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Consumer Picks 2016: Understanding the numbers

Consumer Picks 2016: Understanding the numbers

NRN presents Consumer Picks — a comprehensive look at customer preference and restaurant brand strength. This annual special report is produced with WD Partners. Share your thoughts on this year's results via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter using #ConsumerPicks. See the full Consumer Picks report >>  

Dennis Lombardi, president, Insight Dynamics LLC

The Consumer Picks survey, now in its sixth year, is a joint venture of WD Partners and Nation’s Restaurant News. Each year, the number of brands reviewed in the survey has grown, creating a more complete picture of restaurant brand strength and customer preferences.

This year’s report includes 173 brands, one more than last year — newcomer Pollo Tropical — and 34 more chains than the first survey in 2011.

Importantly, the survey instrument itself has remained consistent allowing for multi-year comparisons, which enable users to gain insight to a brand’s increasing — or decreasing — competitive position in the perspective of the consumer.

Interpreting the results

In Consumer Picks — or any other statistical survey of its type — small differences in ratings are not material and closely ranked ratings should be considered statistically equivalent. When two or more brands appear tied in the report with similar scores, the order of listing is based on the next level of decimal point(s).

Pollo Tropical Refrescas
Pollo Tropical is new to this year's Consumer Picks survey. Pictured here is the chain's Refrescas beverage. Photo: Ron Ruggless

One question I am often asked is why the Overall Score is not the mathematical average of a brand’s reported individual attribute scores. The answer is that the Overall Score for each brand is calculated by weighting attributes by how important respondents say they are to the dining experience. This gives us an Overall Score for each evaluation that more accurately reflects how the person rates the brand. These weighted individual overall scores are then used to obtain the brand’s average Overall Score. 

For more information on how the survey is conducted, see the detailed methodology on the next page. 

Drawing comparisons

As in prior years, brands are grouped into four major categories: Limited Service, Casual Dining, Fine Dining and Family Dining. Both Limited Service and Casual Dining have a number of subcategories by menu focus. The survey’s design allows a user to compare any brand to any other subsegment within the larger segment, without loss of accuracy, so long as they do not compare across the four main segments. Crossing these primary categories will introduce some error in the overall scores, as they are weighted by the importance attributes for their respective segments. 

To do a multi-year comparison, do not look just at the difference in a brand’s scores from year to year, as you run the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions. This approach does not take into account the time difference between the two studies as well as social factors that took place during the year that may have impacted consumers’ responses. A better process is to compare one brand’s performance against the average score for an identical group of competitors for both this year and prior years.

Another option is to consider the difference in ranking from year to year. However, this approach will lose some of the insights as to the magnitude of year-to-changes.

A copy of survey results can be downloaded at, and additional materials are also available from WD Partners. 

WD Partners and NRN hope you find Consumer Picks 2016 to be a useful and valuable tool.


(Continued from page 1)

The Consumer Picks survey was developed by WD Partners’ Insights group and is designed to provide relative benchmarks on major attribute ratings across restaurant brands.

The survey was conducted online in January, and respondents were given a list of restaurant chains organized into groups depending on the chain’s service model and the respondent’s location. Respondents were asked to identify which restaurants they had patronized in the last six months, or since July 1, 2015, and how many times they visited during that time period. Respondents were then asked to rate their experiences for up to eight of the restaurants they had patronized in that six-month period. The six-month time frame is designed to increase the likelihood of reasonable recall by respondents and ensure that respondents would represent a broad range of consumers.

Responses were screened for inconsistent answers; “straight lining,” or selecting the same response repeatedly; and excessive haste in completing the questionnaire. This scrubbing process reduced the number of acceptable responses to 4,805 from a total of 5,171. The 173 restaurant chains in this year’s Consumer Picks received a total of 37,339 individual ratings from those respondents.

Restaurants that received fewer than 100 ratings are not included in this report. This year all the included restaurant brands had 120 or more ratings. The restaurant brands with 120 to 149 responses are noted in rankings with a “**”. All other brands had 150 or more responses. Seventy-eight restaurant brands had 200 or more respondents.

The questionnaire was designed and tested by WD Partners. To administer it, the firm worked with Instantly Inc., which supplied panel respondents, and SurveyGizmo, which provided the survey administration software.

The survey addresses ten attributes: Atmosphere, Cleanliness, Craveability, Food Quality, Likelihood to Recommend, Likelihood to Return, Menu Variety, Reputation, Service and Value.

Results are shown as the percentage of top-two-box ratings received, based on a standard five-box scale. For most attributes, scores are the percentage of respondents who said a brand was “outstanding” or “above average” in that area. For Likely to Return and Likely to Recommend, scores are the percentage respondents who “definitely” or “probably” will recommend the brand or visit again. Brands’ Overall Scores are a weighted average of attribute scores, weighted by the importance of each attribute to customers in their respective segments.

Restaurant chains with similar scores should be considered statistically equivalent.

Demographic information on the respondents was obtained to align the survey results with the U.S. population based on reports from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Current Population Survey.

Detailed data is available for purchase, and additional survey results such as percentage of top-box scores and custom data analysis are available by contacting Mary Rea at [email protected].

Dennis Lombardi is a consultant to WD Partners on the Consumer Picks project and president of Insight Dynamics LLC.

WD Partners logoWD Partners is a Dublin, Ohio-based firm specializing in the customer experience that helps global food and retail brands innovate through strategy and design. Research conducted by WD Partners’ Insights group is part of the company’s integrated approach to enhancing the performance of foodservice brands.

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