Chipotle No. 2 in consumer satisfaction, says new report

30 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chick-fil-A Voted Tops in Customer Satisfaction.

With sometimes slime-slicked plastic tables, sullen servers and often unhealthy menu options, fast-food restaurants aren’t exactly beloved by many Americans.

Outback Steakhouse, owned by Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands, saw its scores on the American Customer Satisfaction Index drop from 80 in 2014 to 78 in 2015.By now we’re well aware that McDonald’s has struggled to attract and keep new customers in recent years, leading to an all-out overhaul of the fast-food powerhouse. Consumers may continue to eat out about four times a week on average, but their dining satisfaction at full-service places is stagnating — and even falling among fast-food joints. The report finds that while people’s satisfaction with full-service restaurants held steady, fast-food places dropped 3.8 percent. “Consumers with greater discretionary income seem to put quality ahead of price in their decision-making,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. “On the supply side, restaurants are finding it harder to hire and retain qualified and motivated workers, which can have an adverse impact on service quality.” The fast-food places with the highest satisfaction were all newcomers to the list — Chick-fil-A was on top, scoring an 86 on ACSI’s 100-point scale; next up was Chipotle, at 83, followed by Panera at 80.

The ACSI recently unveiled its annual Full-Service Limited-Service Restaurant ratings [PDF], which compares a dozen name-brand burger, sandwich, pizza, and coffee chains, as well as sit-down dining establishments. Such “fast casual outlets,” ACSI director David VanAmburg says, “offer higher-quality ingredients, freshness and fast service — all at a reasonable price.” Places that took it on the chin in the new rankings included pizza chains such as Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Caesar. At the bottom with a score dropping to 67 this year from 71 last year is McDonald’s. (NYSE: MCD) It may still be the biggest fast-food chain worldwide by revenues, but it’s in a major struggle to reverse a downward slide in satisfaction of a whole lot of customers.

This low score is thanks in part to the fact that, while during economic slumps, consumers focus more on price than quality, the reverse becomes true in times like these, when the economy is improving. “As unemployment dips and wages rise, albeit slowly, customers of limited-service restaurants are proving harder to satisfy,” the authors write. Among full-service restaurants examined by ACSI, Outback Steakhouse saw its customer satisfaction scores drop from a respectable 80 in the 2014 index to a 78 in the 2015 index. Speaking of Chick-fil-A, the company had a strong showing in its debut in the ACSI ratings, tallying a rating of 86, the highest ever score by a company in the quick-service category.

That 3 percent dip is hardly a big swing, but it comes as the ACSI reports that two direct competitors of Outback — a major steak chain owned by Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands — delivered higher satisfaction numbers. VanAmburg says that customers are “growing a bit tired” of these older, more traditional chains — especially when there is a lot of competition from restaurants like Chipotle and Panera PNRA, +1.06% that put more of an emphasis on fresh, clean food and better décor. “It is increasingly difficult for the McDonald’s of the world to compete,” he says. “We are living in an interesting time when it comes to fast food: Five to 10 years from now, what will McDonald’s be?” Bloomin’ Brands spokeswoman Cathie Koch said she was hesitant to provide a comment about the company’s Outback chain on a study that she has not seen. The limited-service (fast food) category is up 3.2 percent while casual dining (full service), including Outback, is up 4.1 percent. “While full-service restaurants once relied on expansive menus aimed at satisfying a variety of tastes, the trend is now toward menu simplification and a concentration on core offerings,” the ACSI study says. Rounding out the top 5 (which included one tie) is LongHorn Steakhouse (81), Cracker Barrel (80), Olive Garden (79) and Outback Steakhouse and Applebee’s (78).

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