America’s Favorite Casual Spots and Currying Favor

MRM’s Daily Bite for Tuesday features Market Force Information, Bluewater Grill Restaurants and TableSafe, Denny’s, Curry Up Now, Bareburger, Impossible Burger and Grubhub.

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America’s Favorite Casual Dining Restaurants

Bonefish Grill is America’s favorite casual dining restaurant, according to a new study by Market Force Information®. Nearly 8,000 consumers were polled for the study, which ranks casual dining restaurant chains in seven categories: general menu, pizza, Italian, breakfast, buffet, steakhouse and seafood. Bonefish Grill ranked No. 1 overall.

The nationwide study also found that:

  • Tablets are failing to enhance the dining experience
  • Yelp greatly influences casual dining restaurant choices
  • Guests are primarily using mobile apps to check menus.

Across all categories studied, Bonefish Grill received the highest scores on Market Force’s Composite Loyalty Index, with a 68 percent score. Maggiano’s ranked second with 60 percent, Pappadeaux third with 58 percent, Texas Roadhouse fourth with 57 percent and Carrabba’s Italian Grill with 56 percent. 

What sets Bonefish Grill apart?

Guests believe it has the highest food quality, friendliest service and most inviting atmosphere. Cheddar’s was found to offer the best value among the top ranked brands, and Maggiano’s stood out for delivering an experience, not just a transaction. While Sweet Tomatoes has the fastest service, it ranked lowest of the top ranked brands for friendly service. Pappadeaux, Pizza Ranch and Carrabba’s all performed consistently well, earning top-three rankings in one or more of the categories.


Texas-based Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, which is known for its made-from-scratch meals and was recently acquired by Darden Restaurants, ranked No. 1 among general menu restaurants for the second consecutive year with a score of 54 percent. Cracker Barrel held steady in second place with 46 percent, BJ’s Brewhouse ranked third, Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday tied for fourth, and Red Robin ranked fifth.  

Not surprisingly, Cheddar’s excelled in all of the areas that matter most to guests, ranking first for quality food, value, friendly service, atmosphere and overall experience. Ruby Tuesday narrowly edged out Cheddar’s for fast service. Cracker Barrel earned second-place rankings for value, atmosphere and delivering an experience.      


In the hotly debated pizza category, BJ’s Brewhouse captured the top spot from last year’s leader Pizza Ranch. Old Chicago ranked second and California Pizza Kitchen ranked third, dropping 10 percentage points from last year. Others on the list included Round Table Pizza, Pizza Hut and Cicis. 

BJ’s Brewhouse was top rated for eight of the 11 categories studied including food quality, friendly service, menu variety and delivering an experience, not just a transaction. Cicis earned the highest marks for value and fast service, while Pizza Hut was tops for specials and promotions. Roundtable Pizza landed at the bottom in all but two of the categories studied.


For the fourth consecutive year, Maggiano’s has been named America’s favorite Italian chain, earning a 60 percent score. Carrabba’s Italian Grill received a 56 percent to again land in second place, while Olive Garden rounded out the top three.  

Maggiano’s led in most of the categories, receiving first-place scores for every category except fast service and healthy options, which were led by Carrabba’s. Olive Garden ranked third in all but two categories.


Village Inn ranked first among breakfast food chains, beating out past years’ winner Bob Evans Restaurants. The Nashville-based, 59-year-old chain advanced three places in 2017 to lead the category, with Bob Evans and Waffle House rounding out the top three.  

Bob Evans took the top spots for five of the 11 categories studied including food quality, atmosphere and healthy food choices. Village Inn led for menu variety and friendly service, while Waffle House was lauded for the best value, fast service and delivering an experience rather than simply a transaction.


Market Force also looked at which buffet chains are leaving guests the most satisfied, and found that Pizza Ranch is again the clear leader with 54 percent. Sweet Tomatoes appeared for the first time on the list, ranking second, and handily beat out Golden Corral, which ranked third, followed by Cicis in fourth.

Sweet Tomatoes came out on top in five of the categories studied, such as food quality and healthy choices, while Pizza Ranch was found to have the best atmosphere and friendliest service. Golden Corral ranked No. 1 for menu variety, and Cicis is the value leader.


In the battle of the beef, Texas Roadhouse was once again the winner for the third consecutive time. It earned 57 percent to surpass second-place Longhorn Steakhouse, which received a 54 percent. Logan’s Roadhouse trailed with 46 percent and was followed by Outback Steakhouse and Sizzler.

Texas Roadhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse were neck-in-neck in nearly all of the attributes shown to be important to diners. Texas Roadhouse scored first-place rankings for value, friendly service and experience, and Longhorn Steakhouse led in food quality, atmosphere and promotions. Sizzler was found to have the fastest service and healthiest food options.


Overall leader Bonefish Grill also beat out last year’s seafood winner to score first in the category with a 68 percent Composite Loyalty Index score. Pappadeaux and Red Lobster rounded out the category with 58 percent and 45 percent, respectively. 

Bonefish Grill was found to have the highest-quality food, friendliest service and most inviting atmosphere, while Pappadeaux earned top marks for value and fast service. Red Lobster trailed in every category except specials and promotions, where it took second.

More Tablets Being Served Up, But Experience Falling Flat

Restaurants are doling out more tablets to their casual dining guests, but it’s not necessarily improving their experience. Market Force found that 58 percent were provided with a tablet during their recent visit, a 21 percent increase over last year, and 87 percent of those who received one used it. The most popular activities on tablets were paying the bill and viewing the menu, while very few used them to learn more about the brand or buy a gift card. [See Graph 10]. Guests failed to give tablets high ratings for improving their experience, though – only 17 percent said they make the dining experience more enjoyable (down from 20 percent in 2016) – while nearly double that number say they help entertain children.

Restaurant mobile app adoption is growing, with 45 percent of diners indicating they’ve downloaded one, up 4 percent from 2016. The apps are mainly used to view menus, find discounts and find locations. Yelp is still the most downloaded restaurant app, followed by TripAdvisor and OpenTable.

Yelp has also replaced TripAdvisor as the app that wields the strongest influence over diners’ choices. Forty-two percent said that Yelp ratings impact their restaurant choices, and just 40 percent said the same about TripAdvisor. Also, diners indicated that they’re more likely to leave a positive review on TripAdvisor than on other apps. On Yelp, they are as likely to leave a negative review as they are to leave a positive review.  

Survey Demographics

The survey was conducted online in October 2017 across the United States. The pool of 7,926 respondents represented a cross-section of the four U.S. census regions, and reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 51 percent reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 73 percent were female and 27 percent were male.
For each category, study participants were asked to select which casual dining restaurant they visited most recently from a list of restaurants with at least 100 U.S. locations. Only those restaurant brands that were selected by at least 2 percent of participants in each category were ranked and analyzed.

Bluewater Grill Restaurants Install Pay-at-the-Table Technology from TableSafe

Bluewater Grill Restaurants will adopt TableSafe’s RAIL™ payment platform throughout their family of restaurants.  Using the RAIL, guests at Bluewater Grill’s seven restaurants in Southern California and Phoenix now securely pay directly from the table and control the entire checkout and payment process.  Meanwhile, Bluewater Grill benefits from the highest level of credit card security, greater staff efficiency, quicker table turns, and increased guest satisfaction.

The RAIL is an easy to use device housed inside a patented billfold that replicates the traditional leather folio that Bluewater Grill restaurants use to deliver checks to the table. This payment-agnostic platform enables guests to securely self-pay with their credit card, ensuring the credit card never leaves their hand.  It also allows guests to auto-calculate tips, split bills multiple ways (including pay-by-item), and receive emailed receipts.  Once the payment process is complete, the RAIL allows Bluewater Grill to receive real-time feedback from guests on their dining experience, enabling them to gain valuable insights on their food and service.

“The ultimate dining experience starts with an elegant setting, features excellent food and elite service, and is capped-off with a convenient, secure checkout,” said Jim Ulcickas, co-owner of Bluewater Grill. “Food aside, the RAIL helps us enhance all aspects of this experience.  It also improves staff efficiency in the front and back of the house and enhances the guest experience by streamlining the payment process.  There’s tremendous value in having a single guest payment solution that’s multi-faceted. It does much more than just take payments.”

“Over the course of 20 years, Bluewater Grill has built a reputation for serving hyper-fresh, sustainably harvested seafood and maintaining a casual, relaxed and trusted environment,” said Steve McKean, President of TableSafe.  “Unfortunately, because of the threat of credit card information theft, that reputation can be undone in a single instance.  The RAIL is engineered to protect each and every restaurant transaction with point-to-point encryption and tokenization so that all consumer payment information is rendered useless to would-be thieves.  We are pleased to provide this level of security and convenience for Bluewater Grill and its guests.”

The RAIL was designed to enable a broad range of payment options supported by the highest levels of security and convenience.  The RAIL secures the payment transaction with point-to-point encryption (P2PE) and Payment Card Industry (PCI) data controls.  TableSafe recently received full EMV certification, required for chip-based transactions.

The RAIL will be installed in the restaurant’s Newport Beach, Coronado, Carlsbad and Phoenix locations by the end of November.  The remaining restaurants in Redondo Beach, Temecula and Avalon on Catalina Island will be completed in December. 

Denny’s Opens in Guatemala

Denny’s Corporation opened its first restaurant in Guatemala located on Liberacion Blvd. near the airport. The new restaurant is owned and operated by Honduras-based franchisee, Comidas Especializadas S. de R.L. led by experienced franchisee  Roberto Larach, an existing Denny’s franchise partner. This newest location in Guatemala marks the 13th country in Denny’s global portfolio.

“We’re excited to continue the growth of the Denny’s brand internationally and execute on our goal of being the world’s largest, most admired and beloved family of local restaurants,” stated John Miller, Denny’s President and CEO.  “Mr. Larach and his group are incredible brand ambassadors in Central America and have built a strong following for Denny’s.” 

Comidas Especializadas S. de R.L. is an experienced franchise group that currently operates five Denny’s restaurants in Honduras and one in El Salvador. The new Guatemala restaurant marks the seventh restaurant of 10 or more the group plans to open in the region. In addition to Denny’s restaurants, Comidas Especializadas S. de R.L. currently operates 60 Pizza Hut locations and 15 KFC restaurants in Honduras.

“For years, we have been bringing American restaurant concepts to Central America and are thrilled to share Denny’s with the residents and visitors of Guatemala,” said Mr. Larach, franchisee for Denny’s. “Denny’s is an outstanding brand, with a great menu and a business model like no other brand in the industry. With restaurants in Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala was the natural next step in our plan to bring the brand to more guests in the region.”

Steve Dunn, Denny’s Senior Vice President & Chief Global Development Officer, added, “Denny’s is one of the fastest growing family-dining chains across the globe and it is very exciting to add Guatemala to our expanding list of new countries offering our unique diner experience. We look forward to finding more qualified partners like Mr. Larach and his team to further expand Denny’s international footprint.”

Curry Up Now Attracts Investment

Curry Up Now, the Bay Area family of restaurants, food trucks, and Mortar & Pestle bars, has attracted a new investment from growth restaurant investor Kitchen Fund. This investment comes on the heels of Curry Up Now’s acquisition of Tava Kitchen, as the Indian fast-casual concept furthers their efforts to expand outside of current markets.

Naughty Naan

Founded in 2009 by husband and wife Akash and Rana Kapoor & co-founder Amir Hosseini, Curry Up Now takes traditional Indian flavors and presents them in a friendly, recognizable format. Their fan-favorites include the Tikka Masala Burrito, Deconstructed Samosa, Sexy Fries, and Naughty Naan, along with more traditional Indian street foods offerings like Pani Puri, Marwari Kachori Chaat, and Papdi Chaat. Curry Up Now limits their disposal waste by using real plates, silverware and cloth napkins in-house and packaging to-go orders in recyclable and compostable containers.Curry Up Now

In addition, Mortar & Pestle cocktail bars, which are attached to the Curry Up Now San Jose and San Mateo locations, serve up handcrafted cocktails created with syrups, sodas, and tonics made in-house to curate unique Indian-inspired libations.


“We’re excited to have the support of Kitchen Fund, an investor with a wealth of experience that will allow us to strategically grow Curry Up Now,” states Curry Up Now’s CEO Akash Kapoor.

Kitchen Fund is a growth restaurant investor that provides financial capital and operational expertise to emerging restaurant brands. Kitchen Fund was founded in partnership with Fransmart, the global franchise development firm behind the growth of brands like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Qdoba, and The Halal Guys, and responsible for opening more than 5,000 restaurants worldwide.  Kitchen Fund has invested in several segment-redefining brands, including INDAY, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, and Hummus & Pita, Co.

“The Curry Up Now team has married authentic flavors with a Cali-inspiration that will resonate with guests across the country,” says Greg Golkin, founder of Kitchen Fund. “It is different than anything you have ever eaten.”

Curry Up Now is currently looking for experienced multi-unit foodservice operators to develop franchise territories in major markets.

Bareburger Delivers the Impossible

When Bareburger became the first-major restaurant chain to serve the Impossible Burger back in March of 2017, fans were only able to chomp-down into this modern-food marvel while dining-in. After months of trial deliveries, the time has finally come to enjoy the Impossible Burger from the comfort of your couch, desk, or bathtub.Guests have been clamoring to get the Impossible Burger delivered ever since its launch at Bareburger LaGuardia Place in Manhattan.

Impossible Burger

“Now that Bareburger has become the largest restaurant group serving the Impossible Burger we can finally start sending it to our hungry guests along with all our other sustainable grub,” said Euripides Pelekanos Founder & CEO of Bareburger when asked about the launch.

Need to get your hands on an Impossible Burger now? Bareburgers got you covered. Either head over to and start your online order or call your nearest Bareburger.

Diners craving the Impossible Burger can also quickly order takeout from over 30 Bareburger locations available on Grubhub and its regional New York brand, Seamless.

“Grubhub prides itself on connecting hungry diners with their favorite local restaurants so they can order the food they want whenever the craving hits,” said Stan Chia, Chief Operating Officer at Grubhub. “We’re thrilled to partner with Bareburger to reach even more customers who are craving organic and all-natural food. We hope that our diners are delighted to see the availability of this beloved brand on our Grubhub and Seamless platforms so they can conquer the ‘Impossible’ from the comfort of their own home.”