ANN ARBOR, Mich., (June 27, 2023) — If satisfaction is any indication, customers are hungrier for restaurants than they have been in years.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Restaurant Study 2022-2023, customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants is up 1% to a score of 81 (on a scale of 0 to 100). With this improvement, the industry moves back into first place in the Index, sharing the top with athletic shoes and soft drinks. Meanwhile, the fast food industry climbs 3% to 78.
“This year we’re seeing customer satisfaction returning to pre-pandemic levels for full-service dining, while fast food outlets have rebounded to within a point of their 2019 score,” says Forrest Morgeson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and Director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI. “This good news is tempered, though, by increasing inflationary pressures, which are already slowing traffic. Sooner rather than later, the industry is going to feel the pinch, and price competition and value will matter.”
‘Steaking’ its claim: Outback Steakhouse secures top spot among full-service restaurants
There’s a new leader in the full-service restaurant industry.
Outback Steakhouse moves into the top spot after surging 8% to an ACSI score of 83. It appears the rollout of handheld ordering tablets and new ovens and grills are already paying dividends as evidenced by improvements in order accuracy, food quality, and food menu variety.
Two additional steakhouses – LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse – each climb 3% to meet Cracker Barrel (up 5%) in second place at 82 apiece. The latter introduced a new breakfast menu last summer, while also reaffirming its commitment to digital transformation with a new app.
While three of the top four scores belong to steakhouses, their reign could be short lived if 2023 is marred by record cattle prices.
“With beef prices on the rise, these brands may face challenges in managing price increases and supply chain pressures,” adds Morgeson. “On the other hand, the current inflationary environment is benefiting some of these brands as higher-income consumers opt for more affordable chain restaurants over pricier alternatives. This is definitely worth monitoring.”
Overall, the industry seems to be emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic strong, with almost all restauranteurs improving customer satisfaction. Only two full-service restaurants experience a customer satisfaction slip: Fridays, down 1% to 77, and IHOP, down 1% to an ACSI score of 72 — the worst mark in the industry.
Chick-fil-A remains the fast food king, but Jimmy John’s is challenging for the throne
Chick-fil-A leads the industry – and all restaurants – for the ninth straight year after climbing 2% to an ACSI score of 85. The popular chain continues to set the standard with its exceptional combination of food, service, and technological quality.
And yet, while Chick-fil-A improves year over year, its lead dwindles as the next three chains post gains of 4% or higher.
Jimmy John’s takes over sole possession of second place after rising 6% to 84 — truly living up to its “Freaky Fast” moniker by improving its mark for speed of check-out or delivery. The group of smaller fast food purveyors are not far beyond, up 4% to 82, followed by KFC (up 4%) and Papa John’s (up 5%), at 81 and 80, respectively.
Chipotle (down 3% to 75) and Sonic (down 3% to 72) take the biggest hits among fast food restaurants, but the bottom of the (fast) food chain belongs to Taco Bell and McDonald’s. The former slumps 1% to 71, while the golden arches, despite improving 1%, continues to be last with an ACSI score of 69.
Diners feel the pinch … or not?
Restaurant prices are up 8.8% over the last year, making it the first time since mid-2021 that eating out costs consumers more than eating in. And yet, perceived value is improved.
Perceived value with full-service restaurants is up 3% overall, while quality gains 4%. Consider Olive Garden, which has made it a point to keep menu price increases below the inflation rate: Perceived value and quality with the restaurant each improve 5% as it inches closer to the industry averages in both metrics.
Applebee’s, which actually raised menu prices, gains 7% in quality and 5% in value. The company’s value-based promotions and all-you-can-eat deals are particularly attractive to clientele who are “trading down” due to inflation but still looking for full-service experiences.
The ACSI Restaurant Study 2023-2023 is based on interviews with 16,250 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between April 2022 and March 2023. The study also reveals customer satisfaction with key components of the dining experience, including restaurant layout and cleanliness, beverage variety, food variety, courtesy and helpfulness of staff, and more.
No advertising or other promotional use can be made of the data and information in this release without the express prior written consent of ACSI LLC.
About the ACSI
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) has been a national economic indicator for 25 years. It measures and analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies in over 40 industries and 10 economic sectors, including various services of federal and local government agencies. Reported on a scale of 0 to 100, scores are based on data from interviews with roughly 500,000 customers annually. For more information, visit www.theacsi.org.
ACSI and its logo are Registered Marks of American Customer Satisfaction Index LLC.