Which sit-down restaurant chain has the best food? Worst service? Which one is the most kid-friendly? Here are the answers, based on more than 110,000 restaurant visits by readers of Consumer Reports, which most of us consider the absolute leader in non-partial reviews of products and services.
Americans spend about $1.7 billion a day at restaurants, and whether you’re traveling the interstate, looking for a sumptuous supper, or just want to get away from the kitchen for an meal, this survey will guide you to finding the best meals, best nutrition, and best deals at 102 of the nation’s biggest sit-down chain restaurants.
The survey rated taste, value, service, ambiance, cleanliness, menu variety, and a lack of noise. These chains rated at the top of the list — Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, Black Angus Steakhouse, Bob Evans, Bravo Cucina Italiana, First Watch, J. Alexander’s, Le Peep, Elmer’s and Fatz Eatz & Drinkz.
These chains rated at the bottom — Friendly’s and Waffle House. That’s a shame, because they are family-friendly, open long hours, and are budget priced. Both drew low marks for cleanliness and mood. Friendly’s also was criticized for lackluster service. The pub-style Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar also rated poorly, criticized for value and noise.
The Consumer Reports survey, in the August 2012 issue, also indicates growing popularity for steaks and barbecue, seafood, Italian, Mexican, and Asian. It also includes chains offering specialized fare, such as fondue at The Melting Pot, Japanese hibachi cooking at Benihana, and Cajun favorites at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.
On average, readers were very satisfied with half of the 102 chains in the survey. But one-fourth of all survey respondents complained about the restaurant being too noisy. The noisiest were Texas Roadhouse, Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. Bad service was another complaint, especially at Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Chevys Fresh Mex and Benihana.
Patrons singled out First Watch and Legal Seafoods as most likely to offer healthy menu choices. Least likely to sell healthful fare were Buffalo Wild Wings, Quaker Steak & Lube, Waffle House, Hooters, and Johnny Rockets.
Bad service was another complaint, especially at Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Chevys Fresh Mex and Benihana. During one in 10 visits, the wait staff was slow, inattentive, pushy, messy, or mistake-prone. No surprise, perhaps, that there were a fair number of small tippers among our respondents. During about 20 percent of visits, guests left a tip of less than 15 percent; during 2 percent of visits, they left less than 10 percent. Chains with the highest percentage of tips below 15 percent were Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cheddar’s, Country Kitchen, Don Pablo’s, El Torito, Joe’s Crab Shack, Logan’s Roadhouse, Lone Star Steakhouse, McGrath’s, Shari’s, and Shoney’s.
Many national restaurant chains offer discounts for diners 55+. Click here for a full list of restaurant and other discounts for boomers and seniors on NYC on the Cheap.