Proving a consistent standout, In-N-Out Burger once again took the top spot in the Consumer Picks ranking for Limited-Service chains, receiving the highest scores in six of 10 categories in 2014.
It was somewhat of a repeat performance for the Irvine, Calif.-based chain, which also topped last year’s list. In both 2013 and 2014, In-N-Out scored the highest in such attributes as Food Quality, Service, Reputation and Likelihood to Recommend. This year, In-N-Out picked up the highest scores for Value and Likelihood to Return, as well.
With 292 units across California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, In-N-Out’s simple menu of burgers, milk shakes and French fries has changed very little over the past six decades.
Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out’s spokesman, said the chain remains committed to maintaining an intense focus on quality and customer service.
“We really do continue to adhere to the values that our founders, Harry and Esther Snyder, established for us in 1948,” he said. “Quality and customer service were of the utmost importance then, and they remain so today.”
This year, however, other Limited-Service brands beat In-N-Out on four attributes that are key to consumers.
Caribou Coffee took the lead spots for Cleanliness and Atmosphere, though fewer than 150 consumers ranked the chain. That could be because some stores have been converted to other concepts in some markets.
The Minneapolis-based coffeehouse brand was acquired by German holding company Joh. A. Benckiser in 2012, and the company is converting some Caribou locations to sister brand Peet’s Coffee & Tea. However, Caribou is beefing up core markets with new food offerings to boost traffic.
Golden Corral topped the Limited-Service list for Menu Variety, with its vast buffet lines of salads, soups, desserts and entrées ranging from steaks to fried chicken. Still, the buffet chain dropped in the segment’s overall rankings to No. 64, compared with No. 38 last year.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts scored the highest for Craveability, an important attribute in the Limited-Service segment, which helped to boost the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based doughnut chain to No. 4 in the segment overall.
Within all segments, consumers said the most important attributes for any brand are Food Quality, Cleanliness, Value and Service. For the Limited-Service segment, however, the next most important factor — or X factor — is Craveability.
With an inherently addictive menu of doughnuts and coffees, Krispy Kreme has been keeping its lineup fresh with limited-time offers, such as the recent coffee-flavored Lotta Latte promotion, which included new Mocha Kreme and Caramel Coffee Kreme doughnuts.
In the overall ranking for Limited Service, there was an upset this year for the No. 2 slot.
The ice cream chain Häagen-Dazs, which placed No. 13 last year, climbed up the chart, with the second highest Overall Score. Meanwhile, last year’s No. 2, Cold Stone Creamery, fell out of the top 10.
Minneapolis-based Häagen-Dazs, which has 215 U.S. units and another 600 international ones, has been working on improving customer service and fine-tuning its signage and in-store promotional material to align more closely with its grocery products. A new gelato platform was also launched last April.
Chick-fil-A also climbed the ranks this year to the No. 3 slot, up from No. 7 last year. The growing consumer love comes as the 1,800-unit Atlanta-based chain has been quietly removing artificial dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and some preservatives from its menu in an ongoing effort to improve food quality. More recently, Chick-fil-A announced plans to switch to using only chickens raised without antibiotics.
St. Louis-based Panera Bread rounded out the top five this year, climbing up from No. 14 last year.
A high scorer for Food Quality, in particular, Panera has been working on improving throughput and order accuracy at its 1,770 restaurants.