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No 1 The Original Pancake House
<p>No. 1: The Original Pancake House</p>

Consumer Picks 2014: Original Pancake House leads Family-Dining ranking

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

Boasting the highest scores in seven of 10 attributes, The Original Pancake House ousted Cracker Barrel Old Country Store from the No. 1 position it had held in three prior Consumer Picks surveys.

Although 616-unit Cracker Barrel still garnered top scores for Atmosphere and Menu Variety — the attribute most important to Family-Dining customers after Food Quality, Cleanliness, Service and Value — Original Pancake House, a 121-unit chain based in Portland, Ore., won the highest scores for Food Quality, Value, Service, Reputation, Craveability, Likely to Recommend and Likely to Return. Last year, Original Pancake House ranked third among its Family-Dining peers.

No. 2: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
No. 3: Bob Evans

Bob Evans Restaurants, which was in second place last year, dropped to third place, but it earned the top score in Cleanliness.

“We just try to recreate what my children’s great grandfather did 60 years ago,” said Jon Liss, general counsel and corporate chef for Original Pancake House. Liss was given that title after marrying into the family that franchises the chain.

Original Pancake House’s headquarters is located over the concept’s original restaurant in Portland. Liss and three other family members are the only employees. They have no additional support staff in the field or in-house and rely on their franchisees — every location except for the first one is franchised — to run and market the restaurants, Liss said.

“We eschew all social media at the corporate level,” he said. “Our focus is simply the next plate of food on the table.”

The chain has an ardent fan base, however, that has recently pushed it from a cult favorite to a national phenomenon, Liss noted. Original Pancake House’s score for Craveability was notably higher than those of other Family-Dining chains and nearly 16 percentage points higher than runner-up Cracker Barrel. Original Pancake House is known for such unique menu items as its Apple Pancake, Dutch Baby and Sourdough Flap Jacks.

“There’s a viral quorum, if you want to put it that way,” Liss said. “In the past two to three years we’ve broken through to get a national reputation. There are more franchisees involving themselves in social media, and that might have some impact.”

The brand opened six restaurants in the past year and plans to open at least four more this year, Liss said — a respectable speed for a family-dining concept given the current economic climate.

Cracker Barrel’s strength in Menu Variety derives from offerings that range from country ham and fried catfish to chicken and dumplings, pork chops and chopped steak, as well as more than 20 side dishes. The Lebanon, Tenn.-based chain also offers hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, open-faced roast beef sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts and a comprehensive breakfast menu. Last August, Cracker Barrel further expanded its offerings with its lower-calorie Wholesome Fixin’s menu line, featuring dishes with fewer than 550 calories.

IHOP also scored well in terms of Menu Variety, helping it to move up one slot to the No. 4 position overall. The 1,500-unit subsidiary of Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity Inc. introduced several new items in the past year, including a line of sandwiches on grilled sourdough called Griddle Melts and Belgian waffles covered with whipped cream and a choice of three fruit toppings.

IHOP also kept its guests engaged with limited-time offerings, including seasonal varieties of its Stuffed French Toast and, this past summer, a line of sweet pancakes that included Jelly Donut, Tiramisu and Banana Nut Graham varieties.

Many of the Family-Dining chains maintained similar rankings to last year’s, except for Big Boy, which moved from fourth place to eighth place, and Village Inn, which went from eighth place to fifth.

Coco’s, a 110-unit chain based in Carlsbad, Calif., is new to the list this year, ranking No. 6 overall with only 100 to 149 responses. Village Inn, Big Boy, Shoney’s and Huddle House also only received between 100 and 149 responses.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @FoodWriterDiary

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