Skip navigation

Restaurant chains with the best customer satisfaction

Service, atmosphere drive satisfaction scores at many chains, survey finds

Even in tight economic times, price isn’t everything for restaurant consumers, according to the 2010 U.S. Restaurant Satisfaction Study released Tuesday by J.D. Power and Associates.

The survey of 93,410 diners at more than 100 restaurant chains, conducted in May and July, found customer satisfaction was distinguished by quality service and atmosphere as well.

“While you may be able to capture some market share on a value-based strategy, you still have to pay attention to service and experience to have an overall positive outcome,” said Jim Howland, senior director of the hospitality practice at J.D. Power, a marketing-information company based in Westlake Village, Calif.

The study looked at three restaurant segments — casual dining, family dining and quick service — in 10 markets that were selected for having the highest average spending for dining outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Markets included Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, the Los Angeles area, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York/Northern New Jersey, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C.

Overall satisfaction scores in the 10 markets averaged 742 on a 1,000-point scale among customers at casual restaurants, 708 among family-dining customers and 700 among quick-service customers.

Four satisfaction criteria were surveyed: price; service (timeliness of order and wait staff courtesy and friendliness); meal (quality/taste of food, meal presentation and portion size); and environment (ambiance, cleanliness and convenience of location/hours)

The J.D. Power study found that among casual and family restaurant brands, the importance of service and environment, combined, outweighed the importance of price as a driver of overall satisfaction. Among quick-service restaurant chains, service and environment were equally as important as price.

“In a fiercely competitive marketplace, restaurant companies have focused on a variety of strategies to attract customers — the most prominent being value-based, such as ‘dollar menu’ items,” Howland said. “While delivering value is still critical, elevating customer experiences by providing excellent service and an inviting environment are also key for restaurant chains that seek to differentiate themselves.”

Howland called out Cracker Barrel Old Country Store of Lebanon, Tenn., which was the top-ranked family-dining restaurant in five markets.

“It’s particularly noteworthy that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store receives awards in five markets, as this speaks to its ability to provide highly satisfying experiences consistently across various locations,” he said. “In any service industry, creating consistently positive experiences for customers has a notable positive effect on loyalty.”

Other chains that were ranked highest in multiple markets included Chick-fil-A, with three markets, and several that scored highest in two markets: Chipotle, In-N-Out Burger, Marie Callender's, Carrabba's Italian Grill, The Cheesecake Factory and Maggiano's Little Italy.

Howland also pointed out “local heroes,” or restaurant chains whose satisfaction scores were especially strong in their headquarters city or where they were founded, including Chick-fil-A of Atlanta, Buca di Beppo of Minneapolis, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers of Greenwood Village, Colo.; and Texas Roadhouse of Louisville, Ky.

“The implications of this are that while there may be some differences in how these firms perform across markets, it also suggests very strongly that there are some regional differences at play in … how appealing these brands are to consumers in those local markets,” he said.

Other findings in the study:

• The J.D. Power Web Intelligence Division found the main themes of social-media conversation about quick-service restaurants vary widely by demographic group. Those ages 14 to 18 and 22 to 29 were most likely to discuss the convenience of fast-food restaurants, while older customers discussed visiting those eateries as a treat for themselves or their families.

• Among all demographic groups surveyed, McDonald’s was responsible for the greatest volume of online discussion for quick-service chains.

• One-half of customers of quick-service restaurants say they order the same meal each time they visit a particular restaurant chain. About 32 percent of customers of family restaurants and 30 percent of customers at casual restaurants say the same.

• About 41 percent of quick-service customers buy a combo meal.

J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Cos. For more on the study, including a breakdown of the satisfaction scores in each market, click here.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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.