Consumer Trends

America's favorite chains for 2017

Hospitality drives the most-loved brands.
americas chains feature graphic

Restaurant trends change year to year, but one thing remains consistent: Service and hospitality are crucial to consumers. And there’s data to back it up. All five of the top chains in our fourth annual ranking of diners’ favorites scored big in the hospitality category. The responses show that guests are rewarding restaurants on pleasant service, a knowledgeable staff that treats them as valued individuals, timeliness, and the overall experience.

Compiled with exclusive data from Technomic, this year’s list reveals some shake-ups in which brands have the biggest fans. That has little to do with sales performance, though. The highest scorers aren’t all necessarily winning in sales—some are even closing units—but they are preserving their positive brand images and their loyal followings. “The top-rated chains continue to deliver the best foodservice experience, which includes strong training and culture to support staff knowledge, attentiveness and accuracy,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. “Brands that provide innovative, flavorful new offerings, a high-value menu mix and great customer experience will win share and get high remarks from customers.” 

Top 5 brands overall

#1: Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs spent the last year focused on consistency, using consumer research and improving its use of technology, all of which allowed it to surpass Chick-fil-A and earn the top spot on this year’s list of favorite chains. Chick-fil-A remains in the top five with scores that are up, showing a trend among all high-ranking chains: While longtime favorites are still doing well with their standard practices, they are being usurped by others that refuse to sit still. For example, previous top-spot winner Papa Murphy’s Take N’ Bake Pizza is still the No. 2 favorite quick-service restaurant among consumers, but it’s been ousted from the top five list by newcomers The Capital Grille and Maggiano’s, which have seen scores rise over the last few years.

Part of that ability to improve comes from understanding the core audience, something Firehouse  emphasizes by doing consumer research. “It is extremely important that we arm our franchisees with consumer insights about their operation, so that they are best able to focus on areas of opportunity,” says CEO Don Fox.  

Those areas include menu enhancements, says Fox, along with an upgraded mobile presence. In fact, the chain pulled ahead in the convenience and takeout category, bolstered by a new mobile app. Next up: “We are going to double down on the use of technology to make the guest experience more attractive and convenient, and to add more value on a number of levels,” says Fox.

 Service/HospitalityAppearance/AmbianceFood/BeverageConvenience/TakeoutValueOverall Score
1. Firehouse Subs72.5%60.5%61.4%67.5%53.1%62.1%
2. The Capital Grille70%62.8%58%58.8%51.4%60%
3. Chick-fil-A73.7%58.1%57.6%64.7%52.9%59.9%
4. Seasons 5269.4%62.4%58.1%57%49.5%59.4%
5. Maggiano's Little Italy67.3%61.3%58%57.4%51.9%59.2%


About the research

RB partnered with Technomic, a Winsight company, for this report. 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, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statements, ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. 



Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


How Popeyes changed the chicken business

How did a once-struggling, regional bone-in chicken chain overtake KFC, the formerly dominant player in the U.S. market? With a fixation on sandwiches and many more new restaurants.


Get ready for a summertime value war

The Bottom Line: With more customers opting to eat at home, rather than at restaurants, more fast-food chains will start pushing value this summer.


Inside Chili's quest to craft a value-priced burger that could take on McDonald's

Behind the Menu: How the casual-dining chain smashes expectations with a winning combination of familiarity and price with its new Big Smasher burger.


More from our partners