Themed Dining Chains In The US, Ranked Worst To Best

Are themed dining chains tacky? Yeah, sometimes. Can they also be tons of fun? Absolutely! Some themed dining chains rely on the "wow" factor, while others embrace the tackiness, and those ones work best if the customers are willing to embrace the tackiness too. The atmosphere and experience are really what these places are about. Many offer unique scenery or have cool memorabilia on display. Others have gift shops full of must-have trinkets and branded merchandise. As a bonus, most themed restaurants are great for kids, which can be a huge relief if you've got squirmy little ones with short attention spans.


Whether you're planning a road trip or just want something different for dinner, there are tons of themed restaurant chains you can visit in the United States. There's something for everyone: pop-culture-themed restaurants, unique seafood restaurants, and even restaurants that offer you a full show with your meal. Below, we've listed the themed dining chains in the U.S. from worst to best based on Google reviews so you know exactly where to visit the next time you're craving a fun (and maybe a little tacky) dining experience.

12. Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood is a Hollywood-themed chain of restaurants. The first location opened in New York City in 1991 and the chain quickly expanded. Each restaurant housed famous movie props and costumes, including Dorothy's dress from "The Wizard of Oz" and a replica of Dracula's castle from the film "Dracula." Unfortunately, after going public in the mid-'90s, the chain ended up filing for bankruptcy. Today, it has three remaining U.S. locations: one inside Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida; one inside Los Angeles International Airport; and a hotel in Las Vegas. A fourth location is set to open soon in New York City.


The location in Orlando is the largest, with four stories of live entertainment, a 4,500-square-foot video wall playing music videos and 3D animation, as well as memorabilia that includes costumes and props from "Star Wars" and various superhero movies. It has an average Google rating of 4.1 stars, with many customers saying they had a fun experience. Favorite dishes include the Bacon Mac-n-Cheese Burger and the Prime Time American Kobe Burger, both developed by Guy Fieri. Negative reviews mention cold food, undercooked food, and even food poisoning.

The Los Angeles location is tucked inside the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. This restaurant is much more mellow, without the wealth of memorabilia the chain is known for. It has only 3.3 stars, with multiple reviews complaining about rude staff. However, some guests had a more positive experience, especially when it came to breakfast.


11. Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets is a retro diner chain designed to take you back to the days of poodle skirts and sock hops. The chain has locations across 20 states as well as multiple international locations. Some are full-service, sit-down restaurants, while others are food court counters, but all include vintage-style decor, and red and white tables and chairs touched with chrome accents. The focus of the menu is burgers, but other classic American fare, like chicken strips, hot dogs, fries, and malts, are also available.


The chain itself has an average Google rating of 3.75 stars. One of the highest-rated locations is in Hanover, Maryland, where guests give the location an average of 4.8 stars for excellent service and great food. On the other end of the spectrum, the Milford, Connecticut location is only rated 2.9 stars, with complaints about high prices and poor service, although not everyone had a bad experience. This seems to be one chain where your overall experience can vary greatly depending on which location you visit.

10. Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville

The late Jimmy Buffett is the singer-songwriter known for creating country and rock songs with a tropical twist. Buffett opened the first Margaritaville restaurant, named after his hit song, in Key West in 1985. Today, the brand runs 21 restaurants and 30 resorts in the U.S., with many more around the world and in development. The restaurants are known for a laid-back, tropical beach vibe and selling Jimmy Buffett-branded merchandise.


As a whole, the restaurants have an average Google rating of 3.8 stars. One of the highest-rated locations is in Miami, with an average Google rating of 4.3 stars. Customers rave about both the drinks and the service, with favorite menu items including the Volcano Nachos and Jimmy's Jammin' Jambalaya, although not all reviews are positive. One of the lowest-rated locations is in Boston, where reviewers give the restaurant an average of 3.3 stars on Google. Complaints generally revolve around poor service, with some reviewers mentioning that a waiter never even came to their table. Again, overall customer experience seems to strongly depend on location.

9. Rainforest Cafe

Rainforest Cafe is one of the most well-known themed restaurant chains, and there's no denying what the theme is supposed to be seeing as you enter a totally different world when you step through the doors. The interiors are covered with vines, full-sized artificial trees, fish tanks, and animatronic jungle animals like elephants, gorillas, snakes, and tigers. The chain serves a variety of dishes, including pasta, seafood, and burgers.


Across its 17 locations, the chain has an average of 4 stars. The Disney Springs location, with 4.3 stars, is the highest-rated one. Reviewers on Google enjoy the restaurant's service, atmosphere, and kid-friendliness (also, as this writer can attest, very young children may get a little freaked out by the periodic "thunderstorms"). Dishes that receive high praise here include the Caribbean Coconut Fried Shrimp, the Pastalaya, and the Sparkling Volcano dessert. The lowest-rated location is in Great Lakes Crossing, Michigan, and has 3.7 stars. Several customers here mention frustrations with the service and disappointment with the food, although some enjoyed their experiences.

8. Señor Frog's

Señor Frog's is a themed restaurant chain that advertises itself as being a "Mexican restaurant and fiesta." The chain has six U.S. locations in addition to several in Mexico and the Caribbean. Each offers a Mexican beach theme, with brightly colored decor, signs in English and Spanish attached to the ceiling, and statues of Señor Frog himself. Some locations offer arcade games and pool tables, and many offer fun stages or dance floors where customers can bust a move.


The six U.S. locations have an average Google rating of 4.01 stars. The Panama City Beach location, with an average rating of 4.3 stars, is rated the highest. Positive reviews are focused on the fun atmosphere and welcoming service, while negative ones are usually about the price or the quality of food. Favorite meals here include the mahi-mahi tacos and fajitas. The lowest-rated location, with an average of 3.8 stars, is the one in Las Vegas. One reviewer complains about cockroaches, while others complain about the service. That being said, this location has its share of positive reviews as well.

7. Joe's Crab Shack

Seafood is the specialty at Joe's Crab Shack, a casual, beach-themed chain of restaurants. The chain has just under 30 restaurants in the U.S., with most, but not all, locations clustered in the southeast. Restaurants are designed to look like beach shacks, with driftwood-panel walls, wood or corrugated metal ceilings, and decor that includes fish nets, sharks, and surfboards. The menu offers coastal-themed soups like lobster bisque and clam chowder, and main dishes primarily featuring crab or shrimp.


The average rating for the chain is 4.03 stars, and the Branson, Missouri location has one of the best ratings. Reviewers give it an average of 4.2 stars, with many comments mentioning the fun atmosphere and excellent service, with favorite meals being the crab leg bucket and the coconut shrimp. Unfortunately, some reviewers noted their service was subpar and the food was bland. Reviewers at the lowest-rated Joe's Crab Shack, the Destin, Florida location with 3.6 stars, echoed these complaints. However, not all reviews of this location are negative and some diners seemed to really enjoy their experience.

6. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

When Bubba Gump Shrimp Company first opened in California in 1996, it became the first and only restaurant chain based on a motion picture, a distinction it still holds today. The chain is based on the 1994 film "Forest Gump," and named for two of the film's characters, Forest and Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue. At any of the chain's 22 U.S. locations and multiple international locations, diners can expect a seafood menu with a variety of shrimp dishes and "Forest Gump"-themed decor, trivia, and merchandise.


Bubba Gump's average Google rating sits at 4.1 stars. One of the highest-rated locations is in Anaheim, with an average rating of 4.3 stars. Guests adore the "Forest"-themed decor and many had good experiences with the service and food, although not everyone. Commonly praised dishes include the shrimp jambalaya and the coconut shrimp. The lowest-rated location has 3.8 stars and is located in Madiera Beach, Florida. Like the Anaheim location, some customers loved the food and service, while others had a bad time.

5. Cracker Barrel

While it calls itself an "old country store," Cracker Barrel is a southern comfort restaurant first. The chain, with locations across nearly every state, offers a variety of meat and seafood meals and usually has a gift shop on site as well. While general design can vary, many locations feature a large fireplace and vintage decor like black and white photographs, old clocks, muskets, and taxidermy. In the general store, you'll find items ranging from toys to clothes to food.


Across the chain, Cracker Barrel has an average of 4.17 stars on Google. With 4.4 stars, the Lakeville, Minnesota, location is one of the highest-rated in the chain. Reviewers rave about the service and the food, with some of the most praised dishes being the pancakes, the chicken and dumplings, and the hashbrown casserole. Unfortunately, some diners had a different experience, as did many at the Roseville, Michigan location. This restaurant has an average of 3.6 stars, with complaints about both food and service. However, with so many locations, it's not surprising that experiences can vary.

4. Hard Rock Cafe

Much like Planet Hollywood celebrates everything Tinsletown, Hard Rock Cafe celebrates all things music. The chain has 26 restaurants in the U.S., plus many more across the world, and the Hard Rock brand also owns hotels and casinos worldwide. Inside the cafes, you'll be met with music memorabilia, artistically displayed instruments, screens showing music videos, and occasionally, live entertainment. Most locations also have a gift shop where you can buy merchandise as well. The menu consists mainly of burgers, sandwiches, steak, and pasta.


Hard Rock Cafe has an average of 4.2 stars across its 26 U.S. locations. The highest-rated location, with 4.5 stars, can be found in Orlando, Florida. At this location, guests enjoy the variety of music, service provided, and quality of food. On the other hand, the lowest-rated location is in Baltimore, Maryland, and has an average of 3.9 stars. Several reviewers complain about poor service and unappetizing food, with many calling it a tourist trap. That being said, this location has its share of positive reviews too.

3. Aquarium Restaurant

If you've ever dreamed of dining under the sea, you've got to visit Aquarium Restaurant, which has four locations: Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; Houston, Texas; and Kemah, Texas. The Denver and Houston locations are restaurants located within aquariums, while the Kemah and Nashville locations feature aquariums inside the restaurants. At all four locations, you'll dine on seafood while surrounded by floor-to-ceiling fish tanks in what the brand advertises as "an underwater dining adventure." Some locations also offer an underwater mermaid show, a shark cage experience, and educational tours.


The four locations have an average star rating of 4.2 on Google. The highest-rated restaurant is in the Houston Aquarium and has 4.4 stars. Reviewers say the aquarium is fair-priced and good for kids, the atmosphere is amazing, and the food is fantastic. The lowest-rated location is the one in Denver, with a 4.0 rating. While there are many positive reviews, some customers were frustrated with the service they received and the price of the food.

2. Hell's Kitchen

Gordon Ramsay may have started his rise to fame thanks to his culinary skills, but today he is best known for his fiery temper, which he often displays on shows like "Hell's Kitchen." The reality competition show, hosted by Ramsay, features aspiring chefs who are split into teams to compete for the chance to be a head chef. 


Ramsay owns many restaurants today, and eating at one of his Hell's Kitchen locations makes you feel like you're right on set watching his contestants, with each restaurant divided into a red side and a blue side to represent the two teams. Diners have a full view of the kitchen, allowing them to watch chefs prepare many of the same dishes used to test contestants on the show, such as beef wellington, lobster risotto, and pan-seared scallops.

There are currently seven Hell's Kitchen locations in the United States, and together they average 4.24 stars on Google. The highest-rated location is inside Ceaser's Palace in Las Vegas and it has an average of 4.4 stars. Diners here rave about the superb service, amazing atmosphere, and fantastic food. While the restaurant serves more than just the dishes from the show, those are by far the favorites. The lowest-rated location is in Lake Tahoe, with 4.1 stars. Some guests complained about the noisy atmosphere and bland food, but the location has many positive reviews as well.


1. Medieval Times

The history of dinner theater goes back to the Middle Ages, and at the number one spot on our list, you can dine as if you were back in that era. The goal of the Medieval Times restaurant chain is to provide dinner and a medieval show fit for royalty. Guests arrive at a castle, passing over a drawbridge and through halls lined with suits of armor to get to an arena. While feasting on a four-course meal that includes roasted chicken and herb-basted potatoes, they'll be introduced to the queen and her royal knights and settle back to watch a show of jousting, swordsmanship, horsemanship, and falconry.


The chain has nine U.S. locations, plus one in Canada. All U.S. locations have a rating of either 4.7 or 4.6 stars, for an overall chain average of 4.67 stars on Google. Reviewers state the atmosphere is incredible and very kid-friendly, and while many guests acknowledge that the experience is expensive, they also say it's absolutely worth the price. There seems to be a split when it comes to the quality of the food, with some saying it was good, tasty, and filling, and others calling it "mediocre at best." However, many who weren't wowed by the food mentioned that wasn't what drew them there in the first place. While poor reviews aren't common, most of them are regarding the price, corporate customer service, or recent updates to the show. However, the majority of reviewers greatly enjoyed their "medieval time."


How Did We Rank Themed Dining Chains in the U.S.?

To determine the ranking of themed dining chains in the U.S., I first looked at some of the most well-known and unique chains across the country. To qualify as a chain, it needed to have at least three locations. Next, I took a look at the average reviews across the chain. For chains with a high number of locations, such as Johnny Rockets and Cracker Barrel, I picked one random location from each state. I put together the ranking list based on what the average ranking turned out to be to keep the list unbiased. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to visit all these chains myself, but I hope to in the future!