Let's get this out of the way up front: We're not huge fans of large restaurant chains. We are all about small family owned restaurants where the chef and owner is intimately involved with everything from the cuisine to the decor.
But in our modern world, most folks dine regularly at chain restaurants. So it's helpful to find out which ones deliver, and which ones confirm the stereotypes.
Consumer Reports did a recent survey of over 70,000 subscribers making over 150,000 visits to over a hundred different chains. And the results are interesting.
Patrons gave 21 chains top marks for food. Included were The Original Pancake House, Bravo Cucina Italiano, Texas Road House, Bone Fish Grill, Morton's the Steakhouse and Abuelo's.
Five chains earned exceptional scores for value: Black-eyed Pea, Sonny's Real Pit BBQ, Azteca Mexican Restaurant, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, and First Watch.
At the other end of the spectrum, with lower marks across the board, were Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Joe's Crab Shack, and Friendly's.
For good meals on a budget (less than $20,) respondents recommended Mimi's Cafe, Abuelo's, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, Elephant Bar Restaurant and Texas Roadhouse. Those restaurants earned better-than-average marks for food and value. First Watch and The Original Pancake House were also standouts for food and value, but are limited to breakfast and lunch fare.
When choosing a chain for a special occasion, Houston's, J. Alexander's, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, Bravo Cucina Italiano, Maggiano's Little Italy, Il Fornaio, Bonefish Grill, McCormick & Schmick's, The Capital Grille, Morton's the Steakhouse, Ruth's Chris Steak House and the Melting Pot all earned the highest marks for food, mood, and service.
Respondents weren't shy about discussing problems. Noise (from loud customers and crowded tables) was the complaint cited most often. The Texas Road House, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, and Hooters were among the chains cited with higher than average noise complaints. Sloppy service (waiters or waitresses were inattentive or slow to bring food or the check) was next. The Rainforest Cafe, Friendly's and
the Cheesecake Factory were among the eight chains with above average
Friendly's, Shoney's, and Logan's Roadhouse were among the chains cited for lack of cleanliness (bathrooms or floors were dirty, tableware was grimy). On average food-prep problems complaints (dishes were under- or overcooked, had too much or too little seasoning, or looked unappetizing) were low--only about 7 percent
There were also complaints about long waits, which were more likely than average at The Cheesecake Factory, Rainforest Cafe, Texas Roadhouse, Houston's, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, and Outback Steakhouse. At those restaurants, 6 to 14 percent of respondents waited 30 minutes or more to be seated.