Cheesecake Factory or Olive Garden? The Best and Worst Restaurant Chains in 2016
Life + Money

Cheesecake Factory or Olive Garden? The Best and Worst Restaurant Chains in 2016


When Americans sit down at a restaurant chain, their expectations are not that far from what they want from a Zagat-rated restaurant. They are looking for quality food and good service along with chic interiors and menus that reflect the newest food trends.

Some chains did better than others in meeting those expectations, according to an annual survey from industry publication Nation’s Restaurant News. The magazine surveyed 37,339 diners, rating the chains on 10 categories: atmosphere, cleanliness, craveability, food quality, likely to recommend, likely to return, menu variety, reputation, service and value.

All six of the Italian/pizza restaurants in the survey finished in the top 20, while five of the six steakhouse chains ended in the bottom 20.

One of the highlights is seafood favorite Red Lobster, which improved its ranking from last year by 10 spots. Part of its success rests on its $250 million remodeling of more than 600 restaurants along with an updated menu that now includes wood-grilled selections, bigger shrimp and a scampi sauce made from scratch. It also increased its engagement with diners on social media.

Related: The 25 Best Restaurant Chains in 2016

Also offering an impressive performance was Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub, which climbed 17 spots in this year’s survey. Its success comes from newly remodeled restaurants with expanded bar areas that feature more high-top and communal tables, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.  It’s also been running more promotions tied to holidays or sporting events.

One of the struggling chains in the survey was Chili’s Bar & Grill, owned by Brinker International. The chain last month posted a 4.1 percent drop in year-over-year sales, the fourth quarter in a row of declines. Even more worrying, customer traffic decreased 4.9 percent, the fifth consecutive decline. That comes in spite of major TV ads pushing its 2-for-$20 menu. Analysts say the restaurant suffered from confusing menu changes, a largely unsuccessful loyalty program and inability to keep up with competitors’ discounting. To reverse its fortunes, the chain is bringing back its catchy baby back ribs jingle this year.

While that tune inevitably plays on a loop in your head, click here to find out which restaurant chains had the worst rankings this year.