Life is all about those first impressions, and there is no first impression more nerve-racking than the first date. Although we’d love to go to the fanciest restaurants and eat the tastiest foods, the college-student budget doesn’t always permit such luxuries. That’s where this article comes in, so here are the top five chain restaurants that any good first date would be happy to feast in. Now by chain restaurant I don’t mean McDonald’s or Krispy Kreme, I’m talking about those chains where you sit down, get a menu, and a waiter is there to serve you. Although these settings may be less than ideal, I hope this article shows you that all you need is a few spare bucks to have a good first date.

5. Cracker Barrel

Starting off the bottom of our list is the southern classic, Cracker Barrel. Who doesn’t love Cracker Barrel from its crumbly cornbread to its delicious chicken n’ dumplings. Not only do you get good ol’ southern food, but exploring the store at the front, and playing that little peg game (if you know you know) are both great ways to pass time with your date. The servers are also known for their sweet, southern hospitality, so you don’t have to worry about any problems that may scare your date off. 

Despite all these positives, Cracker Barrel does have some drawbacks, mainly its vibe. The rough-and-tumble, grandma’s attic, country barn decor is not what I’d call particularly romantic. If you love a classic southern aesthetic then good for you, but I don’t think most people want their first date in basically a glorified shack. Overall, Cracker Barrel has some good food and fun for a first date, and can have the perfect vibe for y'all who love those country vibes.

4. Olive Garden

 Although I may have some problems with Cracker Barrel's decor, I adore the vibe of Olive Garden. From looking like a villa on the outside to that unreachable balcony on the inside, the atmosphere makes you feel like you’ve been transported to romantic Tuscany in the middle of suburbia. To some it may come off as a little tacky, but you can’t help but love this cozy, Americanized Italia. Not only is the vibe quasi-romantic, but the food is fittingly decadent. Now when I say decadent, I mean decadent. First, you’ll stuff your face with those delicious and garlicky endless breadsticks, and then dive into an ocean of the saucy pasta of your choice. Don’t worry about this carb overload because you can get a salad in the middle to balance it out.

All jokes aside, the Olive Garden food is rich and flavorful, and you and your date will definitely leave happy. The only downside is that you might also leave with some real indigestion problems. Olive Garden food is hefty, and you may have to run to the bathroom after your meal. Just make sure you’re not doing anything too active after this meal, or you and your date might find yourself in some awkward situations. This is the one downside, and if this oily feast wasn’t so heavy, then Olive Garden may have topped this list. Despite the stress it may put your intestines under, the Tuscan vibes and the seemingly endless pasta dishes are immaculate, and it's hard to turn down Olive Garden.

3. Red Lobster

Come on now, what’s more romantic than a surf and turf dinner with a lobster tail and filet mignon? Red Lobster can give you all the bougie-ness you want on your first date, but for a minute fraction of the cost. Also, try to name something more exciting than walking in and seeing that tank full of live lobsters? If you and your date are struggling to make some small talk, I bet this lobster tank has a lot of conversation to unpack. An experience that I also find equally if not more exciting is when you sit down, and are treated to those endless cheddar bay biscuits. Red Lobster has the best bread service of any chain restaurant, and I will die on this hill if I have to. 

Now that your date has started off perfectly with those amazing biscuits, you can turn to a menu that has something for everyone from seafood to classic American eats. The decor is also pretty classy, and if you look hard enough you can sort of get the beachy cottage look they were going for. I see this as a positive because there aren’t any crazy decorations that might ruin the romantic atmosphere of your date. Overall, I’m struggling to find any negative sides of Red Lobster, and it's a completely valid choice if you want to eat fancy cheap. Why it's not at the top of the list is simply because the other restaurants are somehow even more perfect.

2. Longhorn Steakhouse

Now if you haven’t been to Longhorn Steakhouse before, imagine the inside of Cracker Barrel, but it’s instead a much nicer ranch in Texas that they also happen to sell really fatty steak at. I don’t think any date will be mad at a steak dinner, but in this economy going to a steakhouse can really put a dent in your funds. But here comes Longhorn, your lord and savior that brings you all your date could wish for. As mentioned before, it has a sorta-kinda, fancy-ish ranch vibe that feels the most suitable for dates out of all the options so far on the list. Turning to the food, the highlight of the menu is the juicy, fatty, mouth watering steak. Now, don’t see “fatty” as a negative descriptor because we all know that the fattiest steak is the best tasting one. Perhaps you don't like steak, in that case Longhorn has you covered with a menu that covers the base of all the American classics from chicken fingers to baby back ribs. 

Now, I also need to address that Australian elephant in the room. Outback and Longhorn are pretty similar, but a few small touches put Longhorn above it for me. If I made this a year ago, Outback would be on top because of that glorious Bloomin’ Onion, but ever since Longhorn added the Texas Tonion to their menu I have never been the same. Both restaurants have practically the same menu, but the steak at Longhorn is, in my opinion, more flavorful and tender. Therefore, Longhorn can be the reigning champion of steakhouse chain restaurants, and it's a great choice for a steak-filled first date. But, nothing will ever be able to triumph over the god of all chain restaurants that is number one.

1. Cheesecake Factory

If you ask any distinguished critic what the most exquisite art ever created is, they should give you two answers: the Mona Lisa and the Cheesecake Factory menu. This glorious tome of a menu is my Bible, and literally has something for every single organism in the entire universe. Their menu has over 250 dishes and over 40 different desserts, and has a take on almost every food to ever exist. From meatloaf to Korean fried chicken to fish tacos to gumbo to cheeseburger egg-rolls to a cheese burger with a fried mac n’ cheese ball in it, I highly recommend googling the Cheesecake Factory menu and to just gawk at how insane it is. This place is perfect for a date since you don’t even need to ask them what food they like since you just know this place will have it. What is also insane about this chain is that their portion sizes are even more expansive than their menu. For example, the factory burrito grande is a two pound, nine inch burrito that swallows up the entire plate it’s put on. The menu may be a little more pricey, but it’s worth it when no one leaves with an empty stomach, and probably has an entire meal’s worth of leftovers. 

Another thing you have to love about Cheesecake Factory is its wacky yet extremely charming and comforting decor. No two cheesecake factories look the same, and the wacky decor not only creates a weirdly romantic atmosphere, but also acts as a perfect talking point. Just imagine if you mixed Egyptian columns with Italian murals, art deco light fixtures, arabesque carvings, and a muted pale-brown color palette all under a calming, dim lighting. Also, sprinkle little bits of basically every random architectural style all over it, raise the ceiling to an impressive height, slap a glowy sign on it, and call it Cheesecake Factory. This hodgepodge of random architectural overload somehow works, and creates a vibe that is both fun and comforting, which is perfect for a first date. 

Then, after your giant (but delicious) meal, you can select which cheesecake to conquer (if you dare). The cheesecake menu is as impressive as the main menu, and I highly recommend getting one per person since they are so good and perfect to share. I highly recommend not finishing them since you may leave with that Olive Garden indigestion, but it's still so much fun trying the cool flavors like Oreo, Tiramisu, or Snickers. No date is finished without a good sharing of desserts, so I feel once more Cheesecake Factory has your back. 

Although all of these restaurants would be good first date options, one has to remain supreme, and I believe that the Cheesecake Factory basically hands you a perfect date on a silver platter through its insanely large and delicious menu, it’s equally insane yet enchanting decor, and the perfect dessert selection to end the night.