There’s a reason cocktail enthusiasts avoid chain restaurants: They tend to serve overly saccharine cocktails that are, generally speaking, void of personality. But love them or hate them, you can almost always find a chain restaurant, whether you’re on the coast or in the depths of suburbia. Sometimes they’re your only option for a sit-down dinner, or you might just be craving a plate of mozzarella sticks from your local Applebee’s (we may or may not be speaking from experience). Though some chains like TGI Friday’s have made an effort in recent years to improve their cocktail game, most remain a risky venture for discerning drinkers.
But because each chain has a standardized way of doing things, you’ll be able to count on at least a modicum of consistency for a handful of cocktails, no matter which location you’re at—be it a TGI Fridays, Chili’s, Chevy’s, Yard House or any other big player. The next time you find yourself craving a boozy treat while sitting at your local Outback Steakhouse bar, here are the three safest cocktails to order.
Our guiding principle when deciding on a drink at a questionable chain restaurant bar is this: Keep it as simple as possible. For this reason, the Moscow Mule is a perfect choice, as it combines vodka, ginger beer and lime juice for a fizzy, refreshing effect. The worst thing you might experience with the humble Mule is a bartender using sweet ginger ale instead of spicy ginger beer. But it’s better than getting stuck with this.
Ordering a classic cocktail in a chain restaurant can quickly take your experience from fun to horribly unpleasant. From watered down Manhattans to overly sweet Mojitos with shards of mint waiting to get stuck in your front teeth, you never quite know what you’ll get. The one classic aside from the Moscow Mule that we’ve found to be somewhat safe is the Margarita. Whether it’s thanks to tequila’s powerful, earthy kick or because each place uses a mix instead of creating it from scratch, this will forever be our go-to chain restaurant sip. A Margarita from a slushy machine is even better—it’s so cold and icy, you won’t be able to taste the cheap tequila.
Like Margaritas, Sangria is one of those standard drinks that you can count on most restaurant bars to serve. Even cheap red wine makes a decent Sangria, so odds are you won’t immediately regret your decision. Though some Sangrias err on the side of sweet, thanks to the addition of fruity liqueurs or because the bar is using a bottled Sangria, be honest with yourself: Did you really expect that glass of sweetened red wine to rival your own go-to recipe? We didn’t think so.