Consumers' favorite chains 2016
It’s noteworthy that all five casual-dining chains favored by consumers are owned by large multiple-concept operators: Darden, Brinker International and Bloomin’ Brands. And it’s not the companies’ giants—Olive Garden, Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse, respectively—that are winning guests’ hearts. Instead, it’s the chains with focused menus that have a clear identity, be it fresh and healthy, high-end seafood or rustic Italian.
#1 Seasons 52
Parent: Darden Restaurants, Inc.
With a new CEO at the helm, the health-focused polished casual is sticking to its formula and continues to perform well in terms of guest satisfaction. The Seasons 52 menu hits on a number of today’s consumer trends: a lineup that changes quarterly and nothing on the menu is more than 600 calories, making it convenient for those who want to eat better. Its list of 52 wines by the glass also changes regularly and, at as low as $7.50 a glass, offers a more affordable price point for imbibers.
Service and hospitality: 69.2%
Appearance and ambiance: 60.2%
Food and beverage: 57.6%
Convenience and takeout: 55.0%
#2 Carrabba's Italian Grill
Despite many operators moving away from discounting, Carrabba’s still offers markdowns. In 2015, the chain turned to digital and social coupons. Facebook likes more than double when it posts a coupon. Traffic, though, remains a battle, as seen by declines in the last quarter.
#3 Maggiano's Little Italy
Maggiano’s rolled out its Lighter Take menu in September, cutting calories on traditional Italian dishes by a third. In the first few weeks, 18 percent of diners ordered the healthier meals, so the chain is hoping to grow traffic once awareness of its lighter dishes spreads.
#4 Bahama Breeze
The Darden concept is enjoying the growing popularity of tropical, tiki-style drinks as well as a greater desire for regionally specific food, such as Caribbean. To play up those themes, the chain posts pictures with island-inspired backdrops to social media, many of which get hundreds of likes on Facebook.
#5 Bonefish Grill
While ratings are high, traffic is down, so Bloomin’ Brands brought in new execs to begin a brand revamp that included a remodel of its flagship unit in St. Petersburg, Fla. Blaming part of that fall on a move to take the menu more upscale, it tested bar bites in early 2015. The menu in its entirety didn’t last, but some of the small plates still are available.