Maggiano’s is the nation’s favorite casual-dining restaurant chain, according to a recent study by Market Force Information, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence solutions. Specializing in family-style Italian cuisine, the restaurant chain just edged out Pappadeaux, which ranked second, followed by Cheesecake Factory, Bonefish Grill, and P.F. Chang’s.

The study of more than 7,000 consumers was designed to uncover which casual-dining chains they like most–both overall and by specific food category–as well as why they prefer one to another. Market Force first calculated the favorites based on total votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a weighted view of the results. Of the 114 chains studied, Olive Garden initially amassed the highest number of votes, which can be attributed to the fact that it has hundreds of restaurants across the country. However, when viewed as a calculation of votes per location, Maggiano’s ranked first.

“This is the first year we included Maggiano’s in the study, and it shot straight to the top, even surpassing Cheesecake Factory, which claimed the title the past two years,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “Once considered a restaurant for special occasions, Maggiano’s is now attracting a broader customer base of business professionals and families who are drawn to its indulgent, value-driven dining experience.”

Other Findings

Market Force also calculated the top chains according to various attributes including value, cleanliness, food quality, friendly service, healthiness of food and taste. P.F. Chang’s was a clear favorite across the board. The Asian-influenced restaurant had the largest margin in the taste category with 64 percent of the vote, while second-ranked Pappadeaux earned 59 percent.

Overall-favorite Maggiano’s performed consistently well in most categories, landing in the top three for service, food quality, and cleanliness. Pappadeaux was lauded for its food and service, and Bonefish ranked high for its healthy cuisine. Cheesecake Factory also earned a top-five spot in all of the categories, particularly excelling in cleanliness, value, and taste.

Market Force also asked consumers to rate casual-dining restaurants in seven different food categories–Italian, buffets, steakhouses, seafood, pizza, continental and breakfast. Again, the votes were indexed by location count to even the playing field.

Cheesecake Factory emerged as a favorite among continental-style chains, California Pizza Kitchen was the No. 1 pizza place, and the Original Pancake House was the top breakfast spot. Other chains, many of them new to Market Force’s survey this year, also led the rankings in subcategories, including Maggiano’s for Italian, Souper! Salad! for buffets, Bahama Breeze among seafood, and Capital Grille for Steakhouses.


“One of the key takeaways from this survey is that industry competition is growing fiercer as the spread among restaurant chains gets tighter, likely because there are fewer new casual-dining chains entering the market,” said Eden-Harris. “In the continental food category, for example, just 2.2 percent separates the bottom and the top satisfaction performers. This means there’s an added onus to differentiate through service and other areas of operational excellence.”

Market Force also looked at how the favorite casual dining chains compared in various attributes to determine if they set apart the leaders from the rest. Here is a synopsis of how the contenders fared in each of the categories.

Breakfast: La Peep led in four out of six attributes, standing out for its healthy and high-quality food, cleanliness, and friendly service. Waffle House and Denny’s ranked first and second for value, and Original Pancake House outscored the others in food taste.

Buffet: Pizza Ranch was an overwhelming favorite in most of the categories, beating out the others by a wide margin for service, food quality, taste, and cleanliness. Cici’s Pizza offers the best value, while Souper! Salad! received high marks for the healthiness of its food. On the flip side, Old Country Buffet scored relatively low in most attributes.  

Continental: Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel, and BJ’s Brewhouse were strong performers in all attributes. Cheesecake Factory was a favorite for food taste and quality, Cracker Barrel placed highest in value and friendly service, and BJ’s Brewhouse was the only brand to rank in the top three in all seven attributes. Ruby Tuesday scored low in many areas, but was No. 1 in food healthiness.

Italian: Not surprisingly, Maggiano’s led in every area, with the largest margin for food quality. Carrabba’s tied Maggiano’s for healthiness and ranked second in every other attribute. Olive Garden and Romano’s Macaroni Grill–the other two casual-dining chains included in this category–had comparable ratings, although Olive Garden fared slightly better.   

Pizza: The only chain to cross two categories–Pizza and Buffet–Pizza Ranch placed remarkably well, taking the top spot for all six attributes. Boston Pizza placed ranked second in all categories except for taste, which was taken by Roundtable Pizza, and healthiness of food, where California Pizza Kitchen and Chuck E. Cheese’s tied for second.  

Seafood: In the seafood category, where meal prices tend to run a bit higher, Pappadeaux ranked first in value, while Red Lobster and Joe’s Crab Shack tied for last place. Hawaiian-fusion chain Roy’s was a clear favorite for food quality and taste, and Bubba Gump’s was recognized for its friendly service.

Steakhouse: The Capital Grill, which was the overall favorite casual-dining steakhouse, was first or second in every category except value. Fleming’s also had a strong showing, with the highest scores for service, cleanliness, and healthiness of food. Texas Roadhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse offer the best value, according to the survey respondents.  

Survey Demographics

The survey was conducted in March 2013 across the United States. The pool of more than 7,000 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 60 percent reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 75 percent were women and 25 percent were men, and nearly half have children at home.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Industry News, Bahama Breeze, California Pizza Kitchen, Maggiano's, The Capital Grille, The Cheesecake Factory