Consumer Trends

Consumers reveal which restaurant chains earn their loyalty

See which brand beat Denny’s, Applebee’s and others in a new ranking of full-service concepts by the strength of their customer following.

Buffalo Wild Wings' financial problems haven’t cost the chain its top slot on an annual ranking of full-service restaurant brands by customer loyalty.

The 2018 installment, released late last week, listed the wings and beer chain above No. 2 finisher Old Chicago for the second year in a row. Denny’s was ranked third, followed by Applebee’s.

The ranking is compiled by the social media and restaurant reference platform Foursquare, and is based on four criteria:

  • Frequency of visits.
  • Penetration, or the portion of total category customers captured by a brand.
  • "Share of wallet," or the percent of total category visits that are captured.
  • "Fanaticism threshold," or the number of visits a customer has to make to a particular chain to rank within the top 1% in frequency.

Gauges in each category were based on preferences shown by users of Foursquare’s online services.

How casual and family chains stack up on loyalty

The study was limited to chains with $100 million or more in 2017 systemwide sales.

The report suggested that top family brands enjoy a strong following among their fans despite that segment’s traffic challenges. In addition to Denny’s third-place finish, Cracker Barrel and IHOP finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

The report noted that BWW topped the list because of high penetration and an upsurge in the fanaticism gauge, both of which were attributed in part to the chain’s use of traffic drivers such as discounted wings on slow nights. The costs stemming from those promotional efforts have been cited by management and shareholders as a factor in the chain’s lackluster financial results in recent quarters.

It also observed that IHOP has raised loyalty among college students by offering delivery and free Wi-Fi, two amenities popular with that group.

Foursquare cited several broad factors that are enhancing patron loyalty across a number of brands:

  • A focus on alcoholic beverages, particularly craft beers.
  • Trendier menus.
  • Ownership by multiconcept operations.

The report cited BWW as an example of how a brand appears to be benefiting by becoming part of a larger operation.

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