For the first time ever, fast-food restaurants are doing a better job of satisfying customers than full-service restaurants.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customer satisfaction with sit-down restaurants fell 3.7% to a score of 78, one point below limited-service restaurants.
Full-service restaurants ranked from best to worst
Cracker Barrel took the top spot for the second year in a row, up 1% to an ACSI score of 84.
Other major names — including LongHorn Steakhouse, TGI Fridays and Red Robin — didn’t fare so well. Smaller chains and independent full-service restaurants dropped 4%.
- Cracker Barrel: 84; up 1%
- Texas Roadhouse: 82; unchanged
- Olive Garden: 81; unchanged
- Red Lobster: 81; up 3%
- Outback Steakhouse: 80; up 4%
- Applebee’s: 79; unchanged
- Smaller chains & independent restaurants: 78; down 4%
- Ruby Tuesday: 78; unchanged
- Chili’s: 77; up 3%
- LongHorn Steakhouse: 77; down 6%
- Denny’s: 76; up 3%
- TGI Fridays: 76; down 3%
- Red Robin: 73; down 9%
This comes as many casual restaurants that expanded rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s are struggling to fill seats.
Money expert Clark Howard says more people are eating at home due to lower grocery prices, and they’re visiting affordable and convenient fast-casual chains when they do eat out.
The ACSI Restaurant Report 2017 says full-service restaurants have declined in these areas:
- Order accuracy
- Restaurant cleanliness and layout
- Food and beverage quality
- Food options
“Lower customer satisfaction is a major threat to the restaurant business,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI Chairman and founder. “Full-service restaurants cannot lose to fast food on quality and customer satisfaction because they can’t compete on price. If a lower-price competitor has higher customer satisfaction than a rival that competes on quality, the latter is obviously in serious trouble. Low price alone rarely leads to high levels of satisfaction, but high quality usually does.”
However, sit-down restaurants have improved their websites, the survey of more than 5,500 customers found.
Many restaurants see takeout and delivery as two key growth areas. They’re working hard to improve their websites and apps, offering free food and discounts to loyalty club members.