Cheesecake Factory emerged as North Americans' favorite general-menu casual-dining chain in Market Force Information's newly released survey on this restaurant sector.
More than 6,100 consumers were surveyed, in order to rank casual-dining chains in five categories: general menu, breakfast, steak, Italian and seafood.
For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent casual-dining experience and their likelihood to refer that restaurant to others. The results were averaged to calculate a composite loyalty score.
Out of the largest restaurant chains that offer general menus, Cheesecake Factory scored highest with 61%; Cracker Barrel ranked second with 58%; Red Robin was third with 47%; Ruby Tuesday and Buffalo Wild Wings tied for fourth with 46%; and Chili’s Bar and Grill rounded out the top five with 44%.
The survey also asked respondents to rate chains by key attributes, including service, food quality and value.
Cheesecake Factory was the clear leader in the food quality category (63%), trailed by Cracker Barrel (44%) and Red Robin (42%). It also tied with Cracker Barrel on atmosphere (both 44%).
In addition, Cheesecake Factory tied with Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday for healthy food, although a relatively modest 23% of respondents ranked each of the chains highly on having healthy food. This result was no doubt particularly welcomed by Cheesecake Factory, which, despite having reformulated some dishes to reduce their calories, again this year dominated the "Xtreme Eating Awards" issued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Cracker Barrel dominated in the fast and friendly service categories, and performed consistently well across the other attributes studied.
TGI Fridays ranked first on value, followed very closely by Cracker Barrel and Chili’s. Red Robin was ranked highest for accommodating children.
The winners in other categories of casual-dining restaurant chains were:
*Italian: Maggiano’s was ranked #1 (59%), followed closely by Carrabba’s Italian Grill (57%). Romano's Macaroni Grill (51%), Olive Garden (48%) and East Side Mario’s (32%) rounded out the top five.
*Steakhouse: The Capital Grille was a clear winner (77%), versus 61% for #2-ranked Texas Roadhouse and 57% for The Keg. Longhorn Steakhouse (55%) and Outback Steakhouse (51%) ranked fourth and fifth, followed by Logan's Roadhouse (48%) and Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon (37%).
*Seafood: The top five were Pappadeaux (65%), Bonefish Grill (57%), Bahama Breeze (52%), Joe’s Crab Shack (48%) and Red Lobster (47%).
*Breakfast: French-themed Mimi’s Café was the favorite (44%), followed by Waffle House and Bob Evans Restaurant (each at 43%), and Perkins in third place (38%). Village Inn and IHOP (each at 35%) and Denny’s (34%) were also high-up in the rankings.
Casual dining spending and frequency
Nearly half (46%) of respondents said that they patronize casual dining restaurants at least five times per month, and 57% said they plan to spend a minimum of $10 per person when they do.
Asked about their dining habits this year compared to 2013, 12% said they have dined out more, 28% said they had dined out less, and 60% said their pattern stayed about the same.
The survey was conducted in April 2014 across the U.S. and Canada. The 6,106 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with nearly 62% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 per year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 75% are women and 25% men. Approximately 70% are married, and 40% have children at home.