The satisfaction gap between fast food and full-service restaurants is the largest since 2010. Customers are less satisfied with fast food as their discretionary income improves and preferences shift in favor of quality over price, according to new data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants holds steady at 82 on ACSI’s 100-point scale, while fast food restaurants fall 3.8 percent to 77, the lowest score in five years.

“The job market is the strongest it has been in years, which is having an interesting effect on supply and demand,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. “On the demand side, consumers with greater discretionary income seem to put quality ahead of price in their decision-making. On the supply side, restaurants are finding it harder to hire and retain qualified and motivated workers, which can have an adverse impact on service quality.”

In the full-service category, the aggregate of smaller chains scores 83 and shares the lead with ACSI newcomer Texas Roadhouse. Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse debuts at 81, but Outback Steakhouse slides 3 percent to 78. Another new ACSI entrant, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, scores 80, coming in just ahead of Darden’s Olive Garden (down 1 percent to 79).

The competitive landscape once had full-service restaurants expanding their menus to broaden appeal, but the trend now is toward simplification and shorter menus. As of yet, however, these changes do not seem to have had much of an impact for companies like Red Lobster (down 1 percent to 77) and Chili’s (unchanged at 74). Other full-service restaurants new to the Index are Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (77), TGI Fridays (76), Denny’s (75) and Ruby Tuesday (73).

In addition to company and industry customer satisfaction scores, the ACSI measures critical elements of the dining experience that affect patron satisfaction. These customer experience benchmarks include the quality and variety of food and beverages, restaurant layout and cleanliness, and service elements such as staff courtesy, food order accuracy, and speed of food delivery to the customer.


Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Industry News, Chili's, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, Red Lobster, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday's