Skip navigation

Consumer Picks: Top 10 limited-service chains

This is part of NRN’s Consumer Picks special report, produced in partnership with WD Partners. The study rates top restaurant chains in the limited-service and full-service segments based on customer preferences. Visit Consumer Picks on for more information. For the full report, including detailed rankings on more than 100 chains, pick up the Sept. 5th issue of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Limited-service restaurant chains — whether quick service or fast casual — often hold the most heated relationships with consumers. Brands elicit some love, some hate and very little in between.

Consumers have created cult followings around Chick-fil-A, In N Out Burger and Chipotle, for example, while some of the oldest restaurant brands in foodservice, from McDonald’s to KFC, continue to arouse consumer likes and dislikes decades after they took foodservice by storm.

In the inaugural Consumer Picks study from Nation’s Restaurant News and WD Partners, the limited-service survey field included 92 restaurant chains, including both quick-service and fast-casual brands. It is one of the first consumer surveys to include some of the newest brands to take the restaurant industry by storm, from Five Guys Burgers & Fries to Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

Consumers frequenting a limited-service restaurant said they find cleanliness the most important attribute of dining out, followed by food quality, value, service and menu variety.

Learn more about Consumer Picks methodology
Visit the Consumer Picks homepage

The full results for each of the 92 chains can be found in the full Consumer Picks special report in the September 5th issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. The magazine also outlines the foodservice industry’s full-service sector, and mid-scale, family-dining segment.

Here, check out a sneak peak of the top 10 limited-service restaurants, beginning with consumers’ No. 10 pick, Jason’s Deli.

#10 Jason’s Deli

Headquarters: Beaumont, Texas
No. of units: 230
Leadership: Founder and CEO Joe Tortorice, Jr.
Known for: Healthy sandwiches and salads.
Survey strengths: Jason’s received its highest marks for its food quality and menu variety.

#9 Cold Stone Creamery

Headquarters: Scottsdale, Ariz.
No. of units: More than 1,400
Leadership: Founders Don and Susan Sutherland
Known for: Ice cream that employees customize with toppings, sometimes smashed into ice cream.
Survey strengths: Cold Stone scored well on food quality and brand reputation.

#8 Panera Bread

Headquarters: St. Louis, Mo.
No. of units: About 1,493
Leadership: Executive chairman Ronald M. Shaich and chief executive and president William W. Moreton
Known for: Fresh-baked specialty breads
Survey strengths: Panera received its highest rating in the food quality category

#7 Chick-fil-A

Headquarters: Atlanta
No. of units: More than 1,500
Leadership: Founder, chairman and chief executive S. Truett Cathy.
Known for: A Southern-style boneless, breaded chicken sandwich
Survey strengths: Chick-fil-A received its highest marks in the categories of food quality and reputation

#6 Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Headquarters: Chicago
No. of units: More than 200
Leadership: Chairman Bryant Keil and chief executive Aylwin Lewis
Known for: Sub sandwiches and milkshakes.
Survey strengths: Potbelly scored high when it came to food quality and consumers’ likeliness to recommend the brand.

#5 Haagen-Dazs

Headquarters: Oakland, Calif.
No. of units: About 246 U.S. locations
Leadership: Chief executive Mike Mitchell
Known for: Ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt made from premium ingredients.
Survey strengths: Haagen-Daz received high marks when it came to reputation and consumers’ likeliness to recommend the brand to others.

#4 McAlister’s Deli

Headquarters: Ridgeland, Miss.
No. of units: 305
Leadership: Chief executive Frank Paci
Known for: Sandwiches, salads, fresh ingredients.
Survey strengths: McAlister’s received the highest rating for cleanliness among limited-service restaurants.

#3 Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop

Headquarters: Burlington, Vt.
No. of units: 157
Known for: Unique ice cream flavors and the brand's political activism.
Survey strengths: Surveyed guests said Ben & Jerry’s had the highest food quality of the limited-service restaurants.

#2 In-N-Out

Headquarters: Irvine, Calif.
No. of units: 252
Leadership: The Snyder family
Known for: Signature hamburgers, a secret menu, and a consumer cult following.
Survey strengths: In-N-Out’s service and reputation were top of the line, according to consumers.

#1 Papa Murphy’s

Headquarters: Vancouver, Wash.
No. of units: 1,250
Leadership: Chairman and chief executive John Barr; chain president Ken Calwell
Known for: take-and-bake pizza
Survey strengths: Members of the Baby Boomer generation were high on Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza pies.  

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.