#1 Consumer Pick in Casual Dining

We are proud that our client, The Cheesecake Factory, was voted #1 in Casual Dining by consumers!

While the Casual-Dining segment continues to find itself under pressure as fast-casual restaurants chip away at its more upscale and expensive positioning, it does retain its power when consumers want a heightened experience during a dining-out occasion.

Consumers in the annual Consumer Picks special report cited Atmosphere as the standout attribute of Casual- and Fine-Dining brands, giving it emphasis after the highest-rated qualities for all restaurants — Food Quality, Cleanliness, Service and Value.

The Cheesecake Factory, the No. 1 Casual-Dining chain for the second consecutive year, understands that distinction.

“We really strive to immerse our guests in an overall experience that creates a sort of energy in every one of our restaurants, really touching all five of [customers’] senses,” said David Gordon, president of the 165-unit, Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based The Cheesecake Factory. “That energy is very vibrant and alive. People are attracted to that feeling. We design the restaurants to take people out of their everyday routines and put them someplace special.”

This year’s No. 2 and No. 3 brands swapped places from the 2012 survey, with the 167-unit Bonefish Grill taking second place overall and pushing 204-unit P.F. Chang’s China Bistro to a third-place finish. Bonefish, a division of Tampa, Fla.-based Bloomin’ Brands Inc., earned top marks for Food Quality and Cleanliness.

“Casual-dining consumers have more choices than ever before,” Gordon said. “As that range of choices has expanded from not just casual sit-down restaurants but to fast casual — many of which can deliver a delicious product faster than traditional casual dining but with the same level of quality — the marketplace for casual dining has grown.”

Gordon said that traditional casual dining has to offer more than ever before “because everyone is fighting for today’s consumer’s discretionary dollar, and that dollar is tighter than it has ever been.”

The Cheesecake Factory took the top spot in the attribute rankings of Menu Variety and Reputation.

Aware that dining-out consumers are looking for a special ambience, the casual-dining segment has seen numerous brands introduce a number of refreshed and reimaged restaurants in the past year.

For example, in April of last year, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based P.F. Chang’s expanded its corporate Triple Dragon initiative systemwide. The program focused on driving menu innovation, improved service, lower-priced dining options and reimaged restaurants. P.F. Chang’s went private last year in a deal with Centerbridge Partners L.P., a New York-based private equity firm.

At the time, P.F. Chang’s chairman and chief executive Rick Federico said many of the ideas for the unit makeovers came from changes at a reimaged unit in Irvine, Calif., and in market tests at locations in Arizona and Dallas-Fort Worth.

The Melting Pot, the fondue-themed chain based in Tampa, Fla., which ranked as the No. 4 Casual-Dining chain in the Consumer Picks survey, took top honors for Atmosphere, Craveability and Service. The Melting Pot has 133 units in the United States.

LongHorn Steakhouse, the 390-unit division of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., was a wide leader in the Likely to Return attribute rankings and placed No. 7 overall.

Cheddar’s, the 132-unit chain based in Irving, Texas, garnered first-place finishes for Value, by a wide margin, and Likely to Recommend, more narrowly. The brand ranked No. 8 overall.

“We’re serving a need that I think has always been in casual dining: People are looking for a great value,” Tom Koenigsberg, chief brand officer for Cheddar’s, said. “Over time some of our competitors got away from that, unfortunately. Our founders were committed to value as a mainstay of how they go to market, and they’ve kept price increases to a very, very low level. Our guests respond with loyalty, and they use us often because they can afford us.”

Koenigsberg said atmosphere also remains an important component of Cheddar’s popularity.

“We’re not really a theme restaurant,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of items on the wall that are trying to take guests to another place — not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve chosen to go with quality materials and things that are more timeless: brick, stone, hard woods, copper.”

That, he added, gives Cheddar’s a bit more of a classic image.

“Our need to refresh our restaurants is a little bit abated because it doesn’t become as tired,” Koenigsberg said. “You are not focused on memorabilia but on the food. That allows us to focus on the food and the people.”

Some attributes of casual dining will always endure, he said.

“It’s the aspect of service that can’t be replicated at home or in fast casual,” Koenigsberg said. “That can be a positive experience, especially at a reasonable price.

“When you put customers in an environment that is nice,” he concluded, “it really enhances the value experience and, therefore, the dining equation. We plan to stick to those key tenets.”

 

 

 

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