Consumers' favorite chains 2016
Modernization, even for old-school legacy brands, is important to customers. So that’s what execs at the leading chains are focused on—upgrading their concepts to appeal to today’s tech- and social media-loving diners. Notably, IHOP fell off the list of favorite midscale chains this year, despite seeing its largest sales growth in a decade this July. It’s also started making some brand changes, redesigning its logo and updating its menu.
#1 Cracker Barrel
Parent: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.
HQ: Lebanon, Tenn.
While it may resemble an old country store, Cracker Barrel is making moves to modernize its operation. It consciously is shifting advertising to where consumers are—more national TV spots, social media, online videos and paid searches instead of relying so heavily on roadside billboards. More technology also is in play, though not all of it—such as software to help manage the waitlist—is consumer facing. The chain launched its Cracker Barrel Gaming app, which CEO Sandra Cochran said in an earnings call in September exceeded an industry average for per-download usage. Going into next year, a fast-casual spinoff concept is a top priority, with specifics to come in the near future.
Service and hospitality: 66.1%
Appearance and ambiance: 58.2%
Food and beverage: 56.1%
Convenience and takeout: 56.0%
Jumping two spots in this year’s ranking, Shoney’s is attempting to return to its “glory days,” the company announced when it introduced new execs in 2015, brought on to aid in the brand’s revamp. Focusing on both operations and culinary, the chain has turned to deals and LTOs throughout the year to get more guests in the door.
#3 Bob Evans
Catering to consumers’ desires, Bob Evans upgraded its all-day breakfast menu, including a switch to shell-cracked eggs and butter instead of margarine. To compete with casual dining, it’s testing a tablet-based POS system with loyalty and pay-at-the-table capabilities. At the same time, it plans to close underperforming units and sell off real estate.
#4 Perkins Restaurant
The newcomer is active on social media, touting seasonal items and photos of its two staples—pie and all-day breakfast. It recently took to Facebook to promote its loyalty club, offering discounts for those who join, and to share a peek of its selection committee at work on a March Menu Madness contest.
#5 Big Boy
Once one of the industry’s largest chains, Big Boy has struggled to maintain its foothold. It’s hoping to bounce back through the efforts of a key franchisee, Frisch’s. The franchisee was acquired in August by a private-equity firm that plans a face-lift to win over millennials, adding more shareables on the menu and smaller-footprint units, especially near college campuses.