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Consumer Picks 2014: Understanding the numbers

Consumer Picks 2014: 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.   Find out more about individual restaurant brand rankings and scores >>

Nation’s Restaurant News has rolled out the fourth annual Consumer Picks survey. Each year the survey has gotten bigger and better, containing more restaurant brands and new insights. The 2014 study keeps this trend intact.   

This year the survey includes 162 different brands, eight more than last year and 23 more than appeared in our first survey in 2011. In addition, nine new concepts are represented in this year’s Consumer Picks: Limited-Service brands Great American Cookie, Jet’s Pizza, Rubio’s, Sarku Japan, Togo’s and Tropical Smoothie Café; the Family-Dining brand Coco’s; and two Fine-Dining brands, The Capital Grille and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.  

This year’s survey reflects more than 44,000 vetted consumer ratings. More detail on how we conduct the survey can be found in the methodology below. Suffice it to say, we use multiple screening techniques to identify and eliminate those responses that do not meet our tests for reliability.

Among the nine new entrants in the Consumer Picks survey this year are, from left, Tropical Smoothie Café, Togo’s and Sarku Japan.

Each year we make the point that, as in all surveys of this type, differences in closely ranked ratings should be considered statistically equivalent. This point is driven home when there is no difference in the reported scores, such as the score of 75.2 achieved by both Häagen-Dazs and Cold Stone Creamery for Craveability. Digging a bit deeper, Häagen-Dazs had a score that was merely 0.013 percentage points higher. That small difference might matter in the Olympics, but not in Consumer Picks — or any other statistical survey of its type.

For reporting purposes, when two or more brands appear tied in the report, the order of listing is based on the next level of decimal point.

As in prior years, the survey looks at four industry segments: Limited Service, Casual Dining, Family Dining and Fine Dining.  Both the Limited-Service and Casual-Dining segments have a number of subcategories. A minimum of three brands is needed to create a subcategory. There are always a few chains that do not fit neatly into any one category. The study allows a user to move any brand to any other subsegment without loss of accuracy — but not to any other of the four industry segments. Crossing these primary categories will introduce some error into the Overall Scores, as they are weighted by the importance attributes for the segment in which the brand appears.  

The 2014 survey is consistent with those in prior years to facilitate year-to-year comparisons. These comparisons will, no doubt, be a rather common use of the data. For that reason, I would like to offer a few suggestions and warnings.

If you look only at the difference in a brand’s scores from year to year, you run the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions because that comparison does not take into account the social and economic factors that may have changed over time and affected consumers’ responses. A better process is to compare one brand’s score against the average score for an identical group of competitors for both this year and last year. Then compare the relative difference between the subject brand and its group of competitors. WD Partners has created an Excel file to aid you in making such comparisons.

Download the file from WD Partners here >>

WD Partners and NRN hope you find Consumer Picks 2014 to be a useful and valuable tool.


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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, and respondents were given a list of 178 restaurant chains organized into groups depending on the chain’s service model as well as the respondent’s location. They were asked to identify which restaurants they had patronized in the last six months, or since July 15, 2013, and if they had visited one, two, or three or more times during that time period.

Respondents were then asked to rate their experiences for up to eight of the restaurants they had patronized in the last six months. The six-month time was designed to increase the likelihood of reasonable recall by respondents and also ensure that respondents would represent a broader range of consumers and not just a brand’s raving fans.


See full segment rankings and brand scores:

Limited Service
Casual Dining
Family Dining
Fine Dining

Responses were screened for inconsistent answers; “straight lining,” or selecting the same response repeatedly; and excessive haste in completing the questionnaire. This process reduced the number of acceptable responses to 5,761 from 6,868.

Sixteen of the 178 restaurants had fewer than 100 customer ratings and are not included in this report. The remaining 162 restaurant chains yielded a total of 44,458 ratings.

Twenty-five of these remaining 162 restaurant chains had between 100 and 149 ratings and are included in this report but are marked with a double asterisk to indicate they received less than the desired quota of 150 ratings. The final report includes 137 restaurant chains that were rated by at least 150 respondents, and the vast majority — 103 restaurant brands — were rated by more than 200 respondents.

The questionnaire was designed in-house by WD Partners and pre-tested by staff members familiar with survey methodologies. The firm worked with Survey Sampling International, which supplied panel respondents, and SurveyGizmo, which provided the survey administration software.

Results are shown as the percentage of top-two-box ratings received on a standard five-box scale. In the case of brand attribute scores, for example, the figures are the percentage of respondents who said a chain was “excellent” or “good.” Brands’ Overall Scores are a weighted average of attribute scores as calculated using their respective customer-reported importance ratings, or the percentage of respondents who said an attribute was “essential” or “very important.”

The survey addresses 10 attributes: Atmosphere, Cleanliness, Craveability, Food Quality, Likelihood to Recommend, Likelihood to Return, Menu Variety, Reputation, Service and Value.

Demographic information on the respondents was obtained to align the survey results with the U.S. population based on 2010 Census and 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

As in all surveys of this type, closely ranked restaurant chains should be considered statistically equivalent.

The 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 [email protected].

Dennis Lombardi is executive vice president of foodservice strategies for WD Partners.

WD Partners is a Dublin, Ohio-based consulting firm that specializes in strategy and design for global food and retail brands. 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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