Skip navigation
The Cheesecake Factory

Consumer Picks 2014: Cheesecake Factory continues to lead Casual-Dining competition

NRN presents Consumer Picks — a comprehensive look at customer preference and restaurant brand strength. This annual special report is produced with WD Partners.   Find out more about individual restaurant brand rankings and scores >>

No. 1, The Cheesecake Factory
No. 1, The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory recaptured its spot as the top-ranked Casual-Dining chain overall in the 2014 Consumer Picks survey, leading all the segment’s brands by a statistically significant margin in scores for Menu Variety and Reputation, but eking out only a small lead in its Overall Score.

The Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based chain, which is known for its voluminous menu, was bested by runner-up Bonefish Grill in such attributes as Cleanliness and Service, and by Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, at No. 5 overall, in Food Quality, Craveability, Likely to Recommend and Likely to Return.

And when it comes to Atmosphere — the so-called X factor for Casual Dining, or the attribute that matters most to consumers after the basics of Food Quality, Cleanliness, Service and Value are met — Hard Rock Cafe was the category standout. High scores for both Atmosphere and Reputation, where it was second only to Cheesecake Factory, helped to push the Orlando, Fla.-based chain up to No. 14 overall from No. 27 in the 2013 survey.

No. 2 overall scorer Bonefish Grill
No. 2 overall scorer Bonefish Grill
No. 3 overall scorer Carrabba’s Italian Grill
No. 3 overall scorer Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Interestingly, a report last November from social media research firm MomentFeed noted that Hard Rock and Cheesecake Factory were two of the three restaurants most photographed per location on Instagram, supporting the finding that guests like Hard Rock’s memorabilia-driven decor and Cheesecake Factory’s upscale-casual atmosphere enough to share photos of those settings on social media.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill also jumped up this year’s list, from No. 17 overall in 2013 to the No. 9 spot. It was buoyed by comparatively high scores for Atmosphere, Food Quality, Cleanliness and Service.

Brands that ranked higher overall scored significantly lower for Value, with Cheesecake Factory lagging No. 12 Cheddar’s by more than 23 percentage points in that attribute.

Some brands that ranked highly overall did not necessarily achieve stellar marks for guests’ Likelihood to Return, probably owing to their reputations as special-occasion restaurants with relatively lower value perceptions. The Melting Pot, for instance, had the fourth-lowest Likely to Return score of all Casual-Dining chains in the survey, despite attaining the sixth highest Overall Score. Hard Rock Cafe had the second-lowest Likely to Return score, likely due in large part to its international footprint comprised mostly of tourist destinations that many respondents would not visit regularly.

Dave & Buster’s adult arcade positioning netted the chain the third-highest attribute score for Atmosphere, yet lower scores for Craveability, Food Quality and Service dragged the Dallas-based chain down to the No. 29 ranking.

The Consumer Picks data also found that Menu Variety was a way many Casual-Dining brands were able to differentiate themselves within their subsegments — so long as that variety was paired with high marks for Food Quality. The study’s top two brands overall, Cheesecake Factory and Bonefish Grill, locked up the No. 1 spots in the Varied-Menu and Seafood categories, respectively, by having the highest scores for both Menu Variety and Food Quality.

The next three top overall brands came from the Italian subsegment: Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Olive Garden and Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers. All three received above-median Menu Variety scores and above-median Food Quality marks.

But even brands that gained credibility from consumers for their Menu Variety suffered low Overall Scores if other attributes failed to achieve similar marks. Established bar-and-grill chains such as Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Chili’s Grill & Bar and Ruby Tuesday had respectable scores for Menu Variety, but they finished Nos. 36, 35 and 32 overall, respectively, due to lower scores for Cleanliness, Reputation, Craveability and the all-important Atmosphere.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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.