America’s Grouchiest, Dirtiest Family Restaurants

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jim Stratford / Bloomberg News / Getty Images

A Waffle House restaurant in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Few diners head to Friendly’s or Waffle House expecting top-of-the-line cuisine, service or ambience. The results of a new survey indicate that these chains seem to live up to their expectations.

In Consumer Reports’ new survey rating America’s best (and worst) restaurant chains, two stand out at the bottom of the family-restaurant category:

Among the lower-rated were two family restaurants (“family” because they’re typically informal, cater to kids, are open long hours, and serve no liquor): Friendly’s, where “we are committed to quality in everything we do,” and Waffle House, where “we are not in the food business … we are in the People business.” Both drew relatively low marks for cleanliness and mood; Friendly’s was also criticized for lackluster service.

(MORE: Big Chain Restaurant Trends: Hot Menu Items, Hot Marketing Strategies)

The results may not seem all that surprising. Waffle House is a blue collar institution, your classic roadside greasy spoon renowned for menu items like “scattered and smothered” hash browns. Friendly’s, known for ice cream and cheap kids’ meals (that include ice cream), filed for bankruptcy last fall and closed dozens of underperforming franchises. It’s hardly a booming brand — and hardly known for being the cleanest or fanciest restaurant in town.

The two chains promise prices largely on par with fast food but with sit-down waiter service. A booth filled with a gaggle of children is a standard scene in the two family-friendly establishments, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that neither is immaculately clean. Consumer Reports’ ratings are determined by the seven factors of taste, service, mood, noise, menu, cleanliness and value — and, considering their generally low prices, you’d think Waffle House and Friendly’s would at least get good scores for value. That’s not necessarily the case, Consumer Reports’ Tod Marks tells the Today show:

“People can spend $27 on a steak dinner and not think they get very good value for that money, yet people can also … go to a restaurant like Friendly’s and spend less than $10 and think they got even worse value,” he said.

(MORE: What’s the Best Chain Restaurant in America?)

Any survey can be picked apart, though, and this one is no exception. Consumer Reports’ definition of a family restaurant may be different from yours. Another recent study on family restaurants included Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday and TGI Friday’s — all of which serve alcohol and aren’t included in Consumer Reports’ family category.

In any event, the new ratings survey, published in the August 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, may serve as an excuse to check out restaurant chains you’re perhaps unfamiliar with, such as First Watch, the Original Pancake House and Le Peep. All specialize in breakfast, and they rank No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the family-restaurant category.

(MORE: 7 As-Seen-on-TV Products That Actually Work)

Keep in mind that in other surveys, which are based on different parameters and may tabulate rankings in different ways, chains such as Papa John’s, Chili’s, Bonefish Grill and In-N-Out Burger have come out on top. It’s hard to find a survey or ranking that names Waffle House or Friendly’s as a winner, though.

Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.