The story for casual dining remains bleak. The segment’s share of traffic is down year over year, according to Technomic Transaction Insights, with both QSRs and fast casuals picking up its loss. Even the most loved chains are hurting for sales growth. As a result, two of the top five brands that follow made major changes over the past year to try to correct that loss: Darden Restaurants-owned Seasons 52 shuffled its senior management team, and Bravo Brio agreed to be acquired by a private-equity firm. Still, consumers show preferences for these upscale brands, rating their service and hospitality higher than any other factor. While they may not be customers’ everyday restaurants, they fit the modern consideration set.
3. Maggiano's Little Italy
Overall Score: 59.5%
The top upscale-casual chains stand out from the pack due to their emphasis on high-quality food. More than half of consumers rate Maggiano’s, in particular, high for both its menu and value. While the chain emphasizes its made-from-scratch dishes, its recently expanded Today & Tomorrow pasta menu—which allows guests to choose a specialty or classic pasta and take home a second classic pasta for free—adds to the value factor.
4. The Capital Grille
Overall Score: 59.2%
Even steakhouses are tapping into consumers’ interest in going more casual, including when it comes to upscale dining. Early in 2018, The Capital Grille parent Darden decided to capitalize on the popularity of the steakhouse chain’s burger. It launched a spinoff, The Capital Burger, in Washington, D.C. To keep that high-end vibe, though, the concept bills itself as selling “luxury burgers and spiked milkshakes,” touting luxury touches such as a wine program and a signature beef blend from a well-known purveyor.
The Technomic Ignite: Consumer program is an ongoing study that tracks the performance of leading chains by measuring the consumer experience. This report includes the top chains in the U.S. by sales, plus 53 additional chains to round out categories or capture regional data. The data represents responses from over 100,000 consumers, collected from Q4 2017 to Q3 2018. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statements, on a scale of 1 to 5.