Chick-fil-A holds lead as top fast-food restaurant for third year; Cracker Barrel no longer first in full-service

Full-service restaurants and fast-food chains alike are revamping their menus and technology to entice diners with fresh food, mobile ordering and automated kiosks, a new study reported from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) states.

On a 100-point scale, the ACSI found that full-service restaurants achieved a score of 81 this year, up 3.8 percent from last year, and fast-food chains rose by 1.3 percent, up from last year to earn a score of 80.

But while full-service restaurants overall achieved a higher score than fast-food chains, Chick-fil-A earned the top score of any, with 87, the highest average of any dining establishment on the list.

This also marks the third year in a row that Chick-fil-A has dominated this survey.

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Not so closely behind Chick-fil-A was Panera Bread, with a score of 81. Subway and Arby’s both fell 1 percent to earn scores of 80 and 79, respectively. Starbucks rose 1 percent to tie with Dunkin’ Donuts this year, while KFC fell 1 percent to earn the last place spot of 77.

Full-service restaurants have also been working hard to compete with the super-speedy fast-food chains, which, last year, earned a higher score on the Consumer Satisfaction Index (2017). This year’s index shows that their efforts have paid off.

The study says that “as the economy improves, consumers have more money to spend, and they’re dining out more.”

To that end, Texas Roadhouse, with a score of 83, overtook Cracker Barrel as the front-runner this year, with Cracker Barrel falling 4 percent to 81, and tieing with Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse for second place.

Third place went to Olive Garden, which fell 1 percent to 80, while Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Red Robin and TGI Fridays all tied at 79.

“TGI Fridays jumps 4 percent, a result fueled by a menu overhaul and a return to its roots as a bar,” the study states.

Red Robin has the biggest gain in the industry, with a jump of 8 percent. “Its focus on menu innovation, online ordering, and call center support helped fuel a 40 percent increase in off-premises sales in the first quarter year over year and resulted in major gains in customer satisfaction.”

Applebee’s, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday followed with a score of 78, with Denny’s just a point behind in last place.

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Within the pizza industry, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut tied with a score of 80, with Pizza Hut rising 5 percent due to the implementation of a new rewards program, and investments in equipment, technology and marketing, the ACSI writes.

Domino's is close behind at 79, while Little Caesars is last with 77.

The study also found that Chipotle has not fully bounced back from their food safety crisis in 2016, earning a score of 79, while Taco Bell has dropped 3 percent for a 74.

Burger chains overall fall at the lower end of the fast-food industry. Wendy’s rose to 77 to overtake Burger King, 76.

Jack in the Box falls to 74, but McDonalds remains in last place not only in the burger industry, but across the entire study, with a score of 69.

The ACSI Restaurant Report 2018 is based on 22,522 customer surveys collected between June 19, 2017 and May 29, 2018.