Americans spend more than half their family food budget on dining out. Total restaurant sales are projected to reach $799 billion according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and that’s definitely a pile of cash worth fighting over.
In addition to tasty food, restaurants are also judged on the quality of their customer service and, for the restaurant chains, that’s an almost continuously moving target. For example, reports the ACSI, there is now less emphasis on menus featuring more fresh and organic ingredients and more focus on new ways to order food and have it delivered.
In response, restaurants are revamping menus and investing in new technology (for example, smartphone apps and automated kiosks), as well as adding curbside and third-party delivery services. During the past five years, restaurant revenue from deliveries increased by 20% as a growing number of consumers favor at-home dining.
The researchers looked at two restaurant groupings: full-service restaurants and limited-service stores. Familiar names in the full-service group are Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse and Olive Garden. In the limited-service group are such stalwarts as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Starbucks.
In the full-service group, the average index score (100 is top) was 81 and only one restaurant chain, Texas Roadhouse (83) topped that average. The other 12 chains in the group posted customer satisfaction index scores from 77 (Denny’s) to 81 (Cracker Barrel and LongHorn Steakhouse). The average score of 81 was 3.8% higher than the 2017 average of 78.
The most improved chain year-over-year was Red Robin, where the index score rose from 73 to 79 (up 8%). ACSI researchers noted improvement across all nine metrics it measured.
Among the limited-service restaurants, Chick-fil-A remained the top performer with a score of 87, unchanged from a year earlier. The average for this group rose from 79 to 80 (1.3%) year over year.
The range of scores was a little wider than in the full-service group. McDonald’s score was 69, the lowest in the group of 16 chains, and unchanged from a year ago. Panera Bread (81) finished second behind Chick-fil-A.
The researchers noted that McDonald’s ratings for food variety have improved as the company expands its menu, but the boost was not enough to change the overall index score.
The ACSI Restaurant Report 2018 on full-service and limited-service (fast food) dining chains is based on interviews with 22,522 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between June 19, 2017, and May 29, 2018. Customers are asked to evaluate their recent experiences with the largest sit-down and fast food restaurants in terms of market share, plus an aggregate category consisting of “all other”—and thus smaller—restaurants in those industries.
The survey data are used as inputs to ACSI’s cause-and-effect econometric model, which estimates customer satisfaction as the result of the survey-measured inputs of customer expectations, perceptions of quality, and perceptions of value. The ACSI model, in turn, links customer satisfaction with the survey measured outcomes of customer complaints and customer loyalty.