scanning the menu for the skinniest options. But those ultra-low calorie counts aren’t the only thing to keep in mind, and there are a few cocktails out there that can trick you.
Outback’s Huckleberry Hooch Moonshine made with Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine, muddled berries, orange, pineapple and cranberry juice sounds like the perfect fruity solution, especially when it tops out at only 140 calories. But when you really start to dive in, you realize that this cocktail packs a huge sugar punch. According to Outback’s nutrition information, you’ll get an astounding 116 grams of sugar in that one cocktail, which is more than double the amount in Outback‘s House Margarita and more than twice the sugar in a Key Lime Pie Martini.
According to the American Heart Association, men should be limiting their daily sugar intake to 36 grams, while women should keep it around 25 grams, so is more than triple the recommended amount really worth the splurge? To put that into perspective, one Huckleberry Hooch Moonshine contains about the same sugar content as three cans of regular Coke.
Olive Garden’s Long Island Limoncello
According to Thrillist, the history of the classic Long Island iced tea goes way back to the 1920s when a man threw rum, whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, and maple syrup all together in one drink. The perfected recipe was then printed in a Betty Crocker cookbook in the 1960s, eliminating the whiskey and maple syrup, and adding lemon juice, triple sec, and a bit of Coca-Cola.
With such a dated history, it’s no surprise that the recipe for a Long Island iced tea can be mixed in a million different ways, and each bar-goer will have an opinion on how well a bar can craft up this classic stiff drink. But, is it possible to go a little too off base?
According to Olive Garden, their Long Island Limoncello combines Caravella Limoncello with vodka, rum, and triple sec. That’s it. And while it’s sometimes fine to combine a bunch of alcohol in a glass and call it a day, it may not be that delicious after all. According to Buzzfeed, the flavor of the cocktail is a little bit like great grandma’s hard lemon candies mixed with notes of dish soap. And if the poor flavor doesn’t get you, the appearance will. "Soap flavor sounds like a bad thing, but it matches well with the murky brown color and gives you the opportunity to imagine that you’re drinking bathwater," says Buzzfeed writer Joanna Borns.
TGI Fridays’ Diddy on the Beach
While the combination of vodka, Malibu Coconut, Tropical Red Bull, blueberries, and fresh agave sour sounds like an absolutely delicious sipper, you may want to reconsider TGI Fridays‘ little Diddy on the Beach cocktail. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink featuring vodka and rum, but once you add Red Bull to the mix, it’s taken to the next level.
According to Medical Daily, when you consume alcohol your brain experiences an increase in dopamine, ultimately synthesizing with norepinephrine and offering those fun feelings of excitement and impulsiveness. This is, after all, why most people enjoy drinking. But as your blood alcohol level begins to drop, and alcohol decreases brain function in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thought, it all explains why we tend to act stupidly when under the influence. When you consume energy drinks, the adenosine molecule is blocked, no longer telling the brain it’s tired. Ultimately, it makes it pretty difficult to realize you’re still drunk, causing you to continue drinking and potentially make poor choices. That combo not only makes you dangerously stupid, but it also may raise your risk of an abnormal heartbeat and high blood pressure.
This mixture is the exact reason why the FDA banned alcoholic energy drinks, but there’s nothing stopping bars from mixing the two in a drink. And although some are capable of consuming this mixture in a responsible way, it’s better to just stay away from the potential adverse effects.
Red Lobster’s Lobsterita
If you’ve ever stepped foot into a chain restaurant, you have seen those giant goblets filled to the brim with a sugary, frothy drink. The Red Lobster Strawberry Lobsterita is the epitome of that drink. According to Red Lobster, this extra-large frozen margarita arrives at the table, and when it does, you know it’s a party. But a 500-calorie party may be a little much.
Yes, you read that right. This behemoth comes with 500 calories per cocktail. For those serious Red Lobster lovers, to put that into true perspective, you could eat three whole Cheddar Bay Biscuits and still not quite reach that calorie count.
Once you consider that the majority of those calories are coming from carbohydrates, this drink may stop you in your tracks. Each carb you consume amounts to four calories, so with 82 grams of carbohydrates in one drink, we’re really not sure this monstrosity is worth it. Typically, the daily recommended intake for carbs is based on the number of calories you should consume. With a typical 2000-calorie-per-day diet, you’re looking at consuming 25 percent of your daily calories, as well as more than one-third of your daily carb intake, all before you even dive in on that lobster and steak. Ouch.
Red Robin’s Sand In Your Shorts
Who really wants sand in their shorts, anyway? Red Robin’s beachy Sand In Your Shorts cocktail, complete with Midori, vodka, peach schnapps, and triple sec, combines a long list of sweet, sweet alcohol. Midori is an almost-neon green melon liqueur, while peach schnapps offers a syrupy peach flavor. So combine sweet and syrupy with both orange juice and cranberry juice, as well as raspberry syrup, and you have quite the concoction.
The drink was one of the cocktails introduced in 2011 when Red Robin announced its latest marketing effort, the "YUMMM" campaign, and the Sand in Your Shorts cocktail was included on the first-ever separate Drinks and Desserts Menu. And for some reason, it seems to have stuck since then.
This coral-hued drink is served up in a tall glass, and if you’re lucky you might get an orange slice and a cherry on top. But either way, you’re still sure to get the 370 calories and 55 grams of sweet, sweet sugar that comes with all of those syrupy add-ins. Cheers to a ridiculously sweet summertime.
Marie Callender’s Pina Colada
When you think of Marie Callender’s, you typically think of a chicken pot pie from the freezer aisle or a multiple inches-tall slice of lemon meringue pie. You don’t really think of Marie’s as a destination for happy hour or the best cocktail in town, so if you find yourself there you may want to skip the alcoholic beverage altogether. Or, at least skip the piña colada.
According to Chowhound, the original piña colada cocktail may have gotten its start in the early 1800s when a Puerto Rican pirate mixed up the drink to boost morale for his crew. But it didn’t really gain popularity until the 1950s. Either way, this island-inspired bevvy is typically made with rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, and lime juice. From there, it’s either shaken with ice or blended to get that frothy texture.
According to Marie Callender’s, their piña colada is served up as a delicious blend of Captain Morgan rum and piña colada mix. That’s it. One has to wonder what exactly might be in that mix. What we do know is that it comes with 460 calories, 83 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of fat in only 6.5 ounces. Yikes.
Ruby Tuesday’s Signature Sangria
While reading "made to order" on a menu is generally a good sign, that’s not the case for Ruby Tuesday’s Signature Sangria. Sangria is one of the easiest big-batch cocktails to make, and it’s widely accepted as such, so why would Ruby Tuesday opt to serve up made-to-order sangria options?
At its base, sangria typically starts with cheap wine, or old wine that’s been open in a restaurant for too long. The beauty of sangria is that it gives you a use for that vinegary, opened-too-long wine without dumping alcohol (aka money) down the drain. But with old wine as the base, there is a reason sangria has a resting period when prepared properly, and according to The Kitchn, that resting period is absolutely imperative. If you taste your mixture when it’s first stirred, you won’t have the fruity sweetness you normally love with sangria — it’ll just be unbalanced and harsh.
While there is no evidence that Ruby Tuesday is using old wine and just adding it to a glass with some fruit before it goes to a table, if it is truly made to order, what they’re serving is definitely not your classic sangria. It may be wildly delicious, but for those looking for a true sangria, it’s definitely not the beverage to order.
Chili’s Spicy Sauza Jalapeno Margarita
While most people love the tangy lime flavor of a good marg, complete with a salted glass rim, you may want to reconsider a margarita that’s served with an astonishing 2,320 milligrams of sodium. It turns out that Chili’s Spicy Sauza Jalapeño Margarita has as much sodium as some of the meals on their menu. The marg serves up 570 milligrams more sodium than the Chili Beef Burger, and double the amount of sodium in their Country-Fried Steak with Gravy. While that may not seem terribly daunting, when you compare the 2,320 milligrams to the recommended daily allowance of sodium, it might make you reconsider.
According to Healthline, it’s estimated that your body only really needs 186 milligrams of sodium to function effectively, but because it’s found naturally in pretty well everything, consuming that amount would be impossible. According to the World Health Organization, 2,000 milligrams per day is the ideal, while the American Heart Association urges no more than 2,300 milligrams each day, but recommends a much lower 1,500 milligrams as ideal. While official recommendations vary, especially depending on a person’s lifestyle, no matter which organization you pay attention to, that marg is still going to tap you out for the entire day.
Olive Garden’s Chocolate Almond Amore
For most bartenders, whipping up a blended drink is the bane of their existence. They’re complicated, messy, and noisy, so most bartenders don’t even want a place for them in their bar. And while blended margaritas and piña coladas have a special place in all of our hearts, doesn’t the addition of ice cream just take things to a new level? Are we even talking about a cocktail at this point?
Listed as one of their "Traditional Favorites," Olive Garden’s Chocolate Almond Amore is a mixture of ice cream, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, and amaretto liqueur. It’s all blended up, poured into a giant glass swirled with chocolate, and topped with whipped cream. With 540 calories and 124 grams of sugar, and remember, ICE CREAM, you might as well call this thing a dessert. Really though, you could be eating almost four whole Olive Garden breadsticks for the same calorie content. And is there even a debate between which to choose at that point?
Red Robin’s House Margarita
Margaritas are a popular drink order, whether you prefer it served up, on the rocks, or frozen, with salt or no salt, and every other option in between. In fact, according to Beverage Industry, 60 percent of Americans say a good marg is their favorite bar beverage.
A classic margarita recipe is typically composed of tequila, of course, mixed with orange liqueur such as triple sec or Cointreau, along with fresh lime juice, and some sort of sweetener such as simple syrup or agave syrup. It’s not a terribly complicated cocktail, which is how it was intended. Rumored to have been invented based on a woman’s request to have an adult beverage despite her allergy to all hard liquor other than tequila, one bartender set out to make straight-up tequila shots a little bit more respectable.
So given the ease of mixing up a margarita, it’s odd that Red Robin would choose to take even more of a shortcut. According to the restaurant’s website, their House Margarita is a frozen margarita with just tequila and margarita mix, but it can also be served on the rocks. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to use drink mixes, but if you’re really looking for a good margarita, one might consider what’s actually being put into this mix. Otherwise, it’s just as simple as add alcohol and serve, and you can find a better marg out there than that.
Vodka soda from anywhere
Vodka soda is one of the simplest cocktails you could ever order. After all, it is literally just ice and vodka topped with soda, sometimes with a lemon or lime if you’re feeling crazy. And the beauty of that combo is that you could sip it all day and all night long.
The downfall of the vodka soda is in the preparation. Often, chain restaurants may only carry bottom-shelf liquor options. And if they do, and you don’t specifically ask for your preferred brand, that well liquor is what you’ll get. Some restaurants, like TGI Fridays, were even once accused of filling premium bottles with well brands and still charging customers top dollar.
And while some people are totally fine with well, when you look at the profit margin for what you’re actually getting, you might as well go with something with a little more heft. According to Deadspin, a bottle of generic vodka typically sets a business back $7. With that, they’d typically get 22.5 1.5-ounce pours from a bottle, so the actual cost of alcohol in your single vodka soda is only about 31 cents. Add in your ice and soda and you’re up to about 44 cents. Bar prices fluctuate anywhere you go, but according to Deadspin, if you’re paying $5.75 for your drink, the restaurant is looking at a markup of over 1,200 percent.