The restaurant chain world has seen quite a few outstanding franchises in its time. Joe's Crab Shack and Buffalo Wild Wings, for example, have a ton of loyal fans who use them as their go-to venues. Even Taco Bell and McDonald's have a fairly loyal customer base, and that tends to allude to some degree of success.
However, as good (or edible) as most of these chains are, there are some that are just plain awful. After one too many bad management decisions or one too many terrible recipes, there's a certain point where a chain becomes one of the worst restaurant chains ever made.
The following restaurant chains are notoriously bad, and might end up being known as the worst restaurant chains in the country's history of franchise dining.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Chi-Chi's was one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the nation. However, this Midwestern restaurant chain was only rapidly expanding for one reason: there really weren't any Tex-Mex restaurants in the Midwest.
So, in the Midwest, it was either Chi-Chi's or no Mexican restaurants at all. This means that, even in its pinnacle, Chi-Chi's was known for its mediocrity. Unfortunately, it only got worse from there.
As the restaurant attempted to expand into major cities, management began to notice that the restaurants couldn't actually compete with the Mexican restaurants there. Every time they opened up a restaurant in a city like New York or Miami, Chi-Chi's would end up getting closed due to a lack of business.
Soon, other Mexican chains began to move into the Midwest. Executives, in a panic, lowered food prices — and quality — even more than they already were. Eventually, chain branch after chain branch closed.
The Chi-Chi's brand ended up getting whittled down to a couple of restaurants in Pennsylvania and a series of food products.
Chi-Chi's declared bankruptcy, and they were bought by another restaurant group in hopes of a revival. The last restaurants in the franchise shuttered in 2004 after a massive outbreak of Hepatitis A.
Around 660 people were infected, and a number of them died. Lawsuits further bludgeoned them into the ground and sealed their reputation as one of the worst restaurant chains ever created.
Stateside, Chi-Chi's is little more than a line of salsas. However, there are still a number of Chi-Chi's outside of America.
Fashion Cafe was a great idea — on paper. Sort of.
This restaurant chain was the brainchild of supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Elle Macpherson, and Claudia Schiffer. The ladies, who had teamed up with restaurateurs Francesco and Tommaso Buti of Italy, hoped to create a massive chain of restaurants similar to the Hard Rock Cafe.
The restaurant chain opened in New York City, and later London, to great fanfare and celebrity backing. However, there were a slew of problems that didn't really make for a good restaurant.
Though there was plenty of press, there wasn't plenty of money. This led to locations being rather threadbare, considering how glamorous they were supposed to be.
Next, the Fashion Cafe had one of the most backwards ideas on what a fashion and modeling-themed cafe should have on a menu. The menu choices, mixed with the bizarrely fashion-focused and sexual atmosphere, was what made this one of the worst restaurant chains ever made.
Intuitively, anyone who is trying to cater to the fashion crowd could tell you that the best menu for a crowd that's obsessed with images would be light fare using trendy ingredients. What ended up on the Fashion Cafe menu, though, was the polar opposite of light fare.
The entire menu featured dainty dishes like Naomi's Fish and Chips, as well as Elle Macpherson's contribution of sauce-slathered barbecued shrimp. Dessert packed a wallop too, with options like ice cream-loaded pancakes on the menu.
Clearly, the models in charge didn't eat the food they served; otherwise, they wouldn't be so thin. People also picked up on that, and unsurprisingly, their appetites vanished whenever they'd hit up the restaurant chain.
Between the menu debacle, and offering "reasonably priced" small-sized fashion items that cost as much as $1,500, it's easy to see why this restaurant chain went bankrupt.
To make matters worse, the Buti brothers were later charged with fraud and money laundering as a result of the restaurant's strange cases of missing money.
Everything about this was awkward — the food, the waitresses, the aftermath, the clothing line, everything. In terms of planning, it was one of the worst restaurant chains ever made up by celebrities.
Of all the restaurant chains to be on this list, Bill Knapp's might be one of the most tragically terrible in terms of food quality. This restaurant franchise, though, is more or less a warning to other restaurants what happens if you take your clients for granted.
Bill Knapp's didn't really start off as one of the worst restaurant chains ever made to exist. Rather, it turned out that way due to a crisis of customer base and poor management.
Originally, this down-home chain restaurant was all about making home cooked meals with fresh ingredients — and serving them at a reasonable price. Needless to say, people used to love this restaurant in the 1940s, and would bring their kids there for family dinners.
However, the problem began to arise when the customer base stayed the exact same into the 50s, 60s, and later. By 1975, most of the clients were the adults and senior citizens that visited the restaurant back in the early 40s as kids, teens, and young adults.
The chain tried to do a full image overhaul, which ended up failing miserably. During the overhaul, they switched fresh ingredients for things like Kraft macaroni & cheese and Lipton's tea, which obviously would upset any restaurant goer.
As bad as the menu revamp was, the image revamp proved fatal. The overhaul alienated loyal customers, and came off as a cheap trick to younger customers.
By the mid-90s, almost all the foods were frozen, and the only people who went there were living fossils who could no longer taste food. Understandably, it became known as one of the worst chain restaurants ever made to cater to seniors...and the last one shuttered in 2002.
Applebee's International, Inc.
Most likely the worst chain restaurant to still be open nationwide, Applebee's is somewhat of a legacy in terms of how awful chain restaurants can really be. Many would argue that it's the worst of the worst chain restaurants ever made.
The decor at Applebee's is infamously tacky, taking a cue from fern bars of the 1970s. The drinks are sugary to the point of nausea-inducing, and the food is famously microwaved. The microwaving might be forgivable if it wasn't for the fact that the food is an oily mess filled with food tenderizer.
Menu-wise, nothing is fresh, everything is oily and over-tenderized, and the drinks will give you diabetes. Ironically, their slogan has been, "Eating good in the neighborhood" for quite some time.
It's so terrible, it's basically used as a euphemism for cheap, poor-quality, bad-tasting meals. Applebee's is the kind of place you go to when you really just hate yourself or the people you're with.
Eating at home would be better and cheaper than anything Applebee's has to offer. How it's still open is beyond understanding, and may be one of the few mysteries science has yet to uncover.
When you go to a fast food venue, you're not expecting great food. In fact, it's basically assumed that you're looking for cheap, fast food that may taste a little strange but generally won't be outstandingly horrible. Standards are far lower with fast food, even though you can find healthy fast food lunches out there.
Perhaps one of the only fast food chains to make it to this list is Sbarro. The reason why it's on this list is that Sbarro somehow manages to fail at even providing adequate fast food. Sbarro is so terrible that it regularly tops lists of the worst chain restaurants ever made — especially when it comes to fast food chains.
But, that's not the only thing that shows signs of it being bad; Sbarro also closed hundreds of stores in the past couple of years and regularly declares bankruptcy.
The pizza is not really pizza, as much as it is a food-like object that has the consistency of corrugated cardboard topped with a defunct thermoplastic. The food isn't fresh and it's so bad you can taste the preservatives in it.
As a result, we have to say that the pizza at Sbarro is best used as a paperweight or a tool to show little kids what a garbage can is supposed to do. It's really not edible.
If you ask most pizza lovers, Domino's Pizza is one of the worst restaurant chains ever made — pizza or otherwise.
Much like Sbarro, it's become synonymous with terrible pizza. Also like Sbarro, their pizza is best used as a doorstop/paperweight/form of cannon fodder. Even more like Sbarro their ingredients are not fresh in the least and you can taste preservatives in their pizza.
Unlike Sbarro's, Domino's actually did try to salvage their image.
In an effort to help the company's ailing image, executives ran ads saying that Domino's was going to improve their recipes and use fresh ingredients. The pizza there is so terrible, they even ran a campaign called "Our Pizza Sucks."
When customers didn't buy the apology, the executives at Domino's Pizza ended up dropping the "pizza" part of the franchise name. So, now the chain is known as Domino's, and it's still famous for its terrible food.
In many ways, Denny's was destined to be one of the worst restaurant chains ever created — at least, in terms of this century. People don't want to eat food that is basically heart attack fodder.
Denny's is known for having deep fried food, breakfast foods that are inedible, and for having coffee that tastes like acrid garbage water. It's the lair of morbidly obese truckers, and it's generally a place go when you want your waistline to die.
In recent years, it looks like the casual restaurant chain gave up on itself. Even their Twitter marketing campaign has the general air of, "screw it."
The important thing is that you tried, Denny's.
There's a certain flavor profile one begins to expect with bad food chains. Most of the worst restaurant chains ever made involve too much salt, too much sauce, too much butter, and potentially microwaved bullshit passed as food.
Olive Garden is no exception to this rule.
In fact, Olive Garden has basically mastered the art of creating terrible food and getting people to pay for it. The menu isn't authentic Italian, but the chain regularly claims that it is.
The pasta isn't al dente as much as it is a greasy, floppy, gross mess. The breadsticks are unlimited, but good luck actually eating a bunch without getting the itis.
This is the only casual food chain that has year-long "pasta passes," that you can buy. In most other chains, this would be amazing and a superb value.
However, since it's Olive Garden, the only review it got was that a poor writer ended up passing out during the unlimited pasta fest they were forced to undergo.
Despite the bad review, the pasta passes continued to sell out. So, there's probably some seriously starving people out there — or they are desperate. Yikes.