Chain Restaurant Consumers' Choice Award winners announced -- and local spots make the list

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Technomic Inc. has released its inaugural list of Chain Restaurant Consumers' Choice Award honorees, winners, chosen from 115 fast-food, fast-casual and full-service restaurants, with the winners selected by consumers.

So now for the two pressing questions: What, exactly, is Technomic, and which restaurants got A+ grades?

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Before now, I had no idea what the eff Technomic was, much less that Technomic's Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics existed. But thanks to some quick work on the Internet, I discovered that Technomic Inc. is a research and consulting firm focused on food and related products and services, with a mission statement that reads: "To provide clients with the research, insights and strategic consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Please take a moment to learn more about..."

Translated from jumped-up corporate speak, Technomic is pretty much the same as any other type of consulting firm -- except its executives and employees do market research and give advice about the food and beverage service industry.

I asked Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc., a couple of questions about the company and its data collection. "We track the leading brands ranked by sales and other restaurant brands that are sponsors of the program," he explains. "The majority of the brands do not subscribe, sponsor or pay for the report. In fact, many of the subscribers are foodservice suppliers."

And Technomic's Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics is a data-collection system used to track, analyze and disseminate consumer feedback of 115 major restaurant chains, in order to, as Technomic puts it, "capitalize on marketplace opportunities."

"The report is highly representative of consumer demographics in the U.S. and is designed to track the leading chains," says Tristano. "As the program grows, we include the next tier of chain brands based on U.S. sales."

Studying consumer feedback data to advise companies on how to make more money by giving customers what they want isn't new in concept or practice, but can certainly be useful to restaurants trying to stay competitive in an ever-changing market -- and it's quite lucrative if done effectively.

Using CRBM data, Technomic chose winners in four categories -- food and beverage, service, atmosphere and brand image -- for its first Chain Restaurant Consumers' Choice Awards. And the winners are.....

Service: Fast food: Chick-Fil-A Fast casual: Firehouse Subs Full service: Outback Steakhouse.

Food and beverage Fast food: Culver's ButterBurgers & Frozen Custard Fast casual: McAlister's Deli Full service: Cracker Barrel.

Atmosphere Fast food: Caribou Coffee Fast casual: Panera Bread Full service: LongHorn Steakhouse.

Brand image Fast food: Jamba Juice Fast casual: Qdoba Full service; Red Robin

Congratulations to all the winners: Though I'm still not eating at Chick-Fil-A (even though I miss the peach shakes and waffle fries) until the company gets good with gays, I'm tickled to see Colorado-based Qdoba and Red Robin among the winners, and I'm happy that Culver's made the list, because an order of fried cheese curds and a raspberry concrete mixer really is the lunch of champions.

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