Consumer Reports Chain Survey

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stanpnepa
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2003/06/08 09:42:41 (permalink)

Consumer Reports Chain Survey

Consumer Reports had its readers rate 88 chains. Here are the winners in each group (with five to twenty-one restaurants in each).

American Traditional:
J. Alexander's tied with Houston's

Italian:
Maggiano's Little Italy

Mexican:
Azteca Mexican

Pub-Style:
Hop's Restaurant, Bar and Brewery

Seafood:
McCormick and Schmick's

Steak House:
Ruth's Chris Steak House

Various:
P. F. Chang's

Family Restaurants:
First Watch

Not shocking, but most of the winners are "small-ish"---all with less than 100 in the chain.

The lowest ten (of all categories combined, from low to bottom are):
Joe's Crab Shack
Rainforest Cafe
Coco's
International House of Pancakes
Waffle House
Shari's
Shoney's
Bickford's Family Restaurants
Denny's
Friendly's

The best rated for food (not counting value, mood or service)---all with the same score are:
Houston's
Maggiano's Little Italy
McCormick and Schmick's
Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen
Legal Sea Foods
Ruth's Chris Steak House
Morton's of Chicago

#1

61 Replies Related Threads

    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 09:58:52 (permalink)
    Just a couple of comments from the Sundancer:

    I have been to most of the listings. Maggiano's Little Italy establishments are huge. We have had several meetins at the one in King of Prussia. At our meetins, their served huge portions family styled. Hop's closed in Knoxville. Do not know why. Seemed their product was better than average. J Alexanders has alwasy been way above average. I did my first try in Columbus, OH about eight years ago.

    Among the ten worst, Shoney's may not be super but I sure like them and same goes for the Waffle house.

    I certainly like Rth Chris and Morton's when the company is paying. Someday I will do the huge porter house at Morton's and their wine and cigars are always great.

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #2
    mayor al
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 10:25:53 (permalink)
    Paul,
    The only place I can find to disagree with you is Morton's(of Louisville) and then only partially. If someone else is paying, I might go again...But we paid a check of over $150 for dinner for two with wine, etc. and got snobby service, tables crowded so close together that it was like a 'family style' sitting and a noisy crowd that would have been better suited to a roadhouse, where I would probably have been more comfortable. I am the most casual diner in the world, but That night we had expected ambience of a calmer-gentler evening and were sadly disappointed. Except for the thicker steaks, Sizzler would have been a better choice.
    #3
    Liketoeat
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 10:28:02 (permalink)
    Read this article in the Consumer Reports magazine which arrived yesterday. I'd have to put Ruth's Chris (as Sundancer said, when the company is paying) and Maggiano's at the very top of my list, but I'd have to disagree with Sundancer on the worst; fearing I'd have to give that title to Waffle House. I noticed Houston's being so highly rated and often hear it highly praised by others, but my only experiences with Houston's (in Memphis) have been disappointing. I'd also rate Cracker Barrell much lower than the survey did except for its breakfasts (and even there would rate service as poor). I agree with the high survey rating for Romano's Macaroni Grill and would have rated Copeland's of New Orleans even a bit higher than the survey did.
    #4
    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 10:36:50 (permalink)
    Cracker Barrel out of Lebanon Tennessee is always over rated. Their breakfast is best, but even that is only slightly below average. Cold bisquits and their idea of a breakfast potato is questionable.

    I will have to agree with the Mayor on one thing. Morton's tend to be a little crowded and my experiences with them has been in Minneapolis, DC, Philly and at least to me, their food was great. Ruth Chris is alway superb. I alway split my sides with others as they tend to be huge and tasty.

    Some people do rate Waffle House pretty bad, but I guess it is just me and I really enjoy their breakfast and one thing about them: they tend to be ubiquitous

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #5
    Liketoeat
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 11:19:23 (permalink)
    Sundancer, you make a very important point regarding dining at any Ruth's Chris which I forgot to mention - and that is the wisdom of splitting sides (and depending on the steak and how hungry you are, occasionally even splitting steaks). We often do that splitting at Ruth's Chris, even when the company is paying, which accounts for 98 per cent of my Ruth's Chris dining. No need in wasting food or money, regardless of who is footing the bill, and their individual servings are way too much food for even a "pig-outer" like me.

    I've never tried the Lebanon, TN, Cracker Barrel, but think all Cracker Barrels are vastly over rated. However, most of their breakfasts I've experienced have been, though not the best, better than average, and so much better than any of their other meals. I really don't eat at Cracker Barrel unless I have to for some reason - folks I'm with wanting to or nothing else available. With Waffle Houses its the total experience while there, more so than the actual food they serve, which causes me to put them at the bottom of my list.
    #6
    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 11:34:23 (permalink)
    When I mentioned the Cracker Barrell of Lebanon, Tennessee, what I mean't is that is their home base. I am not even sure they have a restaurant there.

    The only reason I eat there is one of my business colleague enjoys it. It seems when I dine there, I leave so full that I stay that way for the longest.

    I think their breakfast potatoes are more of a mix of cheese and some other stuff more of a casserole. They ain't my style.

    They seem always crowded.

    Paul E. smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #7
    mobley
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 11:41:40 (permalink)
    I agree on P.F. Chang's. Most Chinese food in medium sized cities and suburbs today is deplorable, and at least the stuff at P.F.'s is pretty darn decent. As far as the $$$$ steak places, I've been to Ruth Chris, The Palm and Morton's and find them all about equal. As an earlier poster stated, they are all best when someone else is paying.

    From the bottom side, Denny's is the worst of the worst. Very plastic. I would put Shoney's up there along with Golden Corrall, with their rancid food troughs. Cracker Barrell is mediocre and really inconsistent from store to store. Fast foodwise, the "Golden Barf-Bag Award" goes to Mc Donald's. Ray Kroc would be turning over in his grave if he knew what has happened to his once great chain.
    #8
    Liketoeat
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 13:52:42 (permalink)
    Though I've never eaten at Morton's, I agree with mobley that Ruth's Chris and The Palm about equal and certainly by far the best when the tab is picked up by someone else or expense accounted. If anything, it seems to me that the portion sizes at The Palm are even larger than they are at Ruth's Chris, making sharing even more advisable there. Believe if push comes to shove I'd have to say I 'd pick Ruth's Chris' steaks over those of The Palm, but The Palm's veal picatta (spellling ?) is the best I've ever eaten, period. At the other end of the restaurant scale, I've not eaten at a Denny's in years, but as I remember, they were all pretty poor.
    #9
    seafarer john
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 13:54:15 (permalink)
    Consumer Reports is a fine and useful organization, but when it comes to matters of taste they are worse than useless!
    #10
    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 14:09:22 (permalink)
    I do not always agree with Consumers Report, but it does add an opinion which I assume was formed by many. Opinions are like A-----'s, everybody has got one. Restaurants and food are subjective while grading cars, lawnmowers, TV's etc can be more definative. Taste and flavor really depends on the individual. What consumer can grade on is cleanliness, appearance, landscaping, service, attitude of staff and kitchen conduct.

    As the Mayor would say "Its the flavor"

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #11
    wanderingjew
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 16:57:02 (permalink)
    Ugh
    Here we go with chains again!!!!!
    #12
    seafarer john
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/08 21:47:43 (permalink)
    We didn't know McCormick and
    Schmick was a chain. Their restaurant in Baltimore is excellent, pleasant efficient service, fine fresh oysters, good beer - all in all a really nice experience.
    #13
    Jennifer_4
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 04:10:59 (permalink)
    I've only actually heard of a few of those chains..and not a single one is here in Fresno..(population 500,000).. We did have a terrible chain experience today at TGIFriday's though. We were given a tiny table in a corner at the top of the stairs, had to wait forever for service, then another long wait for our food, which was sub par, then when we complained, only got comped a single soda, even though we'd spent a lot of money on the meal. We are never going back there again! It's too noisy and expensive for the trouble.
    #14
    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 06:25:06 (permalink)
    TGIFriday's was good----about 30 years ago. Anymore, they are below average.

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #15
    mayor al
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 08:34:01 (permalink)
    Agree completely on "Friday's"...and add DAMON's (ribs place) to the "not worth a stop list" we gave three store's a try and none of them were worth a hoot. Semi-microwaved ribs.poor-fake service and pricing errors on all three. No more attempts to see if they have improved.
    Tona Roma's was a SoCal Chain that has expanded also...I never rated it above a '6 on a 10 scale", but haven't been in one outside of the LA to Vegas area.
    #16
    Sundancer7
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 08:58:05 (permalink)
    Tony Roma's came to Knoxville about three years ago, stayed a year and shut down. I went there once and I know why!!!

    The bigger they get, the harder they fall.

    Paul E. smith
    Knoxville, TN
    #17
    Liketoeat
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 13:39:52 (permalink)
    While all of the restaurants rated in the recent Consumer Reports article are chains (or are franchise operations), there is nothing about their being in those categories which automatically makes them the outcasts/ bad boys of eateries. Some of these restaurants are indeed horrible (I certainly agree with comments re Friday's downfall; also add Bennigan's to that group, and some have always been horrible), but so are many independently owned restaurants. On the other hand, some of the restaurants included in the survey offer truly wonderful dining experiences (such as Ruth's Chris and Maggiano's, for example, in my opinion), as good as or better than that offered by many independently owned one-only similar type establishments. While most facilities of any fast food chains seem to be pretty much the same in all aspects, it's been my experience that a number of the restaurants covered in this survey, particularly the higher rated ones, vary considerably in many regards from location to location. While I love nothing better than to learn of/find a great, independently owned, primarily locally known eating spot (whether it be a top notch restaurant or some hamburger joint or barbecue shack - and some of the best barabecue I've ever had has come from literal shacks or stands along the roadside in South Carolina), I also want to know about other places to eat which I will enjoy, even though they may be a franchise operation or member of a chain. And I have no objection to reading the combined ratings of Consumer Reports readers, for whatever they may or may not be worth. Just my thoughts on this subject.
    #18
    RC51Mike
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 15:42:16 (permalink)
    The fact is that most chains demand the consistency from place to place. Their largest, lowest common denominator, market demands it. Those that allow some uniqueness are in a definite minority. Chains by their nature sap that uniqueness, individuality and character that define the kinds of places the Sterns have documenting for all these years. Chains remove the elements of the personality of the owner, geography and local culture and custom from the equation. Yes, you can get a decent meal at some of those places. I had a good meal at McCormick and Schmick at the original in Portland. But, is it really a memorable, shared experience that tells you something about where you are when you are eating? Or is it just food? It is most definitely not Roadfood as I think of it and I seek out.
    #19
    Bushie
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 17:09:26 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Sundancer7

    ... Some people do rate Waffle House pretty bad, but I guess it is just me and I really enjoy their breakfast and one thing about them: they tend to be ubiquitous

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN


    Everyone, if you've taken the time to sit and watch the cook at a Waffle House juggle 10 short orders, you've witnessed a master at work.

    A double order of hash browns, scattered & smothered (or is it covered? I can't ever remember; whatever it is with just onions fried in) is genuine comfort food.

    FWIW, count me as a life-long member of the Waffle House fan club...
    #20
    rmtnfoodie
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 17:11:26 (permalink)
    I can see Morton's and some of the other's, but why downgrade Joe's Crab Shack? The one in Redondo Beach, CA last year was quite nice - and right on the water in King Harbor.

    I've never trusted Consumer's Report - they always give off an anti-capitalist/American odor.

    RT
    #21
    Lone Star
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 17:23:30 (permalink)
    Pappadeux's is absolutely wonderful, I am glad to see they made the list.

    Joe's crab shack deserves to be on the worst list. As far as I am concerned it is a step below Red Lobster.

    McCormick and Schmicks is just so-so, Pappadeux's and Pappas beat it hands down for gulf coast seafood.

    I love the Shoney's breakfast bar!
    #22
    Liketoeat
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 18:46:16 (permalink)
    RC51Mike. While I readily agree that your comments are fully applicable to/descriptive of many. many chains or franchise operations, I guess my experiences with some of them have differed significantly from yours, for I have had food and dining experiences at some such restaurants which to me were distinctive, unique, locally representative, and which did fall in the category of memorable experiences to then share with others and to later fondly recall alone or to relive with friends throughout the years, just as I've had more such experiences at independently owned local restaurants. Know I'm the odd man out on this topic, certainly with you and wanderingjew and perhaps with a majority of roadfood members, and I do respect all of your opinions. However, my experiences have led me to the postion of not automatically excluding an unknown restaurant from dining consideration solely because of its franchise or chain status, although subsequent reports of all sorts or one dining experience may quickly bring it to that exclusionary point. Automatic exclusion over the years, though, would have caused me to have missed out on some dinners and evenings, the memories of which I cherish. Liketoeat
    #23
    muzzlehatch
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/09 23:12:08 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by rmtnfoodie

    I can see Morton's and some of the other's, but why downgrade Joe's Crab Shack? The one in Redondo Beach, CA last year was quite nice - and right on the water in King Harbor.

    I've never trusted Consumer's Report - they always give off an anti-capitalist/American odor.

    RT


    Consumer Reports anti-capitalist or anti-American? I'm at a loss to understand what you mean; I ignore CR most of the time precisely because I'M anti-capitalist in many ways, or at least anti-global-business-rapacious-billionaire-capitalist. I love this country, but jeez when people equate McDonalds with America we've got problems!

    Back on topic. To my mind, CR has always spotlighted only the biggest of the big national brands -- what could be more capitalist than that? A year ago or so they "reviewed" a number of beers and mad "recommendations" based essentially on what's available in every single state -- hardly small-town, small-business friendly.

    Of the mentioned chains, the only one that comes to mind readily to me as being out of place is Hops -- there's no chain brewpub that's really worthy of a visit IMHO, especially since anyplace you can find a Hops or Rock Bottom, you can find a better truly local brewpub. Maggianos I like quite a bit; Shoneys, Friendlys and Dennys all deserve their spots amongst the worst.
    #24
    jdg68
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 00:36:57 (permalink)
    I've been to a Joe's Crab Shack once a few years ago in Phoenix and it was quite good, nice funky atmosphere there, good food and service there. However I know these ratings are based on more than one person's one-time experience however good it may have been.
    #25
    ocdreamr
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 09:27:30 (permalink)
    The problem with this survey is the problem with all surveys. The outcome depends on who was surveyed. If you are asked which is better Joe's Crab shack or McCormick & Schmicks and you live in an area where there are no Joe's & had never heard of them, but you knew McCormick's. Guess which one you'd choose? And then there are those who respond that are not foodies at all, they play enie-meanie-mineie-mo with their choices, real scientific. If the survey was truely all nationally located chains or local chains surveyed by area, then I might begin to take notice.
    #26
    dbear
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 10:36:38 (permalink)
    What surprises me about this survey is how few of these places even exist in the Northeast. Boston has Morton's and the Palm (expense account only!), and Legal Seafoods, which is excellent, started here, but most of these other chains I had not even heard of until reading about them here; we don't have a single one of the category winners. I think Boston, Providence and most of the rest of New England are pretty well known foodie territory. Maybe the difference is fewer of the higher end chains have outlets here, so dining out is more likely to involve a one-off. We have most of the marginal places, the ones at the bottom of the combined list, but who goes to those?
    #27
    rbpalmer
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 11:34:17 (permalink)
    I agree with "the Mayor" that if you want a "calm, gentle evening," you should avoid Morton's, or go right after it opens to avoid the crowd. They do tend to get noisy and busy, although I have not experienced the service problems that Mr. Bowen referred to (I go to the ones in Washington, D.C.). However, premium steak houses such as Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Jess and Jim's in Kansas City, Harry Caray's in Chicago and Peter Luger's in New York serve top prime, aged beef of a quality that is not available in supermarkets, most specialty shops, or even at more economy-minded steakhouses such as Sizzler, Outback or Ponderosa (and it's not just the thickness, but also the aging and the fat marbling that makes the difference). In other words, you get what you pay for. For the sake of my wallet and my arteries, I also limit my visits to Morton's or its peers to one or two times a year, but I eagerly anticipate these occasions and consider the cost to be more than worthwhile just to discover, again, how good a piece of beef can taste.
    #28
    Lone Star
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 12:01:50 (permalink)
    Y'all are right. It does depend on where you live and how much exposure you have to the chains in question.

    For example, not all of the choices are in the Houston area, but most of them are.

    While Joe's crab shack may be really good in "land - locked" states, with so many restaurants here on the Texas gulf coast, they cannot compare. So yes, my view is skewed.

    I would like to personally thank the Maggianos chain for new taste horizons for me. I would never eat blue cheese, just had a thing about it. We have ordered group lunches several times and I just could never get enough of the house salad with the "good cheese". I finally asked someone what it was, and was told it was, yep, blue cheese. I have now moved on to Blue cheese burgers. Just goes to show ya!
    #29
    ocdreamr
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    RE: Consumer Reports Chain Survey 2003/06/10 12:43:18 (permalink)
    Lone Star

    You remind me of a friend of my parents. He used to rave about my mom's macaroni salad. Said he couldn't get enough of it. He swore he hated blue cheese & wouldn't touch anything with it in it. You guessed it the salad was made with blue cheese.
    #30
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