Hooters, Hard Rock, Friendly’s Score Low Marks On Chain Restaurant Survey

The idea behind chain restaurants is — or at least it should be — to provide customers with dependable, consistent food and service at multiple locations. And many chains succeed in at least trying to fulfill these goals. But according to a recent survey of nearly 48,000 Consumer Reports readers, some chains are struggling to maintain a mediocre level of service and quality.

The names that topped the survey — including Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, Elmer’s, and Le Peep — which looked at 102 different chains from around the country, may not be household names in all parts of the country, but some of the survey’s bottom-dwellers are more well-known.

No chains scored below-average for the taste of the food or the menu offerings — after all, most chains have robust menus aimed at pleasing as many diners as possible — but several restaurants, including Hooters, the Hard Rock Cafe, and Buffalo Wild Wings, scored less-than-stellar marks for value.

These same three eateries also received the worst possible ratings from CR readers for the level of noise in the dining room.

Overall, the Pub Style/Grill restaurant category had the least impressive scores, with several restaurants — like Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, and Applebee’s — scoring unremarkably average ratings.

Over in the Family restaurant section, a number of bigger name chains — IHOP, Denny’s, Shoney’s — receiving almost all average ratings with the exception of slightly above-average menus.

Meanwhile, Johnny Rockets’ negative noise factor dragged the restaurant to the next-to-last position in the category. Bringing up the rear in family restaurants is ice cream eatery Friendly’s, of which I have many happy childhood memories, but which scored below-average numbers for service, mood, and cleanliness.

The whole list is available in the August 2012 issue of Consumer Reports.


Edit Your Comment

  1. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    “The idea behind chain restaurants is — or at least it should be — to provide customers with dependable, consistent food and service at multiple locations.”

    Well…the idea behind Hooters is to provide customers with lots of boobs to look at. And behinds. The fact that there’s food there is kind of irrelevant…

    …and I don’t think anyone’s expecting great “value” from such places. You don’t go to any of those places for value – if you want value, you’re eating from the dollar menu at [insert fast food place here].

    • spartan says:

      What would happen if some woman entrepenuer opend a restaurant with scantily clad waiters dressed in the male equivalent of a Hooters uniform?

      What if their mascot was a rooster on the front of the waiters aprons”

      What if they called it peckers?

    • MarkFL says:

      You have hit the nail on the head. I wonder if the low scores for Hooters came from women whose husbands took advantage of that Mother’s Day deal that was reported her back in May.

    • shufflemoomin says:

      You know, as sad as I am to admit it, the breast appeal works. I’ve only visited Hooters once in my life on a trip to Canada and when ordering the over priced burger, I was informed I had to order fries separately. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have accepted paying prices like that, but it’s hard to say no to those breasts. Sad, but true. Blame evolution, I guess. If it didn’t want us thinking like that, it’d be designed out by now.

    • exit322 says:

      Isn’t that the truth. The food at Hooters is so bad that I just can’t enjoy the place, even considering the “atmosphere.”

  2. mikedt says:

    Yes, Buffalo Wild Wings is very bad on noise. I blame myself for trying to have a Saturday lunch in a sports bar, but the place wasn’t very full and there wasn’t any need for the volume they had the multiple games set at.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      Agreed. As much as I love their barbecue chicken sammiches, the noise level in BWW is very off-putting.

  3. Azagthoth says:

    So glad to see that I’m not the only person that wasn’t impressed by Johnny Rockets. Overpriced, tiny portions, with pretty bad waiters.

  4. Corinthos says:

    Biaggis does have really good service. I ordered butternut squash from there to try and never had it before. Didn’t like it and I guess the manager over heard me telling my wife I didn’t and he offered several times to get me something else at no charge. I didn’t have time to wait for anything else but told him that I ordered it knowing I might not like it and sure it was good butternut squash just not for me. He comped mine and my wife’s meal which I didn’t even ask for. Waiter informed us when he came back. I ended up just giving the waiter a tip for what the meals would have cost. I eat there about once a month and always had great service.

    I’ve also had great service at Hooters though. The only place I’ve had horrible service at is Chillis. Its always with the wait staff never being around when needed. Went with a group of friends the last time and waited 20 minutes for them to come back with drink orders then didn’t see them again until the food came out. Also they dropped off the checks when the food came out. I have probably been to Chillis about 6 times in the last 5 years and all 6 had horrible problems iwth wait staff disappearing and I get mad and don’t go back for a long time.

    • redskull says:

      When our local Biaggi’s first opened they had really good food (for a chain, anyway). Unfortunately the last couple times I ate there it tasted like they tossed a frozen Healthy Choice meal in the microwave and served it to me on a plate. Disappointing.

    • Thespian says:

      At lunch, we’re required to drop the check off with the meal. We don’t have a choice. No excuse for the server not being around more often, though.

  5. Rexy does not like the new system says:

    Biaggis is an insult to Italian food everywhere.

  6. Thespian says:

    As a Chili’s waiter, I personally feel that our low ratings are a symptom of the corporate mentality that runs the chain. Example – waiters at Chili’s are required to follow what’s called “the perfect 10.” It’s a 10-point list of things we are required to say to every table we serve. There is zero flexibility, you must address all 10 items to every single table. Chili’s sends out “secret shopper” types at random times and locations, specifically to verify that servers are doing this. If you are shopped, and you fail to mention even one of the 10 things, your manager is told, and you are written up. After three writeups, you can lose your job.

    Whoever the people at Corporate are who came up with this policy undoubtedly believed that service would be improved by waiters focusing on these areas. Maybe so, in theory. In practice, the result is that waiters approach each table wondering, “is this a shopper?” and are more focused on hitting the 10 points on the list than they are about personalizing the experience for the guest. A good waiter customizes his/her approach based on how he/she “reads” the personalities of the people at the table. It’s very hard to do that when there is this etched-in-stone list of things you MUST do and say.

    • Rexy does not like the new system says:

      Interesting. Maybe I’ll take a “I am not a secret shopper” sign to Chili’s the next time I go.

    • daemonaquila says:

      This would be why I generally hate Chili’s, but love one particular location. I can confidently say that none of the waiters do it. Most of them are 30-somethings to 50-somethings, are doing this as a second job, and their first job is usually something that requires some particular skill or management ability. They’re too old and too confident to put up with BS, and the management doesn’t seem interested in forcing the issue. While the hostess up front may “read” as a Chili’s attempt at creating automatons, the rest of the place is relaxed, friendly, and personal.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      What are the 10 things??

    • DeKalb says:

      My creepiest restaurant experience was the time I went to Chili’s for lunch and the waitress kept coming to our table every 5 or so minutes asking “Is everything all right? Just remember, I am here to serve you” in a very monotone voice. It was very annoying but there was no way to ask her to stop without her getting in trouble and possibly losing her job.

    • yankinwaoz says:

      You aren’t wearing your minimum 37 pieces of flair like Brian over there.

    • hammond egger says:

      What are the ten things?

    • MarkFL says:

      In the broader sense, it’s a symptom of the corporate mentality that says people who have never done a particular job are qualified to tell people who have done the job for years how to do their job better, without even getting input from the experienced people. Because, you know, an MBA makes you an expert on everything.

      Also, as a customer, I HATE when people trying to serve me (not necessarily in a restaurant, but also in retail) are reciting what is obviously a canned speech. I’m betting a lot of Chili’s diners are recognizing (maybe even subconsciously) the Perfect 10 for what it is, and they’re turned off by it.

    • incident_man says:

      Why is it that almost every big corporation has to build in a “culture of fear?” Makes me not want to dine at Chili’s anymore; not because I’d be bugged with the “Perfect10,” but because there’s no deviation allowed and people can lose their jobs over just missing one thing. If you just want a robot for a server, why not just put a machine at each table with 10 buttons that have to be pressed in sequence, parroting the “Perfect 10” before a person can place their order?

      One of the many reasons why I’m no longer a Sprint customer is because they also have that, “culture of fear.” One time, when I went into my local Sprint corporate store, I needed an urgent account note put in my account and the associate could not do it because she was new; the request needed system access only granted to a “Floor Supervisor” or above. The place was packed and everyone else was busy, but the only person available with that kind of system access was the store manager. I asked the associate if the manager could just come over for a sec so we could get the process done and the associate could get on to the next customer. The associate expressed to me that their district manager was in the store for her monthly visit and that she was afraid to “bug” her manager with this request while the district manager was there and that I’d have to wait until a “Floor Supervisor” became available. I was on my lunch and people kept slowly streaming into the store as I stood there and waited. What would have been a five-minute easy request turned into a 20-minute ordeal.

      When the “culture of fear” overrules the customer experience, there’s something wrong.

      • NanoDog says:

        This! Very well said.

      • Can't we all just get along? says:

        Sounds like the way I’m often treated at work. The kind of work you get with being a full-time student and having had no “real” work experience tends to have many strings attached to it.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      I have a feeling that corporate policies are directly responsible for a LOT of bad customer experiences. We had secret shoppers when I worked at Auto Zone too & we had no choice but to aggressively push the specials & impulse items on every customer no matter how much it pissed them off. I always keep this in mind whenever I go anywhere & a clerk tries to talk me into a protection plan or an appetizer. They don’t wanna bug me about it anymore than I want them to, they’ll just get in trouble if they don’t push it on me.

  7. daemonaquila says:

    Consistency? Heck, no. I try to avoid most chains, and support local/small business whenever possible, but when I do go to chain restaurants it’s on the basis of how a particular one has performed. For instance, the iHop in the next town over is dependable – if you think of consistently messing up your order and making you wait 45 minutes for it as dependable. The Denny’s in that town is friendly and the food is good, but 2 towns down it’s slow and mediocre. The Chili’s in town is my favorite chain spot – a nice view on the river from their patio, and great waiters (most of whom are doing it as a second job). The one 2 towns down is a nightmare – loud, usually dirty, and notable only for its slow service.

    • Coffee says:

      Agreed…the experience at one chain restaurant can change drastically from another. I really like that, when I look up a specific Starbucks or McDonalds on google maps, it gives starred reviews for that location in particular.

  8. tz says:

    “No chains scored below-average” – Did you only survey Lake Woebegone where everyone is “above average”? Did anyone explain statistics?

    Noise might be subjective. But there is a really close TGIFridays that I would probably go frequently if they didn’t blast the music during the evening. Yes blast. I have to shout to be heard even by the waitress and there is no quieter area.

    The Buffalo Wild Wings I’ve been to (or at the bar/ hours/ whatever) aren’t that bad.

    What do you expect from “Hard Rock Cafe?” A piano bar?

    Noise cancelling microphones help (ety.com hardwired, blue-eagle mini, parrot, or ety-blue bluetooth), but they should be able to make one room or part of the restaurant a no-earplug zone. Some have separate rooms, but they have the same speakers everywhere.

    A lot depends on the specific restaurant. They may be chains, but they seem to vary a great deal.

  9. Jenny8675309 says:

    Friendly’s used to be really good but for about two years now they have gone down hill. The portions have been downsized and look pathetic, almost lost on the plate. They also increased their prices. Our family has stopped going and we don’t even consider it when we are deciding on where to eat out.

  10. umbriago says:

    I remember vividly the last Friendly’s I was at in 2001 or 2002 or so in Maumee, Ohio.

    The employees, five or six of them, were arguing (can’t say what about, though – can’t remember).

    We could hardly eat our ice cream it was so damn funny.

  11. Not Given says:

    Applebees has the most consistently mediocre service of any chain I’ve ever been to.

    • MCerberus says:

      Applebees: when you just don’t care

    • GrayMatter says:

      Adjective: Of only moderate quality
      Synonyms: middling – moderate – indifferent – ordinary – mean

      So, you are saying that they are average, and there are plenty of places that have worse service? (Or are you thinking mediocre means wretched, horrible, bad, disgusting. If so, you are wrongly attributing a meaning to the word.)

      • elangomatt says:

        I think mediocre is a pretty good description of the service at Applebee’s and many other chains like that. They take your order and get you your food but you can usually tell that they don’t particularly like their job and do just enough to get their 15%.

  12. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    When I read that one of the scoring criteria was dining room noise”, visions of old people yelling “get offa my LAWN!!!!” immediately popped into my head.

    Aside from the Muzak, this is probably one of the least controllable aspects of the chain dining experience (aside from “pre-conditioning” the folks via decor cues, (e.g., a dark cherrywood and brass/brick old-school steakhouse would be less boisterous than say, the brightly lighted and colored room adorned with vinage license plates and movie posters, giving the “party” atmosphere). Also, controlling for these, the chain place near a sports venue/University/entertainment area will be noticeably noisier than say, on the main drag or corporate/industrial area/major highway.

    • VintageLydia says:

      A lot of it can be due to the architecture, though. Take The Cheesecake Factory. With the high ceilings and hard edges, you are guaranteed a loud dining experience, even if no one in the restaurant is speaking above normal tones. And since all the sound is amplified, people DO start to speak loudly just so they can be heard by their neighbor. I absolutely HATE eating there. The prices are too high to have to yell at my date just to be heard.

      • Celticlady says:

        THIS!! I thought I was the only person who thought that about The Cheesecake Factory. It’s horrible!! I hate eating there JUST for the noise factor. After about 20 min I have a head ache and will do anything to get out of there!

        Even Chili’s and Craplebee’s is easier on the ears….

    • Southern says:

      I take it you’ve never been to a Hard Rock Cafe.. They have music BLARING at (what seems like 105db) and makes it almost impossible to talk. This was my experience with the one in Houston, anyway – I won’t be back.

  13. Ed says:

    Don’t you mean “This whole list is available in the paywall-rific August 2012 issue of consumer reports?”


    What’s good for the goose…

    • Kredal says:

      Even though that Google search comes back with 9 entries, “paywall-rific” has only been used once with regards to the WSJ.

  14. PsiCop says:

    Gee, I love how all the top chains are nowhere near here. Helpful … not!

  15. Nic715 says:

    I haven’t been to Buffalo Wild Wings for any meal but weekday lunches, but when I worked at a nursing home, we used to take a few of the residents on lunch outings once a month and the staff at our local Wild Wings was always amazing in terms of customer service, patience and their overall willingness to do anything they could to accommodate our group. I can see how the place could get loud at night or during big sporting events, but it’s a sports bar, so I’d expect that there. As far as customer service goes though…I’d give them an A+.

    Friendlies, however…completely different story. There’s a Friendlies kitty-corner to my apartment and there’s an amazing local ice cream stand about 3 miles down the road. Some days, we just don’t feel like driving so we walk to Friendlies…and every time we do, we regret it. First of all, they’re slow. They’ll have 3 windows open, but they take FOREVER to prepare your order. There could be just two people ahead of you…and you’ll still end up waiting 10 or so minutes to get to the window and another 5 to get your ice cream….and 9 times out of 10, they’ll get your order wrong. I once watched them mess up 4 orders in a row…and then I ordered a plain vanilla soft-serve with chocolate sprinkles in a cone…somehow I ended up with a twist in a dish…no sprinkles. It would be one thing if someone else had ordered that and they just handed me the wrong one…but no one had. And I get that it’s hot and they’ve been busy…but it’s usually adults working the windows and their only task that day is to take ice cream orders and everything they need to fulfill those orders is right there in front of them. They don’t have to run back to another section of the restaurant to get anything and with a limited menu, I really don’t get how it’s THAT hard to get an order right. Meanwhile, the local stand, always has massive lines…but with 6 windows and efficient teenagers working the windows, you never wait that long and in my 22 years of going there, they’ve never once messed up my order….even when I’ve had a large order and wanted them to make a special sundae that they have to go to the back to get the fixins for. So yea…I’d give Friendlies a D.

  16. Santas Little Helper says:

    Too bad they don’t point out the places doing it right. Two chains that come to mind that I really enjoy is Texas Road House and Jasons Deli. TRH does a great job with the food and their service is out of this world. Jasons is just awesome all round; great food, good portions. Anyway, applebees and suck a fat one.

  17. HenryES says:

    BW3 wings are good, but the rest of the food is pretty bad. I can’t say I’ve ever had bad service, and I would expect a place like that to be noisy.

  18. bitplayer says:

    I love Hooters, the waitresses are polite.

  19. Boiled for your sins says:

    I’ve always enjoyed the Johnny Rockets in the Showboat in AC. The music is fun, the food’s been good, and the staff always friendly. The Friendly’s around here were awful the last time we tried them – all 3 local ones. Everything seemed to be sticky and there was some funky smell in the air. Haven’t been back to any of them in years. Friends who have given them another try more recently tell us nothing’s gotten any better.

  20. chatterboxwriter says:

    I used to like Friendly’s until I ordered their “cheesy” potato skins. I got a plate of potatoes with 2 pieces of shredded cheese and two bacon bits on each one. I was not happy.

  21. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I don’t like chains. The food is reheated, the service lame and the places are always too loud. I never liked eating somewhere loud, even when I was a party animal. Loud music is for a club or a bar, not where you’re trying to have a meal and conversation with your friends.

    • shufflemoomin says:

      Which “chains” particularly are you referring to? There’s literally hundreds of chains with thousands of locations and you’re complaining they’re ALL too loud, despite the article you just read saying only three were berated for being too loud? Subway and McDonalds are chains. Are they too loud for you too? Even the ones who don’t even HAVE music? If the survey was asking guys like this, I think we can quickly discount any reports it spawned.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Well forgive me for being general, but I was very tired when I posted that. I will elaborate. Also, not a guy.

        I mean the ones like TGI Fridays. Their food seems over-processed and they always seem to have music blaring all the time. Any restaurant that plays music should keep it fairly low so people can hear each other. Even if I like the music, it’s supposed to be BACKGROUND ambience. FWIW, I’ve been to so-called trendy local joints that play music way too loud also.

        The former bf took me to Carrabba’s for my birthday and it too was playing loud cliched Sinatra music. The food was okay but not great. It’s just a homogenized, middle-of-the-road dining experience. I much prefer something like the local Italian place I took him. Freshly-made food, excellent service and subdued atmosphere. Slightly more expensive but well worth it.

        Subway and McDonald’s are fast food, which I try to stay away from. I don’t eat there unless there is nothing else. I don’t get much from them, but I don’t expect it either.

        • Can't we all just get along? says:

          May I recommend trying Culver’s some time? It’s a bit pricy, but if you really want to EAT and feel like you ate an actual meal, it’s worth the price. I’ve personally gone to two, and both really had a great atmosphere and great service, despite how packed one of them usually gets. The first time I went, as I ate my meal with my fiance – dressed for the long walk it had been from where we stayed, covered in gross sweat – the owner of the franchise came over and asked us how we were enjoying our meal and talked to us. Guy seemed genuinely jazzed that we loved our meals.

          You’ve never lived until you’ve had a butter burger.

  22. aztecace says:

    Heck The Hard Rock is owned lock stock and barrel by the Seminole tribe of Florida and probably don’t care what they charge their former enemies for their burgers,lol.

  23. shufflemoomin says:

    BTW, completely off topic, Consumerist, but you upgrade your comments system and you STILL required a page reload to add a comment? How about dragging yourself out of the 90s and having your web devs take a crash course in AJAX?

    • Nic715 says:

      At least you can still comment on Consumerist stories. Gawker just did a whole revamp and it barely works for me. Half the time the comment won’t even submit…it will just keep logging me out, and when it DOES submit, it never even shows up. Very frustrating.

  24. BigHeadEd says:

    I usually avoid chain restaurants like the plague when I’m overseas in favor of trying something different, but after being informed of alcohol restrictions in locally-owned restaurants in Cairo, the Hard Rock was like a land flowing with gin and tonic.

    • Mambru says:

      You bring an interesting point, in a different country it would suck to go to an american franchise, however the food does taste diferent (better most of the time) I was at the hooters in Bogota (colombia) and had a better time than any hooters in the states the food was good, the girls were gorgeous and the service outstanding

  25. dwasifar says:

    “No chains scored below-average for the taste of the food or the menu offerings… ” Logically that must mean none scored above average either.

    Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

  26. CrazyEyed says:

    Seriously, what would you expect from chains that profit on the sports bar/pub atmosphere. It’s supposed to be loud. It’s like going to an NFL game and complaining about noise. If you want to enjoy a quiet dinner, you don’t go to BWW, Chilis or Applebees. If you want to catch a glimpse of a bunch of games for Fantasy Football, then BWW’s is the way to go. It’s a matter of preference. Some people set unrealistic expectations.

  27. SavijMuhdrox says:

    I’m confused by these eateries scoring bad on the level of noise in the dining room..

    Isn’t the point of a Hooters of Buffalo Wild Wings to be noisy bar-type atmosphere?

    Hell, if the Hooters dining room were quiet, all you’d hear is people getting fatter (their wings are quite delicious and bad for you) and a bunch of grown men thinking out loud, “booooobs”