8 Chain Restaurant Soups You Should Never Order

Multiple bowls of colorful soups
Multiple bowls of colorful soups - Ozgur Coskun/Getty Images

What's your go-to answer to the age-old and inevitable restaurant question "Soup or salad?" It's a tough decision, even for the most seasoned of diners, and one which shouldn't be taken lightly as it can change the trajectory of your entire meal.

Adaptable, fresh, and full of nutrients, salads take you down a lighter and more healthful path. On the other hand, soup has that certain je ne sais quoi with its rich, flavorful, and hearty nature. At many establishments, you can't go wrong with either selection. But, at others, you'll want to be a tad more scrupulous in your decision-making.

Some chain restaurant versions of stews, chowders, bisques, and even chili are a sad excuse for soup, guaranteed to disappoint time and time again. Based on my own unfortunate experiences with many of these offerings, coupled with scathing reviews easily found across the internet, I've assembled a list of cups and bowls you should aim to avoid the next time you find yourself dining with the masses. When it comes down to these bland, greasy, sodium-filled, or even straight-up misleading soups, a trusty salad will always be the safer choice. Soups are definitely off rather than on in this rare case.

Read more: 20 Popular Canned Soups, Ranked Worst To Best

Romano's Macaroni Grill Tomato Basil Soup

Bowl of tomato basil soup with parsley on top
Bowl of tomato basil soup with parsley on top - Isay Bandales/Facebook

When you're yearning for classic Italian comfort food, Romano's Macaroni Grill answers the call. From butternut tortellacci to Mom's Ricotta Meatballs and Spaghetti, the dishes at the chain's 31 locations invite you to do as the Romans do by siting back and warming your soul with a heaping pile of carbs and fresh Italian ingredients.

However, one longstanding menu item that has proven time and time again to be anything but cozy or capable of settling your Italiano cravings is the tomato basil soup. A close cousin to the red sauce slathered on spaghetti, chicken parmesan, and everything in between, one would expect the chain to put forth a zuppa di pomodoro that is creamy, full-bodied, and spiced to perfection. Instead, customers are faced with a watered-down, monotonous conglomeration of the red fruit.

It's unfortunate, but Romano's Macaroni Grill ranks as on of the least appetizing chain restaurant tomato soups. In an attempt to sweep its failed attempt under the rug, Romano's dresses up the liquified antipasto with fresh basil and other herbs. But don't be fooled. Some reviewers have declared the soup as being devoid of flavor, akin to spooning tomatoes right out of the can. At its best, others have likened it to tomatoes pureed with copious amounts of salt.

Chili's Chili

Bowl of chili with tortilla strips on top
Bowl of chili with tortilla strips on top - Chili's

You would think a chain explicitly named Chili's would put forth a chili to rule all chilis — the kind of recipe that wins cook-offs by a landslide of meat, spice, and sapidity. But alas, quite the opposite rings true. This is one chain restaurant soup that we've found distasteful during our attempts at sampling it. According to employees spilling the beans on Reddit, it's also one that gets sent back more than any other.

As a true Texas red chili, you won't find any beans or tomatoes in the recipe, just beef, onions, and a signature blend of spices. This fact alone sparks debate, especially for Midwesterners whose opinion of chili holds that the more beans, the better. If this was just a battle of ingredients, it wouldn't be a problem. Only, the real issue lies not in the components but the taste itself.

Some reviews reveal that the chain may have switched out its recipe recently — an ill-advised change for the worse if you ask us. Users on the same Reddit thread shared that the new recipe both tastes and smells like black licorice. Based on our own recent experiences, we can't say that the taste is a dead ringer for the potent and controversial candies, but there's definitely something funky going on here. Plus, excess grease and salt additionally plague the chili — the final straw for this chain's disheartening namesake.

Red Lobster's New England Clam Chowder

Bowl of New England clam chowder with crackers
Bowl of New England clam chowder with crackers - Red Lobster/Facebook

The seafood-stocked chain Red Lobster offers plenty of deep-sea favorites. Bar Harbor Lobster Bake and biscuits from the fictitious Cheddar Bay anyone? But, as with any national chain, there are also dishes you should avoid at the Red Lobster, and the New England clam chowder is one of them.

Nicknamed a maritime mess by this writer, research into reviews reveal other customers who have claimed the chowder is more often than not watery and runny, resembling a thin broth of clams rather than having the heft that chowder is known for. It's even be compared to a label-less canned soup, with some saying that a tin of Campbell's soup would have more density. From our tasting, the slivers of clam are small fish in a large pond, hardly noticeable and outnumbered by stodgy spuds. To make matters worse, in the past, we've found bowls of the pseudo-chowder to be almost chalky and salty to the extreme, bogged down with 1,350 milligrams of sodium found in each bowl.

Never once filling us up, or even warming us up on a chilly day as it's often served at room temperature, the soup isn't worthy of its $8.99 price tag and certainly doesn't make our list as one of Red Lobster's prized catches. We'd recommend throwing this one back and seeking out other more palatable fish in the sea.

BJ's Restaurants And Brewhouse Chicken Tortilla Soup

Bowl of chicken tortilla soup with tortilla strips
Bowl of chicken tortilla soup with tortilla strips - BJ's Restaurants and Brewhouse

We understand that not all restaurant foods will resemble the photos seen online or in advertisements. Burgers rarely look as plump or scrumptious in real life and salads are never as fresh and crisp as they let on. But, the chicken tortilla soup at BJ's Restaurants takes this phenomenon to a whole other level.

Even with its cheese, avocado, and tortilla strip adornments, this soup arrived at our table resembling a bowlful of dishwater with various-colored floaters — presumably the corn and tomatoes, accompanied by other unidentifiable bits. The appearance was off-putting, to say the least, and the taste wasn't much better.

Like many soups, this chicken tortilla is on the salty side, chock full of Southwestern spices and sporting 1,853 milligrams of sodium per bowl. Plus, it seems to be missing one of its most essential ingredients: the chicken. You'd be lucky to come away with two to three small chunks, and without the dish's main source of protein, it boils down to nothing more than a lackluster and broth-forward vegetable soup. Unfortunately, other customers have reported encountering identical issues when dining at the restaurant — meaning this tortilla soup fiasco isn't just a one-time flub. As such, it's a starter we would personally pass on in exchange for nearly anything else on BJ's robust menu.

Jason's Deli Broccoli Cheese Soup

Bowl of broccoli cheddar soup from Jason's Deli
Bowl of broccoli cheddar soup from Jason's Deli - Jason's Deli/Instagram

As a well-established delicatessen, you would probably assume that most soups at Jason's Deli are top-notch with a taste like each bite was ladled with love by an expert potager. And, you would be correct. As long as you don't order the broccoli cheese — not only one of the chain's worst soups but one of the overally worst dishes at Jason's Deli, as reported by Mashed.

Out of all the chain's slurpable cups, from fire roasted tortilla to spicy seafood gumbo, this murky yellow blend lands as one of the most humdrum and least impressive. For starters, the broth is inconsistent: in our consecutive visits, we've found it as either thin and watery or overly dense and gloopy with no happy medium. To say it's "cheesy" seems like a bit of a stretch as the flavor of butter is more prominent, and the base is broken up only by small-scale broccoli bits that we wouldn't dare call florets.

It's tough competition, but many customers agree that Panera's broccoli cheddar rendition is multitudes better, even though Jason's is served fresh from the pot. At Panera, you can also spruce things up by having your veggie-packed soup served in a bread bowl. So, there's really no contest in our minds, even with the knowledge that Panera's bread bowls are a far cry from authentic sourdough.

P.F. Chang's Hot & Sour Soup

Bowl of hot and sour soup
Bowl of hot and sour soup - P.F. Chang's/Facebook

Alongside dim sum, sushi, and steamed edamame, soup is another traditional starter at Chinese restaurants. Whether it's egg drop or wonton, the dish wets your palette and eases you into your meal with a warm and flavorful hug. As a lunch or dinner accessory, it's also assumed that it will be light on the stomach to avoid ruining your feast before it even begins. Evidently, P.F. Chang's didn't get this memo when it mashed together its Hot & Sour Soup.

The combination of rich and tangy broth, tofu, chicken, bamboo shoots, and egg eats like a full-blown meal — and not in a good way. Its salt levels tip the scale, with just one bowl containing an loaded 930 milligrams of sodium. And the briny flavor hasn't subsided as far as we can tell from recent visits. Each spoonful is like lapping up a puddle of vinegar-infused salt water. Along with the burning levels of salt, the texture doesn't offer much either; sparse pieces of chicken and rubbery tofu add fuel to this hot and sour fire — two more reasons to ditch it for dumplings or another, more agreeable, appetizer.

Longhorn Steakhouse Shrimp & Lobster Chowder

Shrimp and lobster chowder from Longhorn steakhouse with Caesar salad
Shrimp and lobster chowder from Longhorn steakhouse with Caesar salad - Longhorn Steakhouse

Who better to trust with chain restaurant advice than ex-employees themselves? These brave workers are our window into the world of food prep and franchise secrets — the perfect mouthpiece to share the standouts and letdowns of their former workplace.

Recently, one such employee dished to Tasting Table about the national establishment Longhorn Steakhouse, sharing tips and tricks to get the most out of your trip to the chain. Coincidentally, the very first piece of juicy information shared was a warning about the Wild West-themed restaurant's shrimp and lobster chowder.

Comprised of shrimp, lobster, corn, red bell peppers, and potatoes, the brew is more reminiscent of a "glorified peppery corn chowder," according to the trusted employee. The shrimp bits are known to be elusive, and the "lobster" component is rather misleading as there is no real lobster meat present. The chowder instead uses a base of the crustacean in the broth.

Reviews back up this insider information, further proving there is, in fact, something fishy going on here. Guests on food review sites have reported feeling like the portion size and price of the chowder don't add up to what you actually get, especially considering the perception that goes along with including lobster in anything. We'd suggest another more popular Longhorn Steakhouse dish instead, like the Wild West Shrimp or the cheddar stuffed mushrooms.

Swensons Chili

Person holding cup of chili
Person holding cup of chili - swensonsdrivein/Instagram

With a 1950s-esque drive-in model, Swensons takes customers on a journey back in time to the days of poodle skirts and sock hops. However, the Ohio-based chain is known for more than just its retro ambiance. It's also home to the famed Galley Boy cheeseburger topped with two special sauces. The remainder of the chain's menu of sandwiches, crispy extras, and specialty milkshakes similarly elicit auspicious responses. Except for one of the restaurant's homestyle soups, that is.

Swensons' chili ranks as one of the worst fast-food chilis you'll find across the country, according to The Daily Meal. On the menu, it's described as both "traditional" and "mild." Both are entirely true statements, as the recipe is chock full of ground meat and beans with little to no spice. What the chain leaves out, though, are the adjectives greasy and sugary — two words we would never use to describe a well-constructed stew.

A film of orange oil tops each bowl, signaling catastrophe from the start. But, there was no way to predict the sweetness that overtakes each spoonful — unless, of course, you took a peek at the soup's nutrition label beforehand and saw the astounding 24 grams of sugar included in each large serving. This soup slipup is a bummer for fans of the Midwest chain. But, all may be for the best since eating chili in the car sounds like an accident waiting to happen anyway.


Bowls of colorful soup
Bowls of colorful soup - Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock

Each soup breed warrants a different set of requirements regarding ingredients, consistency, and, most importantly, taste. Comparing a chicken noodle to a lobster bisque, for example, would be impossible, given the two soups' inherent dissimilarities. However, the eight variations listed above all fail to meet the standards in their own individual categories. They were judged first on flavor and then on nutritional values. Given the rising cost of food and the perception of food as an inexpensive dish, cost was also taken into consideration.

Armed with information from my own experience eating soup at many of these chains, insider information from former employees, and grievances aired on review platforms, including Reddit, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, I was able to identify those chain restaurant soups that fail to comfort and delight in their own right. Hopefully, with this information at the ready, you can avoid ending up with a lackluster bowl full during your next restaurant visit.

Static Media owns and operates Mashed and the Daily Meal.

Read the original article on Tasting Table