A restaurant chain's sales don't always reflect how happy customers are with their visits, and vice versa. So we created an equation to try to balance sales with satisfaction.
For this ranking of the top limited-service restaurant chains, Restaurant Business used a formula comprising financial metrics and customer satisfaction ratings, as measured by the publication's research sister, Technomic. Because the equation is based on rankings, the lower the number, the better. Crunching the numbers finds some unsurprising favorites, as well as some telling omissions.
23. Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Overall score: 36.8
Sales score: 52 | Satisfaction: 25 | Value: 30
Potbelly's customers are to thank for its inclusion on this list. Guests particularly appreciate the sandwich chain's value. Its overall satisfaction ratings are also above average, while its sales score is below.
22. Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches
Overall score: 36.2
Sales score: 40 | Satisfaction: 30 | Value: 41
With 2,620 units, Jimmy John's has the largest store count among the chains studied. But it's the chain's above-average satisfaction and value perception ratings that put it on this ranking.
21. Firehouse Subs
Overall score: 34.8
Sales score: 62 | Satisfaction: 8 | Value: 34
Consumers give Firehouse Subs high ratings for overall satisfaction and value. The financial side of its equation suffered due to lower average unit volumes and above-average per-person check.
Overall score: 33.7
Sales score: 47 | Satisfaction: 15 | Value: 46
Schlotzsky's is another chain with a knack for pleasing consumers. Its guests give it high marks for overall satisfaction, while its financial and value scores are average among the studied chains.
17. McAlister's Deli
Overall score: 33.5
Sales score: 40 | Satisfaction: 22 | Value: 45
McAlister's Deli has decent growth and above-average ratings across the board. Its almost-$11 average check pulls it down a bit, but on the other hand, almost half its customers believe it's a very good value.
16. Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Overall score: 31.4
Sales score: 27 | Satisfaction: 14 | Value: 76
At more than $16, Five Guys' average check is the highest among the chains measured, but its high consumer value rating lessens its impact. In the meantime, the chain's guests reward it with high overall satisfaction ratings.
Overall score: 31.3
Sales score: 54 | Satisfaction: 12 | Value: 25
Cinnabon has the lowest average unit volume among LSR chains studied. But that was outweighed by its AUV growth and 14% systemwide sales increase. Healthy consumer satisfaction ratings sealed the deal.
14. Ben & Jerry's
Overall score: 31.3
Sales score: 68 | Satisfaction: 5 | Value: 11
Ben & Jerry's makes the ranking thanks to its customers, who give it high overall satisfaction and value ratings. The chain must be hoping to satisfy them a little more often, because it experienced a small sales and unit decline in 2016.
13. The Habit Burger Grill
Overall score: 31.1
Sales score: 42 | Satisfaction: 10 | Value: 53
The Habit Burger Grill increased systemwide sales by 26%. It opened new units, but it also pleased customers, who give it high ratings for overall satisfaction and value (despite its $12 average check).
Overall score: 27.3
Sales score: 22 | Satisfaction: 23 | Value: 47
Culver's makes the top 10 thanks to strong average unit volume and an almost 9% increase in sales, along with above-average customer satisfaction. Its consumers give it a strong value perception that belies its $10 average check. Must be the frozen custard.
7. Papa Murphy's Pizza
Overall score: 25.5
Sales score: 47 | Satisfaction: 7 | Value: 19
Papa Murphy's received the second highest consumer value rating, and strong overall satisfaction scores as well, high enough to outweigh the score for its total sales and year-over-year growth, which were below average.
6. Pollo Campero
Overall score: 23.6
Sales score: 30 | Satisfaction: 13 | Value: 32
With 68 units, Pollo Campero is the smallest chain among the top 25. The chicken chain's 20% sales growth, coupled with its strong customer satisfaction ratings, overcame its less-than-stellar value ratings.
Overall score: 14.4
Sales score: 21 | Satisfaction: 2 | Value: 27
Chick-fil-A has the largest systemwide sales and highest average unit volume among top 25, and is the only top-10 chain among Technomic's Top 500 to make this ranking. Besides scale, the chain boasts high consumer value and overall satisfaction ratings.
2. Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers
Overall score: 13.9
Sales score: 13 | Satisfaction: 3 | Value: 38
It increased its unit count by 23% in 2016 over 2015, and its sales by more than 30%, giving Raising Cane's a boost on the financial side of the equation. Its consumers gave it a boost with high satisfaction ratings.
1. In-N-Out Burger
Overall score: 13.5
Sales score: 23 | Satisfaction: 1 | Value: 19
In-N-Out Burger is far from the largest chain among the leaders, and it is famously leery of fast growth. It lands at the top of the list thanks to consumers, who give it top ratings for value and overall satisfaction.
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, 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.