These Restaurants Make Consumers Happiest

When everyone’s on a budget, these are the restaurants where customers are happy to splurge.

Most consumers are still feeling the impact of inflation on their wallets, despite some slight improvements in recent months. With that in mind, you might think fine dining would be a hard sell to those on a budget. However, recently published data suggest that even the budget-conscious are willing to spend a little more on restaurants that keep them happy.

Merchant Centric, a technology and marketing company, reports fine dining restaurants are performing better in terms of customer satisfaction than they were pre-pandemic. In partnership with industry publication Nation's Restaurant News (NRN), Merchant Centric examined fine dining restaurants using its Happy Customer Index and determined the brands that most satisfy customers across multiple categories.

Satisfied diners are found at these restaurants

The Happy Customer Index used data from millions of ratings, reviews, and comment sections across websites like Google and TripAdvisor to score restaurants in the categories of quality, staff demeanor, staff dedication, timeliness, order accuracy, price/value, and loyalty/referral. As NRN explains, scores in these categories determine what Merchant Centric calls a restaurant's Theme Performance Score (TPS). The higher number a restaurant receives in a "theme" means customers mention that particular category (or "theme") in a positive way more often than in a negative one.

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For example, if a restaurant's TPS is 5 for service, that means customers had a favorable view of the brand's order accuracy in a positive light five times as much as they had an unfavorable one. If the TPS for order accuracy was 0.5, that would mean the restaurant's order accuracy was mentioned positively only half as much as it was negatively.

Based on the Happy Customer Index, eight restaurants were highlighted as leaders in the fine dining category. These restaurants "are satisfying guests at a higher rating this past 12 months than the previous 12 months, and even better than their all-time ratings," said Adam Leff, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Merchant Centric.

Here are the restaurants keeping customers happiest:

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  • Steak 48: overall rating – 4.72
  • Eddie V's Prime Seafood: overall rating – 4.69
  • Truluck's Ocean's Finest Seafood and Crab: overall rating – 4.66
  • The Capital Grille: overall rating – 4.65
  • Ocean Prime: overall rating – 4.6
  • Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar: overall rating – 4.52
  • Fogo de Chão: overall rating – 4.48
  • Melting Pot: overall rating – 4.46
  • The restaurants were scored during the period of May 2022 to April 2023. For comparison, NRN notes the average fine dining restaurant scores a 4.3 out of 5 stars, whereas the average casual dining spot, like Twin Peaks, scores a 4.08, fast casual spots score 3.63, and quick-service restaurants score 3.55.

    NRN also notes the fine dining restaurants with the highest overall score are also shining when it comes to the quality of their food and service. The aforementioned top performers received more than six times as many compliments as complaints about their food, and their staffs are mentioned as having more dedication and better demeanor than others (entirely subjective, but present in the data). This has led to those restaurants scoring well in the loyalty and referral "theme" as well.

    Our take? People love steakhouses, and they're not afraid to show it.

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