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Chick-fil-A, the perennial favorite for nine years running, scored an 85 on the index, up 2% from last year’s ranking and higher than every other quick-service and full-service brand on the list.

Chick-fil-A ranked No. 1 for customer satisfaction for the 9th straight year

The restaurant has once again topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index, but its gap over No. 2 is the smallest it’s been since 2015.

Chick-fil-A once again outpaced every other restaurant brand in this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, released today. The perennial favorite for nine years running scored an 85 on the index, up 2% from last year’s ranking and higher than every other quick-service and full-service brand on the list.

That said, Jimmy John’s is at No. 2 with a score of 84 – a 6% year-over-year increase – and that one-point difference is the closest another brand has been to Chick-fil-A since the chicken brand first appeared on the index in 2015, according to a spokesperson. Last year, Chick-fil-A outscored all other quick-service brands by at least four points. The smallest gap prior to this year was three points in 2021 (Chick-fil-A at 83 and Domino’s at 80). Consumers credited Jimmy John’s this year for improved speed on delivery and checkout. 

KFC and Papa Johns also made big leaps this year, with KFC up to 81 (a 4% increase) for third, and Papa Johns up 5% to 80. Overall, the QSR category was up 3% with an average of 78.

Just five QSR brands experienced lower scores year-over-year: Panera Brad (-1%); Little Caesars (-1%); Taco Bell (-1%); Sonic (-3%); and Chipotle (-3%). Sonic’s and Chipotle’s 3% declines were the biggest drops in the industry. 

Seven brands were below 74 out of the 100-point index: Little Caesars, Popeyes, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Taco Bell and, at the bottom with 69, McDonald’s (which was up by 1% over last year).

Overall, the QSR category made the biggest gain in beverage variety scores, up 3%, followed by accuracy, mobile app reliability, beverage quality, food quality, website satisfaction, and speed – all up by 2%. The progress in accuracy and speed may be the result of a significantly improved labor picture year-over-year. More restaurant brands are also striving to achieve better efficiencies and implementing labor-saving technologies.

New leader in full-service

Full-service continues to generate higher customer satisfaction scores overall, however, with a category average of 81 – up 1% over last year’s index. In fact, full-service restaurants are atop all categories, tied with athletic shoes and soft drinks.

Outback Steakhouse was the top full-service brand, up 8% to 83, followed by Cracker Barrel at 82 (up 5%) and LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse, both up 3%, also at 82. Last year, LongHorn and Texas Roadhouse shared the top spot along with a group of smaller restaurants and all with a score of 80, indicating operational improvements in the category. Indeed, the ACSI attributed Outback’s rollout of handheld ordering tablets and new ovens and grills for the year-over-year improvement. Meanwhile, Cracker Barrel introduced a new breakfast menu last summer and a new app. LongHorn and Texas Roadhouse are also implementing new technologies to bolster service, such as Roadhouse Pay, allowing customers to pay at the table without waiting for their server.

Despite these improved scores, the ACSI cautions that the top three steakhouses could be hindered next year by record cattle prices.

“With beef prices on the rise, these brands may face challenges in managing price increases and supply chain pressures,” Forrest Morgeson, assistant professor of marketing at Michigan State University and director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI, said in a statement. “On the other hand, the current inflationary environment is benefiting some of these brands as higher-income consumers opt for more affordable chain restaurants over pricier alternatives. This is definitely worth monitoring.”  

Only two full-service restaurants experience a customer satisfaction slip: Fridays, down 1% to 77, and IHOP, down 1% to an ACSI score of 72 — the worst mark in the industry and 5 points below the second lowest in the category. Overall, the industry seems to be continuing its recovery from the pandemic, with almost all brands improving customer satisfaction scores.

“This year we’re seeing customer satisfaction returning to pre-pandemic levels for full-service dining, while fast food outlets have rebounded to within a point of their 2019 score,” Morgeson said. “This good news is tempered, though, by increasing inflationary pressures, which are already slowing traffic. Sooner rather than later, the industry is going to feel the pinch, and price competition and value will matter.”

About that price competition …

Restaurant prices continue to hover above 8% versus year and are higher than grocery/retail prices for the first time since mid-2021. That means perceived value is critical to maintain traffic and, according to the ACSI, full-service restaurants have made improvements on this attribute. Perceived value in the category is up 3%, while quality scores are up by 4%. The index points to Olive Garden as an example of value improvements. The chain kept its menu price increases below the inflation rate throughout the past year, and both perceived value and quality improved by 5%.

The ACSI index is based on interviews with 16,250 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between April 2022 and March 2023. The study also reveals customer satisfaction with key components of the dining experience, including restaurant layout and cleanliness, beverage variety, food variety, courtesy and helpfulness of staff, and more.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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