Ranking The Free Bread Selection At 15 Chain Restaurants

Going out to dinner is always a treat, but there's nothing more glorious than when a fresh, warm basket of bread is brought to your table. It helps stave off hunger while you peruse the menu and makes a lovely, wallet-friendly start to your meal. But although bread is always great, free bread is simply the best.

That said, not all bread is made equally. Many chain restaurants offer it free to diners, and there is plenty of diversity with the quality and kinds you'll find. For some spots like Olive Garden and Texas Roadhouse, their bread's reputation precedes them — it's so good, it's almost entirely what they're known for. Other places serve bread that we'd only eat if it were free. From fast-casual eateries to Southern comfort spots and more, we've ranked the quality of free bread among 16 chain restaurants. Get hungry and read on to see whose complimentary carbs can't be beat.

15. Panera Bread

With "bread" in the name, you might think Panera Bread would receive a higher ranking on this list. Though the famed fast-casual bakery-slash-cafe sells lots of different pastries, there's only one type of baked good you can get for free, and unfortunately, it's not the bread bowl. You'll get to select a side dish when ordering soups, salads, and other entrées. Typically, the options that you can choose from include an apple, potato chips, or a chunk of French baguette.

Panera's French baguette is chewy, semi-sweet, and doughy. As far as baguettes go, it's pretty standard in taste and appearance. However, it can be hit or miss. You might get lucky and receive a warm, soft, fresh loaf. Most often, the bread is fresh but room-temp and slightly hard. Other times, it's stale and overly chewy, and sometimes it's just plain hard and bad. The inconsistency is pretty consistent, and the side doesn't really have a wow factor. For that reason, Panera's free bread is ranked number 16 on our list. However, if we were ranking bread bowls, we might crown Panera as the winner.

14. LongHorn Steakhouse

Unless it's moldy, stale, or old, bread can never really be that bad. So, although we're placing LongHorn Steakhouse's complimentary starter at number 15 on this list, we'd still devour an entire loaf without a second thought. We often expect to be served free bread at Italian restaurants, but it's pretty common for steakhouses to offer their own pre-dinner carbs as well.

At LongHorn Steakhouse, you won't receive breadsticks or Italian-style rolls with olive oil, but you will have a big, warm loaf of honey-wheat bread grace your table before you order. You'll notice similar options on this list, but each actually differs; in comparison to Outback Steakhouse's honey wheat bread, for example, Insider considered LongHorn's to be a bit denser and less sweet. 

While other restaurants dub their free bread offerings as "unlimited," there may also be more restrictions at LongHorn Steakhouse. One Tripadvisor reviewer claimed that the eatery "will not bring more than one loaf of bread at a time." Every location may differ, but it's nice not to worry about whether or not you'll receive more bread. Plus, sometimes, we prefer the ease of enjoying pre-sliced portions of the baked good rather than having to slice up a loaf ourselves.

13. Bonefish Grill

Bonefish Grill is owned by Bloomin' Brands, Inc., as is the case with other popular chains like Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba's Italian Grill. The Tampa-based holding company owns numerous restaurant brands, all of which are pretty highly regarded (with most featured on this list). Bonefish Grill isn't a fancy, five-star steakhouse, but it's a bit more upscale than a fast-casual eatery.

Since Bonefish Grill specializes in seafood dishes, you might not have expected to see it on this list. However, patrons do receive a warm basket of complimentary bread before the seafaring cuisine arrives at the table. The starter is nothing crazy — it's soft and light on the inside with a nice crusty outer layer. The best part of the experience, however, is the olive oil. The bread is served alongside a pesto dipping oil that elevates each bite. Plus, according to Go Dairy Free, the baked good is vegan friendly.

12. Maggiano's Little Italy

We want to say that the two foods Americans love most are Italian food and free food. At Maggiano's Little Italy, you can get both. The restaurant is one of many Italian dining chains, although it's a bit more upscale than spots like Olive Garden or Fazoli's. Many patrons consider Maggiano's to be somewhat fancier than these eateries and often point out that its food fits a higher standard of quality. One Yelp reviewer asserts that the food here is "much better" and "much more authentic" than Olive Garden's.

Does that include the bread, though? The complimentary baked good at Maggiano's is a classic white loaf with a crisp crust and soft, warm middle. Free, warm bread can never really be bad, but many reviews from Maggiano's locations across the country show that the version from this chain has inconsistent quality. Many Yelp reviewers gush over their love for the freshly-baked item, while others disappointedly mention cold, hard loaves. One customer lamented that the bread and the oil served with it were plain and unspectacular. Though many customers consider this chain to have quality Italian eats, it seems that the entire meal may be more satisfying with the purchase of Maggiano's gooey, cheesy garlic bread rather than simply trying to enjoy its complimentary version.

11. Fazoli's

One of many fast-casual Italian restaurant chains, Fazoli's has locations in more than 25 states. It offers cheap Italian-American cuisine, including pasta dishes, pizzas, and breadsticks, making it comparable to other popular chains like Olive Garden. However, can Fazoli's breadsticks compare to Olive Garden's? The general consensus is: not really.

Fazoli's isn't a five-star Italian restaurant. It's fast-casual and meant to be affordable, so you do get what you pay for. If you're in the mood for inexpensive pasta with meatballs, the eatery won't wow you, but it'll satisfy your craving. The same can be said about the chain's free starters. They're doughy, salty, and warm — nothing mind-blowing, but not quite unappealing, either. Actually, Fazoli's unlimited baked good is often praised more than the rest of their food is. One Yelp reviewer even claimed that the best part of their experience at the restaurant was the breadsticks. Customers enjoy them so much that Fazoli's chose to launch a slew of breadstick-inspired "snacks" in 2018, including a pepperoni breadstick and breadstick sliders (via FastCasual.com)

10. Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is probably the only restaurant on this list with four dollar signs next to its name on Google. This fancy steakhouse is another chain owned by the same holding company as Outback Steakhouse, although the vibe at Fleming's is less "g'day, mate," and more "good evening, gentlemen." Additionally, this restaurant is on the pricier side — you won't find a steak for less than $50 a pop on its menu.

With such high prices and extravagant dining options, we sure hope the bread is complimentary and pretty good. According to online reviews, the steakhouse's sourdough starter is certainly satisfactory; one Tripadvisor reviewer even happily claimed that it was "unlike any bread" they'd ever tried. 

At Fleming's, what seems to stand out more so than the bread itself is the flavored spreads (yes, there are more than one) that are usually served alongside it. The options may have changed over the years; one 2010 Yelp reviewer raves over sundried tomato and chardonnay-feta flavors, while the restaurant's Facebook page more recently promoted a Champage-infused brie and a cabernet red onion spread. Regardless, plenty of happy diners took the time to declare their love for the bread at Fleming's, which is certainly saying something considering how review-worthy the rest of their dishes are.

9. Bertucci's Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta

Known for its signature brick-oven pizzas and Italian eats, Bertucci's Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta has been in business since the 1980s. In 2022, Restaurant Business reported that the chain filed for bankruptcy for a second time due to pandemic-related financial burdens. Sadly, many locations have closed, but if there's a Bertucci's open near you, you may want to try their signature dinner rolls.

When Bertucci's first filed for bankruptcy in 2018, a staff member from The Boston Globe wrote a passionate piece commemorating the restaurant's dinner rolls, which many diners had favored over the years. Though they initially write that the eatery's rolls are "not that good," they later clarify that though the starter is certainly not gourmet, the warm, simple rolls are certainly comforting and satisfying — and it definitely helps that they're free.

Customers love the crisp crust and doughy middle of Bertucci's bread. One Twitter user even asked whether or not they could buy them alone, to which Bertucci's responded in the affirmative. Plus, people love the seasoned oil served alongside the fresh baked goods. You'll find many copycat recipes online, but a YouTube video from Bertucci's reveals that the finger-licking dipping oil includes fresh parsley, rosemary, garlic, chili flakes, salt, and grated Romano cheese. Paired with warm, soft bread? Sounds too good to be free!

8. The Cheesecake Factory

If your favorite novel is The Cheesecake Factory's menu, you already know how good the chain's free bread is. If you frequent the restaurant, you also probably take a strict side in this famous debate: white or brown bread?

The Cheesecake Factory's complimentary bread basket comes with two sliced half-loaves of bread placed side by side: a crusty sourdough (white) and an oat-flecked wheat bread (brown). The latter is typically much softer than the former, which features a tougher, crunchier crust. The brown bread also has a sweeter, warm flavor than the distinctly tangy sourdough, so that could be why it's been favored by customers.

The chain's brown bread is so popular that The Cheesecake Factory even began selling it in stores as sandwich loaves, dinner rolls, and in its signature baguette form. It's considered "wheat" bread, but the chain faced a lawsuit when it was discovered that there was actually very little wheat flour in it. We don't know about you, but we don't eat bread for our health, so if The Cheesecake Factory's baked good is on the unhealthy side, we'll still gladly ask for (free) refills.

7. O'Charleys Restaurant & Bar

Warm, soft, chewy, and shimmering with a rich, buttery glaze, the free rolls at O'Charley's Restaurant & Bar are positively delightful. Their sweetness makes them comparable to the famous Texas Roadhouse rolls, and you can bet on your server refilling your basket as soon as you finish them (which you will).

O'Charley's is a classic Southern comfort food spot originating in Nashville, so it's not surprising that they've nailed their dinner roll game. The chain is known for its hearty array of American eats like Southern-fried chicken and loaded nachos — although one happy customer tells Tripadvisor that they could be satisfied having only the yeast rolls and iced tea as their meal. The bread is that good.

The restaurant's yeast rolls are dubbed as "unsliceably soft" by the chain itself, and a quick Google search will land you with dozens of copycat recipes from many fans who hope to recreate them at home. You can try, but they are simply best enjoyed hot, fresh, and free of charge between sips of sweet tea.

6. Romano's Macaroni Grill

At Romano's Macaroni Grill, you won't receive a basket of rolls or pre-sliced bread on your table. Instead, the restaurant serves a fresh, full loaf of bread to each table. The rosemary-infused baked good is warm, steamy, and mouthwatering, with delightful, earthy aromas that waft your way as soon as it leaves the kitchen.

Romano's serves staple Italian-American eats from fried calamari and chicken parmesan to lasagna Bolognese. Despite some of its Americanized menu items (we're looking at you, fried mac 'n' cheese bites), the restaurant originated from true Italian roots, having been founded by a first-generation Italian-American named Phil Romano.

So, does Romano's complimentary starter live up to the high standards we set for Italian bread? The huge loaf is served alongside seasoned olive oil, bringing the whole thing together. The herby aromas of rosemary mingle with the robust Italian spices for a positively delicious explosion of flavors in a single bite. If you're not a rosemary fan, this bread likely won't do it for you. Otherwise, you may want to dine with a group at Romano's because there's no way you'll leave a crumb of that baked good untouched before your meal comes out.

5. Carrabba's Italian Grill

Since Carrabba's Italian Grill is associated with well-regarded chains such as Outback Steakhouse and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, we have high expectations for the restaurant — for its bread, in particular.

Carrabba's starter is quintessential Italian bread: crunchy and crusty on the outside with a light, doughy interior. Served fresh, it is hot, steamy, and irresistible, especially when dipped in the chain's signature oil. Carrabba's is one of those restaurants whose bread is exponentially enhanced by the dipping sauce it's served with. If you Google "Carrabba's bread," you'll find a few copycat recipes, but most results are actually for the herb dipping oil. Most fan-made versions of the dressing, like the one from the recipe blog Sidewalk Shoes, feature a mixture of dry spices, including red pepper flakes, garlic powder, basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper.

However, zesty and classically Italian, the combination of Carrabba's bread and seasoned oil straight from the kitchen is divine and makes us want to run to our nearest location for some warm, comforting carbs.

4. Outback Steakhouse

Whether you're craving steak, seafood, or crispy fried onions, you'll be in good hands at Outback Steakhouse. The aesthetically-Australian chain has been around since 1988 and now has over 600 locations in the United States alone (via Statista). There's a lot to love about Outback and its distinctly balanced branding that combines a chill, laid-back vibe with an upscale, high-quality menu.

As you skim through a mouthwatering selection of sirloin, shrimp, and burgers, you'll get to enjoy a complimentary bread starter. Outback offers all customers a warm, unsliced loaf of honey wheat bread. It is notoriously soft, and so is the serving of salty whipped butter that's offered alongside it. The restaurant's honey wheat loaf is comparable to those served at The Cheesecake Factory and LongHorn Steakhouse. However, a sweet slice of this pillowy-soft, warm bread topped with butter is sort of a delicacy. Though many love to start their meals with this item, some may find it a bit too soft for their liking. If you're a fan of crusty, crunchy bread or don't love sweeter-tasting varieties, you might want to skip this one.

3. Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse is so famous for its signature rolls that you might not even know what kind of restaurant it actually is. Though the beloved steakhouse sells a mouthwatering array of steaks, ribs, and other American classics, the rolls are well-known for a reason: They're objectively delicious. The bread is pillow-soft, doughy, and sweet. On their own, they might be considered a quality, standard dinner roll.

However, what takes Texas Roadhouse's rolls from average to fame-worthy is the butter they're served with. Like other free restaurants' offerings, it's not necessarily the bread itself that we can't get enough of, but the condiment for which the bread is a vehicle. In this case, it's the rich, creamy, sweet cinnamon butter that is slathered all over these warm, soft rolls. It's like a free pre-dinner dessert, and what could be better than that? Texas Roadhouse's starter easily fits into our top three best complimentary baked goods, so head to your nearest location to grab them — and don't forget to take some home with you.

2. Red Lobster

Plenty of chain restaurants rely on profits from branded products they sell commercially, and those items only get created when the demand for them is high. For example, in grocery stores, you can buy Chick-fil-A sauce, Panera Bread's soups, California Pizza Kitchen's frozen pizzas, and of course, Red Lobster's biscuit mix.

Yes, Red Lobster's signature Cheddar Bay Biscuits are so good that people are willing to pay for a boxed mix and put in the effort to make them at home. Of course, they're free at the restaurant, which sometimes seems too good to be true. Warm, buttery, crumbly, cheesy, and full of zest, these baked goods earn bonus points for uniqueness, if nothing else — you won't find them anywhere but at Red Lobster.

Since they're so consistently delicious, celebrated, and free, they earn a high spot on our ranking. There's only one potential downside to this complimentary biscuit course: they may actually fill you up too much. If you're dining at Red Lobster, you'll likely order a robust seafood dish or hearty entrée, and sometimes you just want plain, unflavored bread to start off that kind of meal. Plus, the biscuits are so sumptuous and flavorful that they often eliminate the need or desire to order an appetizer. On the other hand, a complimentary starter of (unlimited) cheesy biscuits is a deal we wouldn't miss.

1. Olive Garden

It's impossible to discuss free bread without including Olive Garden in the conversation. While this complimentary starter is simply a tasty perk at other eateries, bread is likely the sole product that makes Olive Garden so very well-known. Olive Garden's never-ending breadsticks are irresistible, and they're often the reason we visit the restaurant in the first place.

Most chains that offer complimentary bread allow customers to refill their bread baskets as often as they want to. While one basket is usually satisfactory enough at other spots, Olive Garden's breadsticks are so good that it's pretty much a guarantee that you'll ask for a refill at least once. According to an interview between an Olive Garden employee and Cosmopolitan, it's common for guests to ask for two to three refills per visit. The employee also disclosed the mouthwatering ingredients used to coat the soft, golden breadsticks, and they might be simpler than you thought: butter and house-made garlic salt — a winning combination if there ever was one.