Consumers' favorite chains 2016

Who is winning with consumers and what they’re doing right.

Diners are more fickle than ever. With steep competition in today’s market, getting customers in the door—and keeping them coming back—means understanding what they value and delivering on those needs. Our third annual ranking of consumers’ favorite chains, compiled with exclusive data from market researcher Technomic (owned by Restaurant Business’ parent company, Winsight) reveals which brands are doing it right. Sales figures don’t necessarily translate to fondness in consumers’ minds, which is why you won’t see McDonald’s, Subway or Starbucks on the list. When it comes to capturing guests’ hearts, smaller and regional players may hold the secret. “Consumers are rewarding chains hitting on today’s big trends. Operations prioritizing health, food quality and overall convenience are earning the highest marks,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. 


chick fil a chicken sandwich

Top Chain: Chick-fil-A

Everyone from David Chang to Danny Meyer is trying to get in on Chick-fil-A’s game, rolling out their own versions of the lauded-after fried-chicken sandwich with pickles. It’s obvious why: Consumers love it. Chick-fil-A jumped four spots in the ranking this year, usurping two-time winner Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza as consumers’ favorite chain.

It’s not just the chicken sandwiches and waffle fries earning high marks with guests; Chick-fil-A is the only chain on this year’s list to score above 75 percent for service and hospitality, showing that consumers do care about the experience—even at the quick-service level. CEO Dan Cathy pledged in 2014 that the chain would focus on service instead of continuing to profess its politically charged views—and it’s paying off in terms of customer response.

Chick-fil-A’s formula goes beyond hospitality. There are four pillars that Chick-fil-A’s guests value, says Jon Bridges, the chain’s SVP and chief marketing officer: “Speed, accuracy, great-tasting food and a cared-for service experience.” These core values remain at the forefront of its efforts to improve on customer engagement moving forward.

Chick-fil-A isn’t alone in its soaring service scores; customers ranked hospitality high for all of the Top 5 chains. Another mainstay in the messaging of this year’s overall leaders: quality. Each emphasizes freshness and the premium ingredients in its signature items, whether it’s a sandwich from a fast casual, a bake-at-home pizza or a sit-down dinner.


Top 5 brands overall

 Overall ScoreValueFood /BeverageAppearance /AmbianceConveniece /TakeoutService /Hospitality
Chick-fil-A63.4%53.3%59.7%60.0%67.5%76.7%
Firehouse Subs60.8%51.1%58.0%57.4%65.0%72.6%
Papa Murphy's58.6%54.6%53.6%43.0%70.9%70.9%
McAlister's Deli58.0%48.3%57.2%54.5%59.5%70.4%
Seasons 5258.0%47.8%57.6%60.2%55.0%69.2%

About the research

Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics program is an ongoing study that tracks the performance of leading chains by measuring the consumer experience. This report includes the top 100 restaurant chains in the U.S. in terms of sales, plus additional chains to round out categories or capture regional data. The data represents responses from nearly 100,000 consumers, collected between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statements, ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. 

 


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