Nation’s Restaurant News has rolled out the fourth annual Consumer Picks survey. Each year the survey has gotten bigger and better, containing more restaurant brands and new insights. The 2014 study keeps this trend intact.   

This year the survey includes 162 different brands, eight more than last year and 23 more than appeared in our first survey in 2011. In addition, nine new concepts are represented in this year’s Consumer Picks: Limited-Service brands Great American Cookie, Jet’s Pizza, Rubio’s, Sarku Japan, Togo’s and Tropical Smoothie Café; the Family-Dining brand Coco’s; and two Fine-Dining brands, The Capital Grille and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.  

This year’s survey reflects more than 44,000 vetted consumer ratings. More detail on how we conduct the survey can be found in the methodology below. Suffice it to say, we use multiple screening techniques to identify and eliminate those responses that do not meet our tests for reliability.

Each year we make the point that, as in all surveys of this type, differences in closely ranked ratings should be considered statistically equivalent. This point is driven home when there is no difference in the reported scores, such as the score of 75.2 achieved by both Häagen-Dazs and Cold Stone Creamery for Craveability. Digging a bit deeper, Häagen-Dazs had a score that was merely 0.013 percentage points higher. That small difference might matter in the Olympics, but not in Consumer Picks — or any other statistical survey of its type.

For reporting purposes, when two or more brands appear tied in the report, the order of listing is based on the next level of decimal point.

As in prior years, the survey looks at four industry segments: Limited Service, Casual Dining, Family Dining and Fine Dining.  Both the Limited-Service and Casual-Dining segments have a number of subcategories. A minimum of three brands is needed to create a subcategory. There are always a few chains that do not fit neatly into any one category. The study allows a user to move any brand to any other subsegment without loss of accuracy — but not to any other of the four industry segments. Crossing these primary categories will introduce some error into the Overall Scores, as they are weighted by the importance attributes for the segment in which the brand appears.  

The 2014 survey is consistent with those in prior years to facilitate year-to-year comparisons. These comparisons will, no doubt, be a rather common use of the data. For that reason, I would like to offer a few suggestions and warnings.

If you look only at the difference in a brand’s scores from year to year, you run the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions because that comparison does not take into account the social and economic factors that may have changed over time and affected consumers’ responses. A better process is to compare one brand’s score against the average score for an identical group of competitors for both this year and last year. Then compare the relative difference between the subject brand and its group of competitors. WD Partners has created an Excel file to aid you in making such comparisons.

Download the file from WD Partners here >>

WD Partners and NRN hope you find Consumer Picks 2014 to be a useful and valuable tool.