The annual American Consumer Satisfaction Index also reveals some additional worries for sit-down chains during the pandemic.

By Mike Pomranz
July 01, 2020
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Across America, cities are struggling with the realities of how to reopen dine-in restaurants during an ongoing pandemic. But back when “coronavirus” wasn’t quite part of our vocabularies, America was already on its way to crowning a new favorite sit-down restaurant chain—at least according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. ACSI has just released its annual look at major brands across the dining spectrum, and this year, LongHorn Steakhouse has topped the full-service list.

Last year, Texas Roadhouse claimed the top spot for the second year in a row, having knocked off the 2017 champ, Cracker Barrel. But this year, after significant drops from both Texas Roadhouse and Cracker Barrel, LongHorn Steakhouse led the pack simply by holding steady with its score of 81.

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To compile the list, ASCI used thousands of customer evaluations taken between April 2019 and March 2020 to assign a 100-point “satisfaction index” to 12 chains, as well as “all others.” Interestingly, those “all others” were deemed the second most satisfying, followed by Texas Roadhouse, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, Applebee’s, Denny’s, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, and finally Chili’s—which also dropped several points to a score of just 75.

As far as limited-service establishments are concerned, ASCI looked at 19 brands (and “all others”), and despite a dip in its score, Chick-fil-A once again maintained its dominating lead over the competition. The chicken chain scored an 84; “all others” finished second with an 80, followed by Chipotle Mexican Grill, also with an 80.

The rest of the list continued: Arby’s, Domino’s, Dunkin’, KFC, Panera Bread, Subway, Papa John’s, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Little Caesars, Wendy’s, Popeyes, Sonic Drive-In, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and—once again finishing a few points behind everyone else—McDonald’s was last with a score of 70, still a one point improvement over last year.

But in analyzing this year’s results, ASCI had a larger takeaway: Customers were already becoming less satisfied with dine-in restaurants before the COVID-19 lockdowns even started. The customer satisfaction scores for full-service restaurants were below 80 for only the second time in the history of the report. And that’s not all.

“What is even more concerning is that the full-service restaurant industry is less satisfying when it comes to the now-critical components of takeout and delivery,” the report states. “Customers are the happiest when dining in (ACSI score of 78) as compared with either carryout (75) or delivery (77). Moreover, in the ACSI survey, 92 percent of respondents reported dining in at a sit-down venue, while only 6 percent opted for carryout and 2 percent for delivery. While many operators were pivoting toward off-premises dining before the pandemic, not all were prepared to shift operations entirely over to takeout and delivery.”