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LongHorn Steakhouse

Texas Roadhouse, LongHorn Steakhouse outrank the industry on customer satisfaction

For the 10th year in a row, Chick-fil-A is No. 1 for the QSR category in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Consumers are visiting restaurants less than they were last year (and the year before that) as inflation puts a squeeze on disposable income. This traffic-eroding environment doesn’t seem to be impacting customer satisfaction levels at some chains, however. That is especially true for Chick-fil-A, Texas Roadhouse, and LongHorn Steakhouse. 

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has once again been named the top quick-service restaurant brand in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index – its 10th year on the throne. This consistently high level may explain why Chick-fil-A has grown its sales by a staggering amount over the past several years. According to Technomic Ignite data, the chain’s sales have grown by over 77% since 2019.

Overall, the QSR segment’s satisfaction level is up 1% compared to last year, despite relentlessly high menu inflation. That said, households earning less than $75,000 a year are reducing their visits, a theme shared widely during Q1 earnings calls. 

The ACSI also found that full-service restaurant satisfaction scores are up 4% year-over-year, led by LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse, both of which were also up 4% to 85, tying for the top spot among full-service restaurants.

“Both full-service and fast food restaurant customers are skewing a bit more toward higher income levels and college graduates,” Forrest Morgeson, associate professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI. “Customers are being forced to make decisions between groceries and restaurants, with full-service restaurant inflation about two times that of groceries in the past year and fast food and fast casual restaurants prices up three times the rate of groceries. With customers seemingly viewing dining out a luxury, restaurants that can differentiate themselves in terms of quality and value will have a competitive advantage.”

LongHorn and Texas Roadhouse sit atop the industry

In addition to beating their full-service counterparts, LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse are also atop the entire industry, as full-service scores tend to outpace QSR scores based on the nature of the service model. Their respective 85 scores compared to Chick-fil-A’s 83, for instance.

LongHorn, which was also named as one of Technomic’s “America’s Favorite Brands,” is credited with providing large portions and maintaining a culture dedicated to quality, a characteristic shared by all of its fellow Darden brands. Texas Roadhouse has held relatively steady on pricing, meanwhile, while also investing heavily in staffing and adding new technologies such as pay-at-the-table. Both have far outpaced their casual dining peers in sales throughout the past several quarters.

That said, Olive Garden and Chili’s also made big strides in the past year, both up 4% to 83 and 80, respectively. Olive Garden has found traction in the value conversation with its Never-Ending Pasta Bowl offering, while Chili’s has done the same with its “3 for Me” menu. Both have also made improvements in staffing levels. IHOP is also experiencing a tailwind from its menu evolution efforts, increasing a whopping 8% to 78.

Last year’s category leader, Outback Steakhouse, declined by 4% to 80. The company is navigating pressure from discerning consumers and is closing dozens of underperforming locations this year to right-size. Denny’s and Red Robin share last place, slipping 1% each to 76.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the full-service category’s performance this year is that chains’ efforts to improve staffing and retention levels seem to be paying off across the board. Customers indicate better performance across most aspects of the full-service experience, with food order accuracy (92) and waitstaff courtesy and helpfulness (90) leading the way.

QSRs slip a bit

Meanwhile, despite taking the throne for the 10th year in a row, Chick-fil-A’s score slipped two points from last year, to 83. Still, the chain’s results speak for themselves, including a record $9.3 million in average unit volumes.

KFC finished second at 81, which is unchanged from last year even as sales have dipped a little compared to its competitors. There is a four-way tie for third place at 80 between ACSI newcomer Culver’s, Panera Bread (up 5%), Arby’s (up 4%), and Starbucks (up 3%). Notably that newcomer Culver’s grew its sales by nearly 13% last year, according to Technomic Ignite data, finishing 2023 with $3.3 billion.

Despite being well behind the leaders, Sonic made the biggest leap in the industry, surging 6% to an ACSI score of 76. This matches Wendy’s score, as the chain gained 3%.

Last year’s No. 2 – Jimmy John’s – isn’t even in the top five this year. Its 84 from last year would have led all QSRs this year. After falling 1% and 3%, respectively, Jack in the Box and Popeyes are toward the bottom, at 72. Meanwhile, McDonald’s remains in last place even after improving 3% to an ACSI score of 71.

Order accuracy (86), mobile quality (86), and mobile reliability (85) received high scores in QSR, as improving technology may be increasing accuracy in filling customer orders. QSRs also receive high benchmarks for staff courtesy and both food and beverage quality (all 84).

Delivery measured for the first time

For the first time this year, the ACSI also measured the food delivery industry, which scored 73 overall, much lower than both QSR and full-service categories. Smaller food delivery services outscored major competitors with a score of 79. Uber Eats, at 74, edged out the other reported brands, DoorDash (73) and Grubhub (71).

Customers give the highest ratings to the mobile apps (82) and websites (81) used to place orders. The cost of food delivery is a concern in terms of the fairness of food prices (69) and pre-tip taxes and service fees (69).

The ACSI Restaurant and Food Delivery Study 2024 is based on 14,604 completed surveys. Customers were chosen at random and contacted via email between April 2023 and March 2024 for the restaurant industries and between November 2023 and March 2024 for food delivery.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]


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