Though restaurant chains might not seem as glamorous as an independent restaurant, in my opinion, picking a favorite chain is a much more serious decision. Imagine taking a road trip and looking at the food on the exit signs. What restaurant would you choose just from its name? What chain can you always depend on? On Tuesday, National Restaurant News and Technomics shared the results of their annual online survey of Gen-Z’s favorite full-service (order with a server) and limited-service (order in the drive-thru or at the counter) restaurant chains.

Here are Gen-Z’s favorite full-service chain restaurants, in order of popularity.

Whether it’s splurging for a special birthday dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or a weekly trip to Chili’s for $6 margaritas with the girls, a favorite sit-down chain restaurant is often remembered for the moments shared there. One of my favorite chains is BJ’s Brewhouse, not because the food is to die for, but because of fond memories of sharing $5 pizookies every Tuesday with my hometown friends. These are the sit-down restaurant spots that Gen Z loves the most.

1. Seasons 52 

2. First Watch 

3. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse 

4. Cracker Barrel 

5. Chuy's Tex Mex 

6. Carraba's Italian Grill

7. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen

8. Chili's Grill and Bar

9. The Brass Tap

Here are Gen-Z’s favorite limited-service chain restaurants, in order of popularity.

Unlike big-name fast-food chains like McDonalds or Burger King, who have an extensive menu, Gen-Z’s favorite limited-service chains have a more specialized expertise. Drink chains take up almost half of this list, as their specialty recipes are much harder to replicate at home or in an independent cafe. Imagine craving a Dutch Bros “Caramelizer” or “Golden Eagle” and trying to describe it to a barista at your local coffee shop. Similarly, trying to source the same fresh fruits, protein powders, and industrial blenders Jamba uses to try and make your favorite smoothie at home might be too costly and labor-intensive to be worth it.

1. Dutch Bros Coffee

2. Tropical Smoothie Cafe

3. Torchy's Tacos

4. Newk's Eatery

5. Smoothie King

6. Cold Stone Creamery

7. Jamba

8. Rubio's Coastal Grill

9. Jason's Deli

To be honest, I’ve been waiting my entire life for Cold Stone recognition. As someone who is too indecisive to pick a medley of toppings, its signature creations are what separates the ice cream chain from its competition — “Mud Pie Mojo” and “Coffee Lovers Only” are my favorites as a peanut butter fanatic.

Gen Z loves consistency and dining experience.

When looking through these lists, it’s difficult to see the similarities in Gen-Z’s chain preferences. From steakhouses to Tex-Mex restaurants to smoothie chains, the cuisines and price tags vary drastically throughout these lists. Despite that, there seem to be some underlying constants that connect the members of these lists.

My inside scoop, as someone who has spent a fair share of time working in full-service and limited-service chain restaurants and is also a member of Gen Z, is that full-service restaurant chains seem to garner loyal customers from dining experiences, whereas limited-service chains get their following from their consistency and standardization of their food. This makes sense, as the more involved the cooking process, the more it can vary from place to place. When that’s the case, the things that are standardized are the atmosphere of the restaurant — how the staff addresses guests, the music in the background and special traditions for celebratory meals. On the other hand, when the cooking process can be streamlined through specific recipes and machinery, consistency becomes the main draw for customers.

As a college student who is many states away from home, restaurant chains have a special place in my heart. Though I love trying new food spots, visiting one of my favorite chain restaurants can make me feel at home regardless of how far away I am.