When it comes to restaurant brands, the sales leaders are not always consumers’ favorites for a variety of reasons. They may have too few locations to be convenient, or they are reserved for special occasions. Chains best at parlaying customer satisfaction into sales are hard to beat.
For this ranking of America’s top full-service restaurant chains, Restaurant Business used a formula that accounts for financial metrics and customer satisfaction ratings, as measured by our research sister, Technomic. Because the equation is based on rankings, the lower the number, the better.
The data reveals some longtime favorites as well as some surprising newcomers. The omission of some of the industry’s largest full-service brands is also telling.
20. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews
Overall score: 23.2
Sales score: 27 | Satisfaction: 22 | Value: 19
Its sales score is average, despite its scale, but Red Robin’s customers give it good marks for overall satisfaction and value for the money. The burger specialist has been working on off-premise tactics to build the sales side of the equation and menu rollouts and labor initiatives to enhance the satisfaction side.
19. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
Overall score: 22.6
Sales score: 23 | Satisfaction: 18 | Value: 32
P.F. Chang’s under-$15 average check is pretty reasonable among its peers, yet its customers don’t consider it a value. They do give the pan-Asian chain good marks for overall satisfaction. Perhaps it’s the frequent limited-time menu items and new “farm to wok” brand emphasis.
18. Joe’s Crab Shack
Overall score: 22.6
Sales score: 35 | Satisfaction: 7 | Value: 29
Joe’s Crab Shack’s sales score is impacted by an 11% drop in systemwide sales. But its customers consider it a value, despite its $25 per-person check. And they give the seafood chain high marks for overall satisfaction. Joe’s challenge lies in parlaying that satisfaction into traffic.
17. The Cheesecake Factory
Overall score: 21.3
Sales score: 9 | Satisfaction: 23 | Value: 43
Among all the full-service restaurant chains studied, The Cheesecake Factory has the largest average unit volume: $10.7 million. Its guests must value its big portions and menu variety, because its value ratings are below its peers’ but its overall customer satisfaction scores are slightly better.
16. Olive Garden
Overall score: 21.1
Sales score: 9 | Satisfaction: 32 | Value: 23
Olive Garden is the largest chain, sales-wise, of the top 20, and second largest of all the FSRs, driving its sales score. While its value scores are better than its peers, the Italian chain’s overall satisfaction scores are not. Ongoing menu promotions and delivery and takeout tests may be aimed at turning those consumer perceptions around.
15. Yard House
Overall score: 21.1
Sales score: 10 | Satisfaction: 25 | Value: 35
While the scores of several chains on this list are driven by strong consumer perceptions, Yard House’s score relies on volume. The brewpub has a high average unit volume (more than $8 million), and increased sales by 11% in 2016 over the prior year.
14. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
Overall score: 20.5
Sales score: 18 | Satisfaction: 20 | Value: 27
A 10% increase in store counts led to a healthy increase in sales—hence BJ’s Restaurants’ above-average financials score. The casual-dining chain’s customer satisfaction scores are also above average, and current efforts to speed service, improve loyalty offerings and broaden the menu seem focused on improving satisfaction.
13. Bonefish Grill
Overall score: 19.8
Sales score: 26 | Satisfaction: 8 | Value: 31
Bonefish Grill’s sales scores are average, and its value scores are below average. The upscale seafood chain’s overall satisfaction scores, however, are strong—almost two-thirds of its consumers give an “excellent” rating. Those consumers aren’t thanking Bonefish Grill with frequency, however, as its sales and average store volumes are flat from the prior year.
12. Pappasito’s Cantina
Overall score: 18.2
Sales score: 22 | Satisfaction: 5 | Value: 37
Customers don’t overwhelmingly call Pappasito’s Cantina a value. They must have other priorities, because the Pappas Restaurants Mexican chain’s overall satisfaction ratings are the fifth highest among all the full-service chains studied.
Overall score: 17.7
Sales score: 24 | Satisfaction: 14 | Value: 13
Even though Chuy’s systemwide sales increased by 15%, the irreverent Mexican chain’s financials aren’t what drive its overall score. Its consumers’ high ratings for both value for the money and overall satisfaction are what put Chuy’s on the sales-plus-satisfaction ranking.
10. Seasons 52
Overall score: 17.0
Sales score: 19 | Satisfaction: 9 | Value: 29
Its value score is handicapped by its high average check (about $33), but consumers give Seasons 52 good marks for value for the money. They must appreciate the rotating menu of fresh and seasonal dishes, because they also gave the chain high marks for overall satisfaction. Which may have contributed to its 4% year-over-year increase in average unit volumes.
9. Bahama Breeze Island Grille
Overall score: 16.8
Sales score: 15 | Satisfaction: 13 | Value: 28
Despite an above-average per-person check, Bahama Breeze wins high marks for value as well as overall satisfaction from its guests. The Caribbean-vacation-themed chain saw average unit volumes grow by 8% year over year, helping to boost its sales score.
8. LongHorn Steakhouse
Overall score: 16.7
Sales score: 14 | Satisfaction: 15 | Value: 25
LongHorn Steakhouse’s 4.5% increase in systemwide sales and 2.5% increase in average unit volumes, as well as its consumer satisfaction and value perception scores, put the steakhouse chain among the top 10. The chain’s guests appreciate its frequent new product offerings and price promotions.
Overall score: 16.3
Sales score: 28 | Satisfaction: 2 | Value: 22
With only 39 units as of year-end, Abuelo’s is one of the smallest full-service chains studied, and so has a disadvantage when it comes to financial rankings. The Tex-Mex brand makes the list thanks to its customers, who give it the highest value rating and second-highest overall customer satisfaction rating among its peers.
6. First Watch
Overall score: 15.7
Sales score: 26 | Satisfaction: 6 | Value: 16
As it only serves breakfast and lunch, First Watch had ground to make up to compete for its sales score; its 10% year-over-year increase in systemwide sales and 5% jump in average unit volumes came in handy. The family-friendly chain recently acquired by Advent International likely would have made this ranking anyway, thanks to its guests rating it high for overall satisfaction. Its value-for-the-money scores are above average as well.
5. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Overall score: 14.4
Sales score: 15 | Satisfaction: 16 | Value: 10
Those who follow restaurant chains are rarely surprised to see consumers putting Cracker Barrel at the top of their favorites lists. Here, the family-dining chain’s sales and customer satisfaction scores are both good, and its value scores are among the best of all the full-service brands tracked.
4. Maggiano’s Little Italy
Overall score: 14.2
Sales score: 20 | Satisfaction: 3 | Value: 26
Maggiano’s value score is average; though its check average is high, consumers give it good marks for value—likely due to the meal’s-worth of leftovers they carry home. Its high average unit volume ($8 million) is to thank for its healthy sales score, but its high customer satisfaction ratings pull this Italian-American chain into the No. 4 spot.
3. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
Overall score: 11.5
Sales score: 14 | Satisfaction: 10 | Value: 10
Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen scored well above average across the board, but its high value perception is notable, despite the fact that its per-person check is not lower than its peers’. The newest member of the Darden Restaurants family has introduced a new protoype to go with last year’s “scratch cooking” repositioning.
2. The Capital Grille
Overall score: 11.2
Sales score: 14 | Satisfaction: 1 | Value: 27
The white-tablecloth restaurant has the highest per-person average check of all the chains tracked, but nevertheless, The Capital Grille’s customers give it high ratings when it comes to value. They also rate it at the top for overall satisfaction. To round out the sales side of the equation is its $7.5 million average unit volume. Known for catering to businesspeople and those celebrating special occasions, the chain also plays well with solo diners.
1. Texas Roadhouse
Overall score: 8.6
Sales score: 8 | Satisfaction: 4 | Value: 20
With almost a three-point lead, Texas Roadhouse lands on top in the sales-plus-satisfaction race, thanks to both its healthy financials—including a 9% year-over-year increase in systemwide sales—and high customer satisfaction ratings. The steakhouse chain has avoided many of the challenges of its casual-dining peers by focusing on service and quality; in fact, the contrarian company recently announced it would add staff to ensure high service levels and eschew delivery to ensure food integrity.
This ranking is based on an overall score that averages simple rankings of 2016 sales financials (average unit volume, year-over-year change in average unit volume, U.S. systemwide sales, and year-over-year change in sales—all sourced from Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report), satisfaction ratings of Consumer Brand Metrics respondents from Q3 2016 through Q2 2017, and value (including overall value ratings in CBM and the chains’ average per-person checks). Sales and satisfaction scores are weighted to impact the overall score twice as much as value scores. Consumer satisfaction ratings were used to break ties in overall score. Because scores are based on rankings, a lower score is better.
Restaurant Business and Technomic partnered with Business Insider, which offers its own analysis, in the release of the ranking.