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Chick Fil-A, Panera Bread, Chipotle: Customers’ Most Excellent LSRs

California-based market research firm Sandelman & Associates once again held its Quick-Track Awards of Excellence, in recognition of the top restaurant chains which have maintained their overall customer satisfaction ratings through the years. Chick Fil-A, Panera Bread and Chipotle led the list for 2011.

Quick-Track made a poll of over 107,400 customers of limited service restaurants, both fast-food and fast-casual, in 87 media markets in the U.S. The list of awardees was divided into two, separating the large restaurant chains—those with 500 or more U.S. locations—from those that only have below 500 units.

Large Chain Awardees

The large U.S. limited-service restaurant chains which received excellent ratings from the Quick-Track’s respondents were led by Chick Fil-A with 63% rating, Panera Bread with 58%, and Chipotle Mexican Grill with a 57% score. Jersey Mike’s Subs followed with a 53% rating, Five Guys Burger came fifth with 53%, and Papa Murphy’s Pizza trailed the pack with 52%.

The last four large chains which made it to the top ten include Zaxby’s (51%), Starbucks (50%), Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches (8%) and Whataburger (45%).

Smaller Chain Awardees

For chains which do not have more than 500 units, those who made it to the list includes Salt Lake City’s Café Rio Mexican Grill (65%), Baton Rouge’s Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers (63%), Irvine, CA’s In-N-Out Burger (63%), Las Vegas’ Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (61%), Scottsdale, AZ’s Pei Wei Asian Diner (59%), Memphis’ Lenny’s Sub Shop (58%) and Florida’s Firehouse Subs (57%).

Attributes that leads to excellent customer dining experience

The awards of excellence were based on 16 attributes of restaurant customers’ dining experience, including how the restaurants’ chefs in smart-looking chef coats enhance the taste and flavor of their food, value for money, affordability of the prices, healthy and nutritious food and kid appeal. Little Caesars have been gaining the highest rank for “value for money,” and “affordability” for four years in a row, while Subway once again garnered the top spot for “healthy and nutritious food.” McDonald’s, on the other hand, was unseated by Chick-Fil-A as the number one chain with kid appeal. It could be noted, however, that all three chains were not able to make it to the research firm’s top ten awardees.

“The recognized restaurants have made excellence an element of their institutional DNA, serving first-rate fresh food and offering it in a cozy, inviting and comfortable environment,” said Bob Sandelman, chief executive officer and founder of Sandelman & Associates. “Many of these giant chains also came up with improved spaces and better food that their chefs in outstanding chef coats prepare.”

Employees matter

Sandelman implied that the restaurants’ employees and their mindsets have a great impact on the performance of the chains. “The best-rated chains have ingrained superiority and excellence in their employees’ minds, which eventually made them grow. The great thing is that this improvement was also seen by their customers, and they rewarded them for it,” said Sandelman.