Customer satisfaction climbs at full-service restaurants

by Eric Schroeder
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The broad range of food and beverages offered, combined with attractive prices, has boosted customer satisfaction at full-service restaurants in 2013, according to the June 2013 American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Overall, full-service restaurants posted an ACSI benchmark score of 81 in 2013, up 1.2 percent from a score of 80 in 2012. The category was led by Olive Garden, which posted a score of 83, up 4 percent from 80 in 2012, and Red Lobster, also at 83. Applebee’s jumped 6 percent to a score of 82, according to the index.

“Applebee’s appears to have benefitted from a major overhaul of its menu, promotions, ad campaigns, and even its restaurants,” the ACSI said. “The brand’s upgrade to a more contemporary look is estimated to cost as much as $200,000 per location.”

Outback Steakhouse held steady for a third straight year at 81, which tied with an aggregate of all smaller restaurants, including chains such as TGI Friday’s, Denny’s and Cracker Barrel. Despite a 3 percent gain in the period, Chili’s still lagged the industry with a score of 78 during 2013.

Full-service restaurants received their highest scores for accuracy of food orders (89), which topped layout and cleanliness of the restaurant (87), quality of the beverages in terms of taste and temperature (87) and courtesy and helpfulness of the wait staff (87). The least satisfying aspect of the dining experience noted in the ACSI was the time it takes for orders to arrive (83).

Meanwhile, convenience and price helped prop up scores within the limited-service restaurant category, which finished 2013 with a ACSI benchmark of 80, unchanged from 2012 and just a shade below the 83 score for the full-service restaurant category.

Subway topped all fast-food chains at an ACSI benchmark of 83, followed by a number of pizza chains, which the ACSI said offer “a winning combination of low price, prompt delivery, and a variety of different toppings and other menu selections.”

Papa John’s and Little Caesars shared the pizza lead at 82, followed by Domino’s Pizza (up 5 percent to 81) and Pizza Hut (up 3 percent to 80).

Also ranking high on the list of fast-food chains were coffee competitors Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks Corp., both with an ACSI benchmark of 80 in 2013.

“Starbucks benefits from high quality, but customer satisfaction is tempered by its higher prices,” the survey noted. “Dunkin’ Donuts has been playing catch-up on the quality side, but lower prices keep it in the game.”

Burgers, chicken and tacos were at the low end of customer satisfaction within fast food with the exception of KFC, which gained 8 percent to an ACSI benchmark of 81. The report said Taco Bell’s 4 percent decline to a benchmark of 74 may be an indication that the chain’s efforts to improve its offerings are not winning over customers.

Among the burger chains, Wendy’s had the highest score, at 79, beating out Burger King (76) and McDonald’s (73). Despite its score, the ACSI said McDonald’s is “doing better than ever at satisfying customers.”

“A decade ago, McDonald’s was stuck in the low 60s,” the report said. “The bad news for McDonald’s is that despite these strides in customer satisfaction, the world’s largest fast-food chain hasn’t gained much ground in an industry that overall has been making sweeping improvements.”

At 85, accuracy of food orders received the highest benchmark among limited-service restaurants, followed by quality of beverages in terms of taste and temperature (84), layout and cleanliness of the restaurant (83) and speed of check-out or delivery (83).

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. The ACSI uses data from interviews with approximately 70,000 customers annually, and measures satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 43 industries and 10 economic sectors.

The highest ranked industry according to the ACSI in 2013 was televisions and video players/recorders, at 86, followed by soft drinks at 84. Food manufacturing had a benchmark score of 83.
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