Unveiling Dollarita & Applebee’s Insane $1 Drink Deals

I first heard whispers of the Dollarita’s return in August. I’d long accepted that the Applebee’s dollar drink special would end up a mythic tale I’d tell to my grandchildren one day, something to illustrate the magic of the “good old days.” Could the infamous beverage deal really be back? The answer was yes. On October 1, Applebee’s rung in the spookiest season with an impressive feat of necromancy. “Dollarita’s back. You’re welcome, America,” read one sign at an Illinois branch of the fast-casual chain. The Dollar Drink Special had returned from the grave for one final performance.  

Let’s take it back to the beginning: it all started on September 26, 2017, after the Glendale, CA Applebee’s released a press statement saying that as part of “Neighborhood Appreciation Month,” the chain would be offering a ONE DOLLAR margarita aptly, if clumsily, called the “Dollarita.” And so the dollar drink special was born.

The Dollarita’s Origin Story

The announcement came on the tail of a slow few years for the fast-casual dining scene and nearly 130 restaurant closures. Applebee’s was in trouble, and they knew it. The company had to re-strategize; leadership changes in 2017 and 2018 led the franchise away from the trendy and back to the basics. The drink special was meant to emphasize the “bar” in Applebee’s Bar & Grill and show customers a little love, according to Patrick Kirk, Vice President of Beverage Innovation (a job that sounds completely real and very serious). While this may be the case, it’s also likely that the company took a risk on a loss-leader offer, which refers to a product at a low price in order to encourage business and attract more customers. 

The strategy worked, obviously: America simply LOVES a good deal. The drink special drove customers back to the chain in droves, and boosted sales significantly: Applebee’s notched a 5.5% jump in sales the year following the first Dollarita. In an October 2019 interview, former Applebee’s president John Cywinski said that more than 55 million dollar drinks had been sold since the inception of the program.

From Dollarita to Dollarmama… and Beyond

It was the beginning of a new era. Expanding from Dollaritas, Applebee’s began to experiment with other $1 drink specials. While the Dollarita always made an appearance, other hits included the tropical Malibu Bahama Dollarmama, the festive Dollar Jolly, the Vodka Rum Frostbite, and a litany of other saccharine boozy sips. While some suspected the chain watered down the cheap drinks, they were certainly still strong enough to fuel any night out and inspire countless memes. While getting drunk at Applebee’s isn’t exactly a novel experience, the dollar special made it an event in its own right, an Americana ritual that didn’t break the bank. 


Applebee’s employees were markedly less jazzed about the new deal than their customer base: many servers and bartenders working at the chain were given no notice of the drink special, only to be mobbed by thrifty, thirsty diners the day the special began. Some locations brought in extra bar staff for the first few months of the craze: one for making dollar specials, and another to handle every other drink order. While Applebee’s denied it, employees revealed the secret recipe to the special was batching the drinks in whatever massive bucket they had on and. “The recipe was insane,” one former bartender told Allrecipes. “[It was ] one of those giant 22 quart Cambro. One bottle of this cheap margarita mix, a bottle of the no-brand house tequila, and the rest with tap water. When it started I was making about four every day.” The recipe seemed to vary from location to location, though, so the drink was often a bit more dialectal than it was precise. 

The number of customers wasn’t the only problem, though: predictably, overconsumption tended to cause trouble for staff, and the tips were often abysmal. One server tells Allrecipes that “the absolute worst time to work was during half-off apps when the $1 drink special was happening… prices were so low people didn’t tend to tip as much.” However, others recall that the lure tactic of the special tended to work: once they were in the door, guests often bought more food, ordered extra courses like dessert, and upgraded to other, higher quality drinks after a couple of the dollar beverages.  

After an impressive comeback in the year prior, Applebee’s growth had slowed slightly by the end of 2019. With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the beloved $1 Long Island Iced Tea (the LIT) became the last dollar special to grace Applebee’s menus. The chain quietly stopped announcing dollar drink specials amid pandemic closure. Upon reopening, the Dollarita and Dollar Jolly had been replaced by Mucho Sips, drink offerings that focused more on volume and ingredients than insane price points.

New Beginnings

Now, it’s back. While the chain claims the special’s return is limited to the month of October, hope abounds in the heart of Americans across the country. It’s a tender reminder of brighter days that makes it difficult to suppress optimism about the deal’s permanent return. We’d give anything to return to the heyday of the dollar drink, and nostalgia is a huge sell in the beverage world these days (looking at you, Sunny D hard seltzer). The return of the Dollarita is an effective PR move for Applebee’s, and could serve the same purpose as the original: getting customers in the door.

The restaurant is pushing Mucho Sips harder than ever, with two Halloween-themed cocktails they’ve dubbed “Spooky Sips.” Sure, Mucho Sips are a fun and spirited homage to the monthly dollar special, but they don’t inspire the same fervor as the Dollaritas. They’re the $5 dollar bridesmaid to the $1 bride.

Whether the Dollar Drink Special becomes a menu mainstay again or returns to the realm of daydreams is left to be seen. And if its comeback really is just another October haunting? Don’t look for me ‘til November.