Market Force Study Reveals Cheesecake Factory is Favorite Casual-Dining Restaurant for Second Year in a Row

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Texas Roadhouse is No. 2 and Olive Garden is No. 3 in national consumer survey

casual restaurants ranked study favorite

Graph 2: Casual-Dining Restaurant Rankings – Indexed by Number of Locations

This is the second year in a row that Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden took the top three spots.

Cheesecake Factory is the nation’s favorite casual-dining restaurant, according to an annual consumer restaurant chain survey conducted by Market Force Information, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence and customer experience management solutions. This is the second consecutive year the popular U.S. chain has landed in the survey’s No. 1 spot.

More than 4,500 consumers across North America participated in the survey, which was conducted in August 2011. It examined which casual-dining restaurants consumers prefer and which attributes are the most important to them. Market Force first calculated the favorites based on pure number of votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain to effectively measure which chain garnered the most votes per restaurant.

When the consumers were shown a list of the country’s 51 top casual-dining restaurants and asked to select their single favorite, Olive Garden earned the most raw votes (for the second consecutive year), followed by Applebee’s (which tied for first place with Olive Garden in 2010), and then Red Lobster, Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse. See Graph 1.

Cheesecake Factory Hits Sweet Spot as Nation’s Favorite
However, the top vote-getters are not necessarily the consumer favorites. Since consumers are only likely to vote for restaurants they patronize and that are located in their area, Market Force indexed the results to account for the number of restaurant locations per chain. When the votes were weighted, Cheesecake Factory was the first choice among consumers by a wide margin, earning 7.3% of the vote share – more than double the 3.2% earned by the second-place finisher Texas Roadhouse. Olive Garden came in third in the study with 2.8%, and P.F. Chang’s and Carrabba’s Italian Grill followed in fourth and fifth place. Sixteen chains made it to the top of the rankings, each collecting 0.2% or more of the vote.

This is the second year in a row Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden took the top three spots. In Market Force’s 2010 restaurant chain survey, Cheesecake Factory ranked first, Texas Roadhouse and Red Robin tied for second, and Olive Garden came in third.

On the flip side, restaurants that are not tickling as many tastebuds this year include Denny’s, IHOP and Ruby Tuesday. While in the top 16 overall, all three landed on the bottom of these rankings with one-half percent or less of the vote. See Graph 2.

Which Restaurants Reigned Supreme by Attribute?
Market Force attempted to uncover why respondents prefer one casual-dining restaurant over another by asking those who selected a given brand as a favorite to rate them by attributes such as food quality, taste, speed of service, cleanliness and value. The categories with the greatest variance in consumer ratings were value and speed of service. Consumer favorite Cheesecake Factory did not excel on any one attribute, but it fared well across all of them, particularly in the important areas of food quality and taste. Golden Corral scored highest on value – a category showing quite a bit of differentiation – as well as on speed of service, which is logical given it offers a self-service buffet. See Graph 3.

Ruby Tuesday Differentiates Through Healthy Choices, IHOP Through Its Green Practices
Market Force also looked at how the chains differentiate by other noteworthy attributes, such as healthy choices, accommodating children, atmosphere and green/sustainable practices. Ruby Tuesday was called out for having the healthiest menu choices, Golden Corral was the most kid-friendly, Carrabba’s rated highest for atmosphere and IHOP led in sustainable/green practices, a category where several restaurant chains received zero votes. Meanwhile, Red Robin ranked lowest in both the atmosphere and healthy choices categories, and P.F. Chang’s was at the bottom for accommodating children. See Graph 4.

Charting Casual-Dining Restaurants on The Customer Delight Index
In a related Market Force survey, 3,300 consumers were asked to rate their last experience eating at any casual-dining restaurant. Market Force analyzed the data to develop a Consumer Delight Index revealing the intersection between the likelihood of recommending the restaurant to friends/family and overall satisfaction. Top-ranked chains were plotted on the graph, with the median scores providing a quadrant measure. On this index, eight brands came out with above average index scores, including Texas Roadhouse which came in first with an average satisfaction rating of 4.7 and a recommendation rating of 73%. Cheesecake Factory came in second with an average satisfaction score of 4.58 and with 72% of respondents likely to recommend it. Red Robin rounded out the top three with an average satisfaction rating of 4.6 and 67% of consumers likely to recommend it. Other high-scoring restaurants included Outback Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday. See Graph 5.

The pool of survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to more than 70 and reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 62 percent reporting incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Seventy six percent were women, the primary household consumer purchasers. Half of the participants said they have children at home.

For more information on Market Force’s customer intelligence solutions for the restaurant industry, visit

About Market Force Information
Market Force Information Inc. is the leading global customer intelligence solutions company for multi-location businesses, including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged goods companies. With more than 125 years of combined industry experience, Market Force Information has pioneered the industry with a suite of customer intelligence solutions – from 600,000 field associates across North America and Europe who conduct mystery shopping, merchandising and retail auditing, to real customer surveys and proprietary decision-support tools. Its solutions provide a holistic view of the customer's on-site experience and identify the actions required at the store level to increase customer loyalty and improve financial performance. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @MarketForce.


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Rebecca Scanlan
GroundFloor Media
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