Loaded question indeed!
For starters, why stain wood? Why not just use the type of wood that you like for a project rather than stain it to look like that? Paint is a totally different issue.
Next up is the amount of protection needed. In the case of your bench, it needs very little "protection" as it's going to take a beating anyway. You're just looking for something to keep glue from sticking and that is easily repairable so, and oil finish should work just fine.. I used Tried and True on mine and am happy so far. A kitchen table is a totally different animal! And then if you want to consider UV protection or out door use, it goes a whole nother direction! Think Epifanes.
As for the looks, you also have to consider lacquer. They build a thicker film that creates a different look. They also scratch easier.
In the Poly realm, you have oil based stuff which tends to add a bit more of the wood's color along with a little protection - Arm-R-Seal comes to mind here. Then you have the water borne versions which tend to not discolor the natural color of the wood but building up a thick film leads to that "plastic like" look.
Something else to consider, do you have the ability to spray or do you need to brush/wipe on?
There's just way too many factors to consider when deciding what finish to use. You'll will not just have one "go to" finish for every project!
It's best to think about finishing based on the piece you're building and its intended use. Finishing is not a "one size fits all" based on matte, satin, or gloss finish.
I went down the rabbit hole at one point and threw my hands up. It was just too much for me to want to care about. Sealers, barriers, topcoat, multi stage finished..ugh I decided I needed 3 options.
Interior light duty
Interior heavy duty
One aside is that I started using a single coat of dewaxed shellac under everything. Being that it's a universal binder, it would ward off anything on the surface from mucking up my finish.
Finish doesn't have to be complicated. I'm still learning with dyes and tinting but I know that no matter what I do with my colors, my finish of choice will be fine.
Take a step back, reaffirm to yourself that it doesn't have to be as complicated as it CAN be, and you'll feel better.