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Cleanliness is Still Name of the Game; Food and Service Sentiment Pick Up Strength in March

Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot™

Top 5 Restaurant Brands

Best Restaurants Rated Socially for Food

Food

  • Seasons 52
  • California Fish Grill
  • Eddie V's
  • True Food Kitchen
  • The Capital Grille
Best Restaurants Rated Socially for Service

Service

  • Ocean Prime
  • Seasons 52
  • Eddie V's
  • True Food Kitchen
  • The Capital Grille
Best Restaurants Rated Socially for Intent to Return

Intent to Return

  • Seasons 52
  • Fleming's
  • The Capital Grille
  • Eddie V's
  • In-N-Out

Connecting the Dots on Performance

strongest guest sentiment for full-service was in service and food
strongest guest sentiment for limited service was in ambiance and food

Since the beginning of the year restaurants have been experiencing swift recovery in their sales. Q1 2021 was the best quarter for the industry based on 2-year same-store sales growth in over a year. Digging deeper within this recovery’s sales numbers reveals a wide range of performance between restaurant brands. Looking at how top performing restaurant brands were perceived by their guests enlightens in terms of what they seem to value the most when experiencing those restaurants.

Back in Q1 of 2020, before COVID-19 was in our collective minds and it was business as usual for most restaurants in the country, “food” was the attribute that had the most positive net sentiment among top performing restaurant companies in both limited-service and full-service.

A year later, in Q1 of 2021, the attribute with the highest net sentiment scores among top performing restaurant brands in limited-service was “ambiance”. Over the last year, changes in “ambiance” sentiment have typically been associated with “cleanliness” sentiment. Comments from guests frequently touch upon “clean” and adherence to health and cleanliness protocols by employees. Strong “ambiance” scores among top performing restaurants highlights the importance of this component to the restaurant experience, even in a predominantly off-premise, convenience-driven environment such as limited-service.

In the case of full-service restaurants, “service” emerged as the attribute with the strongest net sentiment among top performing brands. Dine-in sales accelerated throughout the quarter as consumers increasingly felt comfortable going out to eat again as new cases of the virus dropped, vaccines were quickly rolled out and they had more money in their pockets because of government aid.

As guests return to dining in at restaurants, particularly in full-service, attention is once again on the sense of human connection and personal attention that elevates the restaurant experience beyond providing food or beverage.

Top DMAS

  • Best Restaurant Food DMA

    Food

    raleigh, nc
  • Best Restaurant Service DMA

    Service

    raleigh, nc
  • Best Restaurant Service DMA

    Intent to Return

    raleigh, nc
  • Best Restaurant Service DMA

    Beverage

    houston, tx
  • Best Restaurant Service DMA

    Ambiance

    los angeles, ca
  • Best Restaurant Value DMA

    Value

    los angeles, ca

Bottom DMAS

  • Worst Restaurant Food DMA

    Food

    philadelphia, pa
  • Worst Restaurant Service DMA

    Service

    philadelphia, pa
  • Worst Restaurant Service DMA

    Intent to Return

    detroit, mi
  • Worst Restaurant Service DMA

    Beverages

    philadelphia, pa
  • Worst Restaurant Service DMA

    Ambiance

    nashville, tn
  • Worst Restaurant Value DMA

    Value

    charlotte, nc

Among the larger metropolitan areas of the country, Raleigh emerged with the most positive guest sentiment based on restaurant “food,” “service” and “intent to return.” Orlando, which usually leads guest sentiment in several categories each month has run into some challenges during March.

But a larger story is the strong, positive guest sentiment shown by Los Angeles during the month. The aftermath of the huge COVID spike at the end of last year meant restaurant restrictions have been tighter and held in place longer than most of the country. As a result, restaurants there have been hit hard by the crisis. Among the largest 25 DMAs in the country, the three with the biggest restaurant traffic loss in March on a 2-year comparison basis are all in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Nonetheless, as restaurants continue their path to fully reopen and recover, guests in Los Angeles were the most positive among large cities based on their reviews on restaurant “ambiance” and “value.” Furthermore, Los Angeles also had the second-highest guest sentiment based on restaurant “food,” “service” and “intent to return.”

“Ambiance” in particular is interesting given its connection to “cleanliness,” which has stood out over the last twelve months as a key component of guest satisfaction. Besides Los Angeles, the four DMAs with the strongest “ambiance” sentiment during March also included San Francisco and Sacramento. As restaurants there expand their operations on the road back to “normal” they are being especially careful with the cleanliness aspect of ambiance. Guests have been quick to recognize the effort and rally behind them through positive online reviews and comments.

Black Box Intelligence™ is the leading data and insights provider of workforce, guest, consumer and financial performance benchmarks for the hospitality industry. The Black Box Intelligence product suite is the industry standard for operators seeking to achieve best-in-class performance results. With the largest and most reliable set of real restaurant data in the marketplace, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes nearly 300 brands, 2.4 million employees, 50,000 restaurant units and $76 billion in annual sales revenue. Black Box Intelligence is also the producer of the Global Best Practices Conference held annually in Dallas, Texas.

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The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot (RGSS) is produced by data from Black Box Guest Intelligence™. Guest Intelligence is tracking over 190 brands to benchmark customer satisfaction and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The data set focuses on six key attributes of the restaurant industry experience: food, service, ambiance, beverage, value and intent to return.

The RGSS algorithm determines the highest ranking brands based on sentiment. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must have a minimum number of units to be eligible as well. DMA rankings consider only the largest 25 areas.

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