Small Business

10 restaurant chains with the best buzz

Restaurants with positive brand perception

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Just what do Americans think of big restaurant chains?

A recent index attempts to shed some light on how customers perceive some of the country's largest dining chains. During the first half of the year, YouGov BrandIndex polled 600,000 people to unearth the five casual dining and five fast food chains with the strongest buzz, by asking whether respondents had heard positive or negative things about the brands in the last two weeks.

"It's one aspect of what we tend to think of as brand health," said Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov BrandIndex, in a phone interview.

Having a national footprint helps boost a brand's perception since a larger presence often means more advertising dollars at work to sway opinion.

So which restaurants earned top scores? Click ahead to find out.

—By CNBC's Katie Little
Updated 21 September 2015
Posted 20 July 2015


Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rounding out the top five casual dining chains, seafood chain Red Lobster earned a score of 13.7. Scores can range from 100 (indicating all positive feedback) to -100 (or earning only negative feedback).

A score of 0 means a brand has an equal amount of positive and negative feedback.

4. Applebee’s

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

The DineEquity-owned brand came in just ahead of Red Lobster. It is important to note buzz scores for the top five casual dining chains are all closely clustered together, ranging from 13.7 to 17.6.

3. Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
Diane Macdonald | Getty Images

The Bloomin' Brands chain clocked in at third. Best known for its Bloomin' Onion appetizer, its parent company also owns seafood and Italian brands.

2. Panera Bread

A sign marks the location of a Panera Bread restaurant in Chicago.
Getty Images

This year, Panera Bread has doubled down on overhauling the ingredients it uses. In early May, the restaurant chain detailed a list of artificial additives that it is ditching from its menu.

YouGov BrandIndex choose to put Panera into the casual dining category after considering how it stacked up with competitors on a variety of factors including table service and price point.

1. Olive Garden

Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmesan Breadstick Sandwich
Source: Olive Garden

Well known for its unlimited salad and breadsticks, Olive Garden can stake another claim: first place in casual dining brand perception.

The Italian restaurant was able to hold on to the top spot while rivals Chili's and Red Robin got booted from the top five.

FAST FOOD CHAINS - 5. Sonic Drive In

A Sonic drive-in restaurant is shown in Normal, Ill.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The old-fashioned drive-in hamburger chain ranked fifth among fast-food chains with a buzz score of 11.1.

4. Pizza Hut

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The only pizza chain to crack the top spots, Yum Brands' Pizza Hut earned a score of 12.5. This year, the restaurant has focused on marketing its new pizza lineup called "The Flavor of Now," which focuses on customization and premium ingredients like Peruvian cherry peppers and trendy flavors like honey sriracha.

3. Chick-fil-A

Drive-through customers wait in line at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas.
Getty Images

The chicken chain debuted in the top five this year. Last year, the Atlanta-based restaurant announced it would work with suppliers to remove all antibiotics from its chicken supply, a process that it forecast will take five years.

2. Wendy’s

Wendy's Co. signage is displayed outside of a restaurant in Torrance, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Wendy's made a one-spot gain in the latest ranking to score a 13.9, earning it a spot as the most well-perceived burger joint among those surveyed.

1. Subway

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

The sandwich joint held on to its top spot as the best-perceived fast food brand and also placed 5th among the 1,400 brands YouGov BrandIndex tracks.

"Subway has perennially been one of the top dining brands" and the top of fast food for several years now, Marzilli noted.

It's important to note that the data ends in June, predating the scandal caused by the alleged child porn investigation of long-time spokesman Jared Fogle. (Subway has cut ties with Fogle, whose attorney has said his client has not been detained or charged.)

Time will tell whether the brand's subsequent suspension of its relationship with Fogle dents its brand perception.

"Often when a brand is that strong, people tend to be forgiving. Particularly when a brand addresses issues up front, so we'll see," Marzilli said.