Consumer Trends

Consumers see full-service chains offering greater value today, even with inflation

A new American Consumer Satisfaction Index survey shows the public perceives the sector as offering better quality for the money.
restaurant consumer survey
American consumers' new favorite full-service chain. | Photo: Shutterstock

Despite a leap in menu prices, full-service chain restaurants are viewed as more of a bargain today than they were a year ago, according to a new consumer survey.

A new installment of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, a long-running gauge of consumer sentiments, found that the public re-rated casual and family dining concepts 3% higher than they did before record inflation hit the business.

The driver could be a perception among consumers that big full-service brands are providing a significantly better experience than they did a year ago.  The 16,250 consumers who were asked to share their perceptions of restaurant chains upped their quality rating for the full-service sector by 4%.

Brands with a noticeable upswing in their quality ratings also enjoyed a better grade on value, even with menu prices running 8.8% higher across the industry than the mean of a year ago.

The quality score for Applebee’s, for instance, topped last year’s grade by 7%. It was rated 5% higher on value, or significantly above the average for the whole segment.

A breakdown of the full-service chain’s performance in a number of areas, from order accuracy to app quality, shows that casual and family dining brands failed to improve in just three categories. The sector was rated the same as last year in food quality, menu variety, and beverage variety.

The only category where full-service places slipped was in the rating of their websites, with respondents saying they were slightly less satisfied with the brands’ online reflection.

In contrast, participants boosted their ratings of full-service chains’ apps by 9%.

The same evaluations were given for limited-service chains. Quick-service and fast-casual brands scored higher on every attribute than they were in the 2021-22 index, though the scores typically fell below the grades for full-service operations.

The heart of the Index is its ranking of chains by respondents’ satisfaction with the brands.

Chick-fil-A once again finished as the most gratifying limited-service player, as it has for the last nine years. But it faced a heightened challenge from Jimmy John’s, whose consumer satisfaction rating jumped 6%.

McDonald’s once again finished far back in the pack, this year as 24th.

In the full-service rankings, Outback Steakhouse finished in first place for the first time.  Cracker Barrel and LongHorn Steakhouse were the place and show finishers, respectively.

The Index has been produced for 25 years.  For the 2022-23 installment, consumers were surveyed at random via email.

The complete rankings are available here.

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