An Italian chain tops the list, and new names lead the pizza and breakfast categories.

By Mike Pomranz
January 17, 2019
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By their very nature, casual dining restaurants should offer satisfying experiences. Less fussy than fine dining establishments and more upmarket than fast food but with a similar level of reliability, when done correctly, a casual dining restaurant can check a lot of comforting boxes with minimal mental engagement. And yet, for these exact reasons, casual dining can quickly turn frustrating if it doesn’t land in this anticipated middle ground. However, for casual diners, good news! The customer service management company Market Force has just revealed the results of its annual casual dining survey, and customer satisfaction rates have increased nearly across the board.

Courtesy of Market Force Information

Leading the charge is Maggiano’s: The Italian chain took the title as America’s favorite casual dining chain in 2018 – ranked on satisfaction according to the survey of over 6,700 customers. But as Market Force points out, the biggest news of the year is probably the arrival of two major newcomers: “Daytime cafe” First Watch, which specializes in breakfast and lunch, topped the breakfast category in its first appearance in the poll; meanwhile, Blaze Pizza had the highest customer loyalty of any pizza chain, also in its poll debut.

Courtesy of Market Force Information
Courtesy of Market Force Information

Other brands that topped their respective categories were Cracker Barrel, which topped general menu chains, Texas Roadhouse, which was named the top steakhouse chain for the fourth straight year, Golden Corral, which was named the top buffet chain, Bonefish Grill, which was last year’s top overall chain but this year could only top the seafood category, and Maggiano’s, which was also named the top Italian chain on its path to being the top chain overall.

Courtesy of Market Force Information

Still, despite the positive news, Brad Christian, chief customer officer for Market Force, suggested these brands should still look to continue to improve. “Stats show that casual dining hasn’t suffered the same sales slump as the fast casual sector, but they’re not completely out of the woods,” he said in a statement. “To continue same-store sales growth, casual dining chains rely on repeat visits from loyal guests, particularly since they’re more expensive than fast casual and QSR. These brands should be looking at options such as third-party delivery services, additional promotions and simplifying the ordering process with tablets to continue their strong returns.”

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