The British company that devised a proprietary customer experience metric seems surprised that restaurants score so highly on it. The biggest bombshell: Two Darden brands, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, outranked such usual consumer favorites as Apple, Netflix and Southwest Airlines.
The inaugural Nunwood Customer Experience 100 sought to rank iconic U.S. brands doing business in the retail, financial, restaurant, travel/tourism and online service provider industries. To do so, British consulting firm Nunwood, which describes itself as a global customer experience specialist, surveyed 4,853 U.S adults in earlier this year.
Restaurants, particularly full-service restaurants, did surprisingly well in the results. The number one brand was financial services firm USAA, with Amazon.com finishing second. But Darden’s Red Lobster brand finished third, and Olive Garden came in fifth. Other full-service operations ranked include Applebee’s at 19, IHOP at 20, Chili’s at 24, TGI Friday’s at 31 and Ruby Tuesday at 51.
Fast food brands fared less well. A couple did well—Krispy Kreme came in eighth, Subway tenth. But strong brands like Burger King and KFC (tied at 77) and McDonald’s (82) brought up the rear, trailed only by full-service operation Hooters (88).
Rankings were based on four criteria, scored on a scale of 0 to 10: Would respondents recommend a brand, how well did it meet their needs, was it easy or difficult to deal with, and how well did each company meet their expectations?
“Americans love dining out,” says Nunwood chief strategy officer David Conway. “Customers know what they like and don’t like. The top performers deliver excellent service and react quickly to changing tastes. Four restaurants finished in the top ten brands. That says it all.”
He explains that the Darden brands did well by sticking to the basics.
“Red Lobster simply offers an outstanding dining experience,” Conway explained. “The food is fresh, served consistently well by staff who understand their menu and genuinely cares about their customers. It’s a strong combo.
“In Olive Garden, the experience is pretty much unique, family friendly with unusual entrees and those free breadsticks and unlimited salad. Both epitomize value and quality.”
Nunwood’s data showed that the top-scoring restaurant brands shared common traits lower finishers lacked.
“All have an ingrained customer satisfaction culture in which the customer is always right, and they have the ability to deliver on their customers’ expectations. They also have that wonderful—and extremely important—ability to stand in their customers’ shoes,” Conway says.
Your takeaway from this very large study: Restaurants don’t have to reinvent the wheel or reflect the latest trends to remain top of mind for customers. But you’d better execute the basics well, and have a genuine smile on your face while you do so. These are not shocking revelations, but we’re all aware of numerous restaurants that fail to get these fundamentals of the business right. Don’t be one of them.