The latest data from MCA’s comprehensive Eating Out Panel has revealed a strong showing for pub companies, outperforming their restaurant counterparts in terms of net promoter scores throughout the day. MCA’s director of insight, Steve Gotham, looks at some of the reasons the Great British pub is still resonating so strongly with consumers:

The scores are in and the Great British public has voted! And yes if I am honest, it fills me with no small amount of well-being to declare that across the breath of eating out talent operating in the UK, that the winning brands with the highest ratings in Net Promoter Scores (NPS) at breakfast, lunch and dinner are all pub chains.

MCA’s Eating Out Panel tracks ratings from consumers on a host of key measures about their eating out experiences. Comparing the findings for the year to September 2016 and applying a minimum consumer sample size of 75 to ensure robust results – it is quite an achievement that the Top 2 slots are all claimed by pub chains. Take a bow: Toby Carvery and Wetherspoons at Breakfast, Crown Carvery and Toby Carvery at lunch and Crown Carvery and Eating Inn at Dinner!

Before drilling down into these individual day-parts in more detail there are a couple of over-arching headline comments that are worth making. The first, and picking up on the strong showing of pub chains, is that pubs clearly retain significant affinity with UK consumers in a way that restaurant brands simply do not. Consumers have higher expectations of their experiences at restaurants, and as a result, are harder to please. Pubs retain core benefits in terms of informality, conviviality and community values, and as a consequence, are more easily forgiven some shortcomings in terms of service and food quality. In addition, and importantly, pubs also benefit from stronger price-led, value for money credentials than restaurants, and the significance of this is also highly influential in NPS ratings for a substantial proportion of UK diners. An NPS rating of 50 or more is an excellent performance in this market and praise has to go to both Toby Carvery and Crown Carvery (and to parent group M&B) for achieving this on two occasions. And both chains compete strongly on price.

Top 20 leading branded operators by Net Promoter Score for Year to Sept. 2016 and annual change

 BREAKFAST LUNCH DINNER

Rank

Brand

NPS

Annual change

 

Brand

NPS

Annual change

 

Brand

NPS

Annual change

1

Toby Carvery

57

10

 

Crown Carveries

50

-7

 

Crown Carveries

51

6

2

JD Wetherspoon

49

1

 

Toby Carvery

50

1

 

Eating Inn

49

2

3

Greggs

40

-2

 

Dobbies Café

45

18

 

Bella Italia

48

36

4

Morrisons (Food to Go)

38

13

 

JD Wetherspoon

41

-2

 

Toby Carvery

44

-6

5

Morrisons Café

38

-3

 

M&S Café

39

-4

 

Flaming Grill

41

1

6

Sainsbury’s Café

35

-3

 

Waitrose Café

38

-5

 

Nando’s

40

3

7

Waitrose (Food to Go)

35

4

 

Greggs

38

0

 

Prezzo

37

10

8

M&S Cafe

34

-6

 

Vintage Inns

38

4

 

Sizzling Pubs

37

-19

9

Pret A Manger

32

-2

 

Table Table

37

4

 

Zizzi

36

18

10

Frankie & Benny’s

32

-4

 

Nando’s

37

3

 

Table Table

33

-2

11

Asda Café

31

-4

 

Fayre & Square

37

9

 

JD Wetherspoon

33

-2

12

Subway

29

-12

 

Subway

37

0

 

Hungry Horse

33

-6

13

All Bar One

28

16

 

Hungry Horse

35

5

 

Pizza Hut Restaurant

32

3

14

Costa Coffee

24

-2

 

All Bar One

34

15

 

Beefeater

32

6

15

McDonald’s

22

-1

 

Pizza Hut Restaurant

32

12

 

All Bar One

31

7

16

Beefeater

21

15

 

Brewers Fayre

32

-7

 

Vintage Inns

31

-7

17

Starbucks

19

-3

 

Sainsbury’s Café

31

5

 

Wagamama

30

-15

18

Harvester

18

-21

 

Chef & Brewer

31

17

 

PizzaExpress

30

-3

19

Caffè Nero

17

-11

 

M&S (Food to Go)

29

-4

 

TGI Friday’s

30

-3

20

M&S (Food to Go)

17

-4

 

Frankie & Benny’s

29

-1

 

Harvester

27

-3

 

Overall Avg.

25

-1

 

Overall Avg.

27

1

 

Overall Avg.

31

-1

Source: MCA Eating Out Panel

Toby Carvery stands out at breakfast time with the highest NPS of 57. This impressive result has been influenced by the introduction of an improved all you can eat buffet breakfast. For a highly competitive £4.29 or £4.49 (location dependent), unlimited traditional English breakfast items are on offer, and this is supported by a £1.99 fee covering an unlimited supply of tea or coffee. Second placed Wetherspoon clearly also competes strongly on price, as is also the case for Greggs in third. That said, with the likes of Waitrose, M&S and Pret A Manger also making the Top 10, this is by no means a purely one-dimensional, price-led listing.

Interestingly, despite the importance of coffee in the morning, what the breakfast Top 10 rankings lack is any specialist coffee brand. And while Costa, Starbucks and Caffè Nero all make the teen ratings, these scores are all down year on year. On the subject of rating declines, more worrying is the major drop in NPS year on year at Harvester. With this brand also seeing a decline at the dinner day-part, there is the suggestion that all is not running entirely smoothly at this brand.

More encouraging for M&B, however, is the lunch result with Crown Carveries and Toby Carvery leading the ranking. This is though something of a bitter sweet outcome, as while Crown Carveries clearly cuts the mustard with consumers, it has struggled to generate sufficiently attractive returns for its parent, and is being rationalised. Elsewhere, praise should go to Dobbies, where its improving restaurant café operations have helped the business claim bronze position. Also, Wetherspoons and M&S café are noteworthy for again making the Top 10.

At the dinner day-part, Crown Carveries takes the plaudits again as the leading operator. This is clearly an impressive result for the brand, but also underlines the enduring popularity of roast dinners throughout middle England. Significantly, casual restaurants stage something of a fightback during the evening day-part. From only having one Top 10 entry at lunch, in Nando’s, the ranks are swelled to 4 brands in the evening with Bella Italia, Prezzo and Zizzi joining the chicken specialist. Bella Italia also stands out for enjoying the highest annual improvement in NPS rating of any brand at any day-part, with its score growing by 36 points to 48. Clearly the brand rejuvenation and restaurant makeover initiatives have not gone unnoticed by consumers.

Sustaining profitable out-performance is key

In summary, the Net Promoter Score is an index ranging from -100 to +100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products to others. It can be used as a proxy for gauging customers’ overall satisfaction with a brand’s offer and to an extent, their loyalty to the brand. MCA’s results lay down clear benchmarks, and help to identify winners and losers in the Eating Out market. Several pub brands do very well in our NPS league tables, however, it is the sustained and profitable performance that counts. M&B will not be alone in being acutely aware of this, but can take considerable comfort from the knowledge that the Great British love affair with pubs is long established and presents a secure bedrock on which to build valuable brands.