We wonder if the executives at P.F. Chang’s will demand a recount once they see the results of Market Force Information’s new casual dining survey. The Asian-themed chain finished a strong first on all six key attributes consumers say they value when choosing a restaurant, yet lost out to Italian casual dining chain Maggiano’s Little Italy when it came to declaring an overall favorite.
“This is the first year we included Maggiano’s in the study, and it shot straight to the top, even surpassing Cheesecake Factory, which claimed the title the past two years,” says Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “Once considered a restaurant for special occasions, Maggiano’s is now attracting a broader customer base of business professionals and families who are drawn to its indulgent, value-driven dining experience.”
No argument there. Olive Garden received the highest number of votes, but Market Force tinkered with the results to come up with a “weighted view” that factored in each chain’s number of locations. On that basis, Maggiano’s, which has 44 locations, was declared the winner.
But Market Force dug deeper, seeking to learn why the 7,000 U.S. consumers who participated in its survey choose one restaurant over another. To that end, it queried respondents on six key restaurant attributes: value, cleanliness, food quality, friendly service, healthiness of food and taste. P.F. Chang’s placed first in all six categories. Compiling scores across all six traits, Texas-based seafood chain Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen has the second-highest cumulative score by our count, and Maggiano’s finished just a single point ahead of Cheesecake Factory in third.
The top-ranking casual dining chains within seven different food categories, according to the Market Force Information survey, are:
• Breakfast: Original Pancake House
• Buffet: Souper! Salad!
• Continental: Cheesecake Factory
• Italian: Maggiano’s
• Pizza: California Pizza Kitchen
• Seafood: Bahama Breeze
• Steakhouse: The Capital Grille
Perhaps the most surprising result here is that Bahama Breeze, which was not even included on the list of the 22 chains that were overall favorites, took the seafood category over Pappadeaux, the second-most popular chain overall.
“One of the key takeaways from this survey is that industry competition is growing fiercer as the spread among restaurant chains gets tighter, likely because there are fewer new casual-dining chains entering the market,” said Eden-Harris. “In the continental food category, for example, just 2.2 percent separates the bottom and the top satisfaction performers. This means there’s an added onus to differentiate through service and other areas of operational excellence.”
For another take on the popularity of casual dining restaurants check out Restaurant Hospitality sister publication Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2013 Consumer Picks Special Report. In that study, released in March 2013, The Cheesecake Factory finished first in the casual dining category. The survey was produced by NRN and WD Partners and analyzed customer feedback on more than 150 restaurant brands across four industry segments, including casual dining.
The Market Edge Information survey’s pool of respondents was made up of 75 percent women and 25 percent men. Sixty percent had household incomes greater than $50,00 per year.