The four chains featured here placed No. 1 in their respective segments, with consumers reporting their love for characteristics ranging from the brands’ food quality to a reputation for excellence. The factors driving their success with guests are detailed below.

Limited-Service winner: In-N-Out Burger

Irvine, Calif.; 292 units



Survey strengths

Food Quality:
The burgers are made from never-frozen, 100-percent beef patties ground in-house and served on house-baked buns. Potatoes are cut and fried in-house for fries, and milk shakes are made from real ice cream. Order your burger “animal style,” and your patty will be grilled with mustard, and topped with grilled onions and extra sauce.

Value: A Double-Double cheeseburger with fries is roughly $5 near Los Angeles. Given the quality, In-N-Out’s prices are hard to beat.

Service: The starting wage for employees is higher than the minimum wages in its markets, and the chain is known for low turnover.

Reputation: People have loved the concept since 1948 in California. Slow growth has brought outlets to Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas, where it has maintained its popularity.

Likely to Recommend/Return: Fans are unwavering in their devotion. In California, in particular, all other burger brands are compared to In-N-Out, and visitors are advised to visit the chain at least once.

More on Limited Service:
In-N-Out again leads Limited-Service rankings
Limited-Service rankings

Casual-Dining winner: The Cheesecake Factory

Calabasas Hills, Calif.; 181 units

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Survey strengths

Menu Variety:
The Cheesecake Factory’s voluminous menu features more than 200 items and spans all dayparts. Menu items are made from scratch daily, except for desserts, which are manufactured at separate bakeries. The menu boasts inventive combinations that are hard to recreate at home, like Avocado Eggrolls and Miso Salmon, and 36 varieties of cheesecake, including indulgent items like the Toasted Marshmallow S’mores Galore cheesecake.

Reputation: The chain’s unit and sales growth has come with little to no broadcast advertising since the first restaurant opened in 1978, though the brand drives word-of-mouth buzz through social media and local-store marketing.

More on Casual Dining:
The Cheesecake Factory continues to lead Casual-Dining competition
Casual-Dining rankings

Family-Dining winner: The Original Pancake House

Portland, Ore.; 121 units

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Survey strengths

Food Quality:
The brand seeks franchisees that already love the restaurant’s food and focuses on consistency.

Reputation: This chain has recently made the leap from a cult favorite to one with national buzz.

Craveability: Specialties such as Apple Pancakes and a focus on top-quality ingredients garner the chain high ratings in this attribute.

Likely to Recommend/Return: Original Pancake House leaves local marketing in the hands of franchisees that understand what their customers want, with the goal of turning them into regulars.

More on Family Dining:
Original Pancake House leads Family-Dining ranking
Family-Dining rankings

Fine-Dining winner: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Heathrow, Fla.; 118 units

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Survey strengths

Value:
The chain’s Sizzle, Swizzle & Swirl Happy Hour program offers premium items at casual-dining prices.

Cleanliness: Training programs impart a corporate culture that encourages attention to detail.

Menu Variety: Apart from the steak and traditional steakhouse sides, Ruth’s also offers seasonal seafood, vegetarian options, and creative sides and appetizers.

Reputation: Years of consistency and maintenance of its heritage keep Ruth’s in good stead with customers looking for a special-occasion restaurant.

Craveability: With a focus on sizzling steaks topped with butter, the chain doesn’t have a problem getting mouths to water.

More on Fine Dining:
Ruth's Chris Steak House leads Fine-Dining ranking
Fine-Dining rankings