Consumers may continue to eat out about four times a week on average, but their dining satisfaction at full-service places is stagnating — and even falling among fast-food joints. Those trends suggest consumers are not likely to spend more money at restaurants even as the economy improves.
So concludes the findings of the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index, or ACSI, to be unveiled today, which ranks the consumer dining experience on a 100-point scale at both full- and limited-service restaurants.
Among full-service restaurants examined by ACSI, Outback Steakhouse saw its customer satisfaction scores drop from a respectable 80 in the 2014 index to a 78 in the 2015 index. That 3 percent dip is hardly a big swing, but it comes as the ACSI reports that two direct competitors of Outback — a major steak chain owned by Tampa's Bloomin' Brands — delivered higher satisfaction numbers. Both Texas Roadhouse and LongHorn Steakhouse racked up some of the highest scores in the 2015 index of full-service restaurants. Neither chain was ranked last year, so it's anybody's guess as to whether their satisfaction stars are rising or falling.
Overall, the ACSI found customer satisfaction in the full-service restaurant sector remained flat with an overall score of 82.
Bloomin' Brands spokeswoman Cathie Koch said she was hesitant to provide a comment about the company's Outback chain on a study that she has not seen. But she cited recent coverage in Nation's Restaurant News Top 100 issue released June 15 that reported a more optimistic outlook for dining growth. The limited-service (fast food) category is up 3.2 percent while casual dining (full service), including Outback, is up 4.1 percent.
The ACSI report found many restaurant chains are trying to slim down their menu offerings — a strategy Bloomin' Brands is pursuing.
"While full-service restaurants once relied on expansive menus aimed at satisfying a variety of tastes, the trend is now toward menu simplification and a concentration on core offerings," the ACSI study says.
Among fast-food chains, the ACSI found a distinct decline in customer satisfaction, with an overall industry score of 77. Of 13 chains with year-to-year scores, only one — Dunkin' Donuts — gained in satisfaction from 2014, according to the ACSI.
Chick-fil-A topped the chains the ACSI measured with a score of 86 — even topping perennial powerhouse Chipotle's 83.
At the bottom with a score dropping to 67 this year from 71 last year is McDonald's. It may still be the biggest fast-food chain worldwide by revenues, but it's in a major struggle to reverse a downward slide in satisfaction of a whole lot of customers.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com.