Quality operational management can elevate customer satisfaction with limited-service restaurant brands, a recent consumer study indicates.

The survey conducted in February by Boulder, Colo.-based research agency Market Force Information asked 6,197 consumers to rate their satisfaction with their most recent dining experience and their likelihood to refer that brand to friends and family. The results were averaged for a “Composite Loyalty Score,” which was the intersection between overall satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending a restaurant.

Brand leaders in the categories broken out by the survey were Firehouse Subs in sandwiches, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers in chicken, Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza in pizza and Qdoba Mexican Grill in Mexican.


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Janet Eden-Harris, Market Force’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president of strategy, said in an interview that the respondents in the United States and Canada tended give higher marks to operational attributes like fast and friendly service.

“You need to be convenient and have good value and reasonable accommodations,” Eden-Harris said. “The minute you start to look at what we call operational attributes like friendly service and cleanliness — these are things the manager in the store can effect.

“The brands that do really well on these operational attributes are almost always the ones that are in the top quadrant,” she emphasized.

Eden-Harris said those findings should be heartening for managers.

“If I’m a branch manager or a store manager,” she said, “I can’t do much about my location. But I can hire the right people, train them and make sure they know the brand promise and offer the right things to the customer. Those are things that I can control, and those are the attributes that tend to differentiate the best brands.”

The survey, which was conducted online, also found continued interest in QSR loyalty programs and social media, Eden-Harris said.

About 55 percent of respondents said they participated in QSR loyalty programs. “Half of them participated in one or two,” Eden-Harris said, “And another 37 percent said three to four. Special promotions led the way in why they did use the loyalty programs.”

About 39 percent of those polled had read an online review, blog or Tweet about a restaurant before visiting. “This has been incredibly consistent year-over-year,” she said. In 2012, the number was 40 percent.

“The use of social media really started to step up in 2009-2010,” Eden-Harris said. “Now it’s staying rather flat. We’re not seeing an increase anymore.”

Survey findings by category

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Among the survey category findings in the 2014 Market Force survey:

Pizza



Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza remained as the top favorite pizza chain, standing out for food and service. Orange City, Iowa-based Pizza Ranch ranked second, “doing incredibly well this year,” Eden-Harris said. Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s Pizza was third.

Coppell, Texas-based CiCi’s Pizza dropped out of the Top Three grouping from last year, she said. CiCi’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut also rated high in satisfaction, but consumers were less likely to recommend them to friends and family.

Mexican



Wheatridge, Colo.-based Qdoba Mexican Grill ranked No. 1 in the Mexican category, edging out Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill and Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill.

“Last year, those were the top three, but Chipotle led,” Eden-Harris said, followed by Qdoba and Moe’s. Del Taco, Taco John’s and Taco Bell also made it into the top six.

Sandwich

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Firehouse Subs led the sandwich category, followed by St. Louis-based Panera Bread and Champaign, Ill.-based Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches. Eden-Harris said Firehouse Subs moved up considerably, replacing Beaumont, Texas-based Jason’s Deli, which led the sandwich pack last year but did not meet the hurdle for number of votes to meet the statistical threshold for the survey.

Subway, Arby’s and Tim Hortons were in the next tier.

Chicken



Plano,Texas-based Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers led the chicken category, with Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A a close second.

“The same leaders are at the top quadrant,” Eden-Harris said. “Raising Cane’s this year did exceptionally well, though they are neck-and-neck with Chick-fil-A.”

Athens, Ga.-based Zaxby’s dropped down slightly, she said, but remained at No. 3. The next tier included Wingstop, El Pollo Loco and Boston Market.

The Market Force study found most respondents visited a QSR for lunch or dinner at least two to three times in the previous month, with slightly more dining out for lunch.

Market Force said the survey respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with nearly 60 percent reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to older than 65. About 75 percent were women and 25 percent were men, and 41 percent of respondents had children at home.
 
Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless