Whether you're on the road or staying local, you can always find a wide variety of chain restaurants where you can stop for a tasty meal. We’re not talking about fast-food eateries like McDonald’s and Burger King but table-service restaurants that offer great value and fine dining.

While you'll recognize many such chain restaurants—Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and The Cheesecake Factory—others that might be less familiar to you are worthy of your attention.

Consumer Reports' new restaurant survey, which encompasses responses from 68,950 subscribers, include 70 chain restaurants that are newcomers to our Ratings. These restaurants provide quality food and service and in many cases good value.

Among them are family restaurants like Elmer’s that hark back to the days of coffee shops and feature home-style cooking. But there are also elegant white-tablecloth eateries such as Maestro’s Steakhouse where those surveyed spent a median of $86 on dinner per person before tip.

As in previous surveys, the newbies continue to raise the performance bar, ranking at or near the top of most of the 11 cuisine categories in our Ratings. Our Ratings categorize chain restaurants loosely by cuisine type though you’ll often find similar menu choices no matter where you dine. Many of these chains are dabbling in trends such as offering locally sourced food. Others take into account environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and fair-trade practices. 


Check our new restaurant Ratings to find the best dining options for your summer travels.
 

Notable Newcomers

Among the best of those new to our Ratings:

  • Hillstone, an overall top-scoring chain whose décor features one-of-a-kind artwork and dishes made from local ingredients.
  • Seasons 52, known for seasonally inspired menus.
  • Fogo de Chao Brazilian, built around a centuries-old grilling tradition of churrasco, in which food is slowly cooked over fire.
  • Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, a fine-dining restaurant that boasts world-class wine and service and live jazz.
  • Ocean Prime, a chain of modern American eateries from restaurateur Cameron Mitchell.

Cuisine With a Conscience

In picking a place to eat, those surveyed predictably put food quality and taste first. Service, menu variety, ambiance, even value, are secondary, though the attentiveness of the wait staff becomes more critical as the meal ticket rises. In general, the fancy steakhouses tended to have the most delectable fare, solicitous staff, and highest prices. The upscale seafood restaurants were close behind.

But food that tastes and looks good is no longer enough for some diners; they want cuisine with a conscience. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said the availability of healthy menu options figures prominently in their choice of a restaurant. The use of locally sourced or antibiotic-free fare was critical to around 15 percent, while about 10 percent said they seek out restaurants that cook with organic and non-GMO ingredients.

In fact, among those who have cut back on dining at table-service chain restaurants, 17 percent attributed it to a lack of healthy alternatives. (Cost was the top reason, cited by 39 percent of those who said they eat out less often at chains than they did a year ago.) 

Healthy Choices

Respondents who had a keen interest in ordering food considered healthy dined at Seasons 52, Nobu, Bareburger, Ocean Prime, California Pizza Kitchen, Barcelona Wine Bar, Hillstone, Mitchell’s Fish House, Francesca’s Restaurant, and King’s Fish House.

Next May, all consumers concerned about healthy and nutritious dining will be better informed of their options when a law introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act will take effect. It will require restaurants and food-service businesses with 20 or more locations operating under the same name and serving substantially the same menu items to post calorie information for standard menu items. They will also have to provide guests with additional nutrition information upon request.

While many restaurants already provide such information, it’s not always as readily available at table-service restaurant chains as it is at fast food and fast-casual restaurants such as Panera Bread.

Perhaps somewhat surprising in our survey results were the modest scores given for value at many restaurants—even those that don’t charge an arm and a leg. While most chains were judged so-so, readers singled out only 11 of 238 restaurants as offering better-than-average bang for the buck. Among them are Black-eyed Pea, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

10 Great Dining Picks

Besides the new chain restaurants that we've rated, there are plenty of older, more-established restaurants that are still great choices. Here are 10 chains from around the country that have at least 40 locations, so it should be easy for you to find one near you. All scored highly in their categories:

  • Abuelo’s (Mexican/Tex-Mex)
  • Benihana (Asian)
  • Bravo! Cucina Italiana (Italian)
  • First Watch (Family)
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy (Italian)
  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Steakhouse)
  • Seasons 52 (Contemporary/Traditional American)
  • Ted’s Montana Grill (Bar and grill)
  • The Capital Grille (Steakhouse)
  • The Melting Pot (Specialty)