For the second consecutive year, consumers ranked The Cheesecake Factory their favorite casual-dining restaurant, according to Market Force Information’s rankings of that segment’s restaurants.
Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden maintained their positions in second and third place from last year.
Boulder, Colo.-based Market Force polled more than 4,500 consumers across the nation in August and asked them to identify their single favorite brand from a list of 51 casual-dining restaurants. Once the total number of raw votes had been tallied, Market Force divided those numbers by the number of locations for each chain to mitigate the fact that consumers are likely to vote only for nearby restaurants they visit most often.
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Cheesecake Factory earned 7.1 percent of the vote share, with Texas Roadhouse earning 3.2 percent and Olive Garden 2.8 percent. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Carrabba’s Italian Grill rounded out the top five with vote shares of 2.5 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.
Market Force distinguished 16 chains as top-ranked brands for each garnering at least 0.2 percent of the share of indexed votes.
Market Force officials acknowledged that consumers’ tendency to stick with their favorite restaurants may have been reflected in the top three brands’ repeat wins, but they also noted those chains’ operational superiority.
“Consumers are tending to go to their favorite restaurants, but the other thing is execution,” said Cheryl Flink, senior vice president of customer knowledge for Market Force. “These are good, steady companies that execute against their brands. All the winners tend to score high on great food and taste.”
Survey respondents also were asked why they chose certain brands, and Market Force kept a tally of core attributes they cited. The Cheesecake Factory, whose broad menu appeals across most consumer groups, achieved its favorite-chain status by performing well across the five key metrics Market Force tracks: food quality, taste, speed of service, cleanliness and overall value.
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The highest-scoring brands all tended to have high scores for cleanliness, which Flink called a “table stake” that no chain could do without and still be considered a favorite. The most popular brands also received high marks for food quality and taste.
“Great food and taste are the most important drivers,” Flink said. “That’s why Five Guys ranked so high in our quick-service study . You can’t get out of there without spending $10, but they’re going for consistently great taste of their food. In this study, you don’t see many of the low-end players, because the winners are spending a lot of time on the quality of the menus they offer.”
Overall value and speed of service, however, varied among the most popular brands. Cheesecake Factory was not often cited as a brand with fast speed of service or high value, yet it came out on top, Flink said. Meanwhile, Golden Corral led all chains in mentions of service and value, yet finished in the middle of the pack, with a 0.9-percent vote share for favorite brand.
“The data show that people are willing to pay a little bit more, even though the economy is going down and people are guarding their dollars,” Flink said.
Market Force also asked consumers to rank chains that stood out by other notable attributes. Ruby Tuesday was cited most often for having healthful food choices, Golden Corral was deemed the most kid-friendly restaurant brand, Carrabba’s was rated as having the best atmosphere, and IHOP was cited for having the best green-building and sustainable practices.
P.F. Chang’s was rated as the least friendly brand to children, which did not notably affect its fourth-place ranking among overall favorite chains. While Red Robin ranked last of the 16 chains on Market Force’s chart in terms of healthful menu items and atmosphere, it finished ninth in the overall favorite grouping with 1.2 percent of the vote, although the burger brand had tied for second overall in the 2010 study.
Market Force said women made up 76 percent of its pool of more than 4,500 respondents. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 70, and 62 percent of respondents reported making an annual income of more than $50,000. Half the participants had young children living at home.