All the naff chain restaurants you had your birthday meal at as a child, ranked
Still reeling that we willingly paid £15 for a pizza at Frankie and Benny’s
Nothing hit quite like a chain restaurant did when you were an excitable 10 year old. Your parents groaned so loudly when you begged them to book in for all your mates at whatever eatery devoid of culture and soul lurked in your local retail park. It was that essential venue you just had to dine at after a long and raucous afternoon bowling, swimming, laser questing or talking your way through some nonsense film at the cinema. Overpriced birthday grub from chain restaurants is all that was ever going to hit the spot.
But which reigned supreme? Which got that enticing combination of celebratory vibes and sublimely microwaved food completely and utterly on the mark? This is the definitive ranking of the naff UK chains we spent our birthdays worshipping at their altar.
11. Bella Italia
The deadest of dead vibes. A ghost town. Empty. No one has ever woken up and gone PHWOAR I could really demolish a Bella Italia. Nobody gives a single shite. If my birthday wound up being here then consider the birthday ruined. I don’t think a single person has ever felt content in a Bella Italia. The Liberal Democrats energy is too much. In the immortal words of Bianca Del Rio, what DO they do successfully? Quickly?
10. Pizza Express
The Tory vibes emitted from Pizza Express if it’s your birthday chain restaurants choice is unparalleled. Not sure what it is. Think it’s a combination of them putting out them blue water glasses like it’s fine dining and the fact they take themselves far too seriously. Can you have a bit of a laugh for us please, Pizza Express? It’s the kind of venue where you and your mates would go in all hyped after birthday bowling and the waiter would spend the whole meal telling you to all to talk quieter. Bored shitless and a crap kids menu. Birthday cancelled.
Chiquito actually bangs. I would gladly devour one right now actually, even though I’ve not set foot in one for about a decade. Something about their Mexican vibes that just get me lured in compared to some of the other more cursed entries on this ranking. But do you know why it simply can’t be ranked higher? Because you know full well all your stupid picky eater mates would spend the entire birthday tea moaning about spicy food or Mexican dishes they can’t pronounce because their parents just let them eat chicken nuggets and chips all the time. Chiquito was wasted on them.
I could eat a Nando’s once a week for the rest of my life and never get bored of it. I love it so much, but have to say my affinity for it has grown as I’ve aged into the manchild I am today. The kids’ menu left a lot to be desired, but bonus points for bottomless ice cream machines, refillable Coke and the kind of ambience that ensured I could run around the restaurant with my friends screaming at the top of our lungs if we wanted to and wouldn’t be told to shut up and behave. And I respect that.
Look, you just can’t beat it. Cheap and it never misses. But the thing is, when you got a Maccies for your birthday tea you just couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated? I think it’s because of how everyday it feels. You could get a Maccies at any old time, really. Didn’t feel special enough for a birthday when the other chain restaurants existed. But you were happy to be there.
6. Any pub chain with a play area
You know where we’re at here. Wacky Warehouse. Brewster Bears. Chaos. One of them where you kind of accept you’re too old to go on the soft play area but you best believe you’ll be pushing your absolute luck to get on it. Food is absolutely dogshite but you’re having too much fun to care. Running around so much that your hair is literally dripping wet with sweat but it’s all worth it for the Slush Puppy brain freeze. A golden era.
5. Hard Rock Café
Perhaps this is just a living-near-Manchester flex, but the Printworks Hard Rock Café got plenty of my parents coin every birthday. The food? An overpriced wow. Big clobber portions of ribs and burgers you can’t even pick up combined with loads of nonsense memorabilia and non-alcoholic cocktails for me to sip on and pretend I’m turning 18 and not 11? Priceless. It was about two metres from the cinema and you could spend the whole meal mithering your Mum for a cup or a t-shirt to buy and take home. Stunning stuff.
4. Rainforest Café
A special occasion ONLY venue. I regret to inform you that I’ve just looked up the London branch’s menu and they currently charge FIFTEEN POUNDS if you want nachos to start and TWENTY TWO POUNDS if you want ribs for your main. A steak would set you back TWENTY FIVE QUID. Surely this isn’t profitable? Who’s paying? Regardless, you bet that as a child I was begging my mum to get us booked in the now defunct Trafford Centre one so I could spend my birthday meal surrounded by fish and talking to an animatronic alligator. Good times.
3. Frankie & Benny’s
A cursed place to eat now in anyone’s book, but a dependable birthday tea friend we knew well. You couldn’t visit the cold and empty grave yard that is a British retail park or leisure complex without finding Mr Frankie and Mr Benny rushing to greet you with their Frank Sinatra boombox venues. I always used to laugh that they would sell CDs of the music that played in the restaurant, like that’s what we all came for. And the fact they played audiobooks in the toilet to help you learn to speak Italian? What was that all about? So expensive but they hosted many a birthday meal for some reason. Can’t believe they’re still in operation in the UK. Who is eating here?
2. TGI Fridays
They really made an occasion out of your birthday for you, didn’t they? A lot of singing, a lot of clapping, a lot of freebies. Immaculate vibes for what you needed. A bit extortionate but who cares? You only turn 10 once! Have a very distinct memory of a very adventurous birthday party of quad biking followed by TGIs and honestly – life peaked. My existence has been a downward spiral since that day.
1. Pizza Hut
Not the fanciest entry to the birthday chain restaurants ranking, but one that takes the top spot for getting it absolutely spot on for birthays in every possible criteria. The food? Fun. Something for everyone and not too pricey. The vibe? Chill. Can be as chaotic as you wish and get away with it. But best of all? An extensive and rich ice cream machine that is quite honestly more important than whatever pizza you order. The soups and potions I crafted from that machine? Unbeatable. Melted ice cream soaked in every topping they had making the most hallowed treat you could muster. Jelly babies, fake smarties, chocolate buttons, every sauce in existence and a load of sprinkles? That’s what birthday tastes like, baby.