Each year the Michigan-based consumer survey company American Customer Satisfaction Index asks customers to rank 12 full-service restaurants and 17 limited-service restaurants on their food quality, service, cleanliness, order accuracy, website, and helpfulness of wait staff, among other criteria.
Texas Roadhouse last year held the top spot among the 12 full-service restaurants that ACSI surveys customers about. This year, the steakhouse chain dropped down to third place behind restaurant and retail combo Cracker Barrel and direct competitor LongHorn Steakhouse.
Still, the Louisville chain was among the top five of all 29 ranked restaurants. Its overall satisfaction rating was 82 on a 100-point scale, only a 1.2 percent decline compared to 2015.
“There really isn’t anything to make from that,” said David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI. “Those all are three outstanding chains in terms of the quality of food and customer service.”
Full-service restaurants overall have maintained a high average rating of 81, which is among the top 5 industry ratings that ACSI compiles. Other industries surveyed include hotels, household appliances, wireless phone services, banks and apparel.
“Full-service is more about the food (quality),” VanAmburg said. “With fast food, it’s more ‘I expect it to be cheaper. I expect it to be quicker.’”
Papa John’s took home the second place ranking among limited-service restaurants, which include both fast-food places like McDonald’s and quick-service eateries such as Chipotle Mexican Grill. The pizza chain scored an 82 on the ACSI survey, up three points from last year.
“At Papa John’s, it all comes down to better ingredients — and our most important ingredient is our people. We take care of our people, who in turn go above and beyond to take care of customers.,” said John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s, said in a news release.
For the past five years, Papa John’s has placed No. 1 among the four pizza chains ranked. In 2013, however, it shared the title with Domino’s Pizza, and Papa John’s tied Yum! Brands subsidiary Pizza Hut for first in 2014 and 2015.
“It really is about the quality,” VanAmburg said. “That is something Papa John’s has leveraged itself in its marketing.”
While other pizza chains have risen to the top only to drop back down, Papa John’s has remained near the top of the limited-service restaurants ranking since ACSI first included the company in its survey in 1999 “because of that commitment to the toppings, the quality of the dough, the baking model,” he said.
Fried chicken chain Chick-fil-A took the top spot in the limited-service restaurant category with 87 points, above Louisville-based competitor KFC. The Yum-owned fast-food joint scored 78 points.
Although that represents a 6.8 percent increase compared to 2015, KFC and its sister brands Taco Bell and Pizza Hut remain in the bottom tier of ranked restaurants. Pizza Hut and Taco Bell scored 77 points and 75 points respectively. In 2015, Taco Bell scored 72, and Pizza Hut scored 78.
KFC’s score increased by 5 points, and Taco Bell’s rose by 3 points, which are “significant,” he said. But “Yum overall is a bit lackluster when it comes to the performance in the category.”
The fact that Taco Bell is ranked third from last place may come as a surprise given the positive growth the Mexican fast-food restaurant has seen during the last few years. Same-store sales at Taco Bell rose 1 percent during the first quarter of 2016, according to Yum’s quarterly earnings report. In 2015, the chain’s same-store sales rose 5 percent and its operating profit jumped 12 percent.
Taco Bell also is considered a model for how to engage the Millennial generations and has become a direct competitor with McDonald’s after introducing a breakfast menu. Industry experts talk about about Taco Bell as a hip, cool brand.
“I’m sure that’s true, but for whatever year in and year out, customers we survey don’t give it particularly good marks,” VanAmburg said. “Something’s not resonating. I’m not sure what.”