Technomic's recently released report, Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics, takes a look at restaurant customers' preferences for 60-plus attributes such as food, service, atmosphere, value and more. According to the market research firm, the data was compiled to help restaurant operators better comprehend consumer behavior in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
"Restaurant operators are making efforts to track consumer purchasing habits and attitudes," said Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president. "But very few of them have the resources to benchmark their results against their competition and measure performance over time. Today, success depends on excelling on the touchpoints that consumers feel are most important."
Attributes that ranked the highest
Of the 60-plus attributes included in the report, consumers said they feel the strongest about friendly and accurate service and food taste and quality when dining out. Service and hospitality attributes received the highest ratings among both full and limited-service patrons.
Specifically, friendly service, check and payment handling, staff attention to fundamentals and staff product knowledge each received a top rating from more than three out of five consumers. Friendly service was considered to be the most important overall; however order accuracy received a higher rating among limited-service consumers.
Additionally, convenience and takeout is more important for limited-service guests, while full-service consumers prioritize food and beverage more.
Within the value category, the specific attribute that is considered the most important is the ability to provide value through quick, high-quality service.
Chick-fil-A scored high in numerous categories, including service and convenience. But the area in which the Atlanta-based chain really stood out was for consumer perception. Consumers were asked to rate brands for different attibutes on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 indicating "strongly agree" and 1 indicating "strongly disagree."
Chickfil-A is the overall winner in the brand image attributes, as well as in four specific attributes: "has memorable advertising," "supports local community activities," "is socially responsible" and "has values similar to my own." Olive Garden is the full-service leader, though it is among the top three chains in only two attributes: introduces new and exciting products and has advertising that makes consumers hungry.
The top chains in each attribute are as follows:
- Is a place where the customer comes first: Ruth's Chris Steak House, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger;
- Is a restaurant consumers can trust: Ruth's Chris, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger;
- Has a likeable personality: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A;
- Has memorable advertising: Chick-fil-A, Jack in the Box, Hooters;
- Has advertising consumers can relate to: Subway, Red Lobster, Chick-fil-A;
- Has advertising that makes consumers hungry: Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Popeyes Chicken;
- Supports local community activities: Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, Culver's;
- Has an excellent reputation: Ruth's Chris, In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A;
- Is socially responsible: Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, In-N-Out Burger;
- Has values that are similar to consumers' values: Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, Culver's;
- Introduces new and exciting products: Olive Garden, Starbucks, Subway;
- Is innovative: Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, Panera Bread, Starbucks; and
- Is unique: Cracker Barrel, Papa Murphy's, Panera Bread.
From the results, Technomic suggests that operators in all segments would likely benefit by enhancing corporate social responsibility initiatives that consumers can relate to. The report reads: "In doing so, it is critical that these initiatives be consistent throughout the business, and that they are developed in a way that can be sustainable with the potential to generate positive returns for the business. Corporate social responsibility issues should not be approached as a marketing tactic designed primarily to appeal to consumers' emotions."
Chick-fil-A was also the second ranked limited-service brand (behind Papa Murphy's Take-N-Bake Pizza) overall, coming in ahead of McAlister's Deli, Firehouse Subs and In-N-Out Burger. Among the top quick-service chains tracked by Technomic, Papa Murphy's was once again the leading concept, followed by Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger.
At No. 4 was Krispy Kreme, which received the highest rating for "craveable items" that consumers can only get at this restaurant. Its highest score came in food taste and flavor.
At No. 5 was Culver's, which scored high in service and flavor of the food, as well as for bathroom cleanliness (the highest among QSRs).
Broken down into specific menu categories, Krispy Kreme was consumers' top choice for beverages/snacks. Its top scores include craveable items, food taste and flavor, food visual appeal and order accuracy. Also in the snack category, Cold Stone Creamery rated high for food taste and flavor, food visual appeal and food quality.
Other rankings include service and hospitality brand leaders, which were Papa Murphy's (77.8 percent), In-N-Out Burger (77.2 percent), Firehouse Subs (75.4 percent), Chick-fil-A (75 percent) and McAlister's Deli (74.7 percent).
Convenience and takeout leaders include Papa Murphy's (74.1 percent), Jimmy John's (70.2 percent), Chick-fil-A (65.7 percent), Firehouse Subs (64.9 percent) and Tim Hortons (63.9 percent).
Dunkin' Donuts, Subway and Papa Murphy's were ranked highest for convenient locations, respectively.
Papa Murphy's topped the kitchen/food prep area cleanliness category, while Chuck E. Cheese was No. 1 for kid-friendliness.
The value category was pulled from an average of four attributes. Papa Murphy's was the category leader and the top chain in three of them: prices relative to similar restaurants, ability to provide value through highquality menu items and ability to provide value through high-quality service. The top chains in each attribute are as follows:
- Prices relative to other, similar restaurants: Papa Murphy's, Little Caesars, CiCi's Pizza;
- Ability to provide value through high-quality menu items: Papa Murphy's, In-N-Out Burger, Cracker Barrel; and
- Ability to provide value through quick, high quality service: Papa Murphy's, Jimmy John's, McAlister's Deli.
Leading chains overall
According to the report, consumers rated Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza as the top chain overall, pointing to the brand's service and hospitality, convenience and takeout and value among all other chains studied. With the combined attributes considered — service/hospitality, unit appearance/ambiance, food/beverage, convenience/takeout and value — the chain received an overall average score of 65.4 percent.
The remaining top 5 chains overall include:
2. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (61.9 percent). The chain earned top ratings in unit appearance and ambience, as well as for food and beverage.
3. Chick-fil-A (61.7 percent) rated high for friendly service, food taste and flavor, and for order accuracy.
4. McAlister's Deli (61.4 percent) earned high scores for friendly service, check and payment handling and order accuracy.
5. Firehouse Subs (61.1 percent) received its highest ratings for food taste and flavor, friendly service and food quality.
Technomic's metrics database includes 115 chains, which were measured on more than 60 different attributes. The consumer feedback is based on ongoing data collection and compiled from a nationally representative sample of more than 80,000 annual consumer restaurant visits.
Read more about customer experience.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.