Sit-down restaurants have found the recipe for making Americans happy.
People are impressed with more than the pancakes, paninis and pan-seared pork chops that casual dining establishments are serving up. They're delighted with the overall experience -- and customer satisfaction levels are rising, according to a survey from Market Force Information.
These 16 chains rank highest for customer loyalty. Feeling hungry? Grab a credit card offering extra rewards for dining out, find one of your favorites on this list — and head out to a great dinner.
16. Olive Garden
Since 1982, Olive Garden has promoted the message "that life is better together and everyone is happiest when they’re with family."
The largest Italian-themed chain in the country is famous for its affordable, versatile menu featuring traditional favorites and creative specials that frequently change.
Fun fact: Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotions have been so popular that the chain now sells limited numbers of Never Ending Pasta Passes, offering all-you-can-eat carbs for either eight weeks or an entire year. The passes sell out almost instantly.
15. Outback Steakhouse
This Australian-inspired steakhouse was launched in 1988 to capitalize on the popularity of the movie Crocodile Dundee.
Outback's laid-back, welcoming locations offer steaks, chicken and seafood in generous portions for modest prices. The signature dish is the hand-carved, expertly fried, delectably seasoned Bloomin’ Onion. That’s just for starters, so come hungry.
Fun fact: The chain's founders decided against making a field trip to Australia before the opening, because they weren't aiming for authenticity but for "American food and Australian fun." Now, Outback now has seven locations Down Under.
14. Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory is said to have the largest menu in the restaurant business. There are more than 250 dishes made from scratch every day.
Be sure to bring your reading glasses, and if you have the willpower to pass on a Glamburger, you can peruse more than 50 low-calorie dishes in the Skinnylicious section. And, be ready to choose from almost 40 cheesecakes for dessert.
Fun fact: On earlier seasons of The Big Bang Theory, The Cheesecake Factory is where the character Penny works and where the rest of the gang goes to hang out. Want more MoneyWise? Sign up for our newsletter.
13. Bob Evans Restaurants
Evans, who died in 2007, treated strangers like friends and friends like family. The heartfelt hospitality in his farm-themed casual restaurants makes the biscuits and sausage gravy taste even better.
Breakfast is served all day for people who crave pancakes or pot roast hash at midafternoon, and plenty of people apparently do — there are nearly 500 Bob Evans locations.
Fun facts: Bob Evans started out making sausage on his farm in southeastern Ohio, to sell at a diner he owned nearby. The original restaurant had just 12 stools and was called The Sausage Shop.
12. Mellow Mushroom
This Atlanta-based pizzeria dishes up "stoned baked" pies in an eclectic, art-filled environment. It offers calzones and hoagies in addition to build-your-own and house specialty pizzas.
Mellow Mushroom provides the best overall experience among sit-down pizza chains, according to Market Force. The company's website says the goal is to “make the world a better place, one slice at a time."
Fun fact: You know how so many restaurant chains have locations that are pretty much the same inside? That's not Mellow Mushroom. It works with local artists to give each restaurant a unique look that reflects the community.
11. Carrabba’s Italian Grill
This popular Italian-American chain was launched in Houston by Johnny Carrabba III and his uncle, Damian Mandola. The two are self-described Sicilian boys from Texas who love to cook and eat.
Expect robust, rustic fare — and lots of it. You can soak up the energy and sample what’s currently on the stove by dining at Carrabba’s "Kitchen Counter," with great views of the cooking process.
Fun fact: The signature Chicken Bryan, topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and lemon-butter sauce, is heavenly. It's named after Bryan, Texas, where members of the Carrabba family first settled after arriving from Sicily.
10. Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
The Pappas brothers have several casual dining concepts, but Pappadeaux is the largest. The family is highly respected for innovation, outstanding quality and stellar customer service.
The French Quarter-style menu continually changes to incorporate seasonal ingredients, and sauces are made from scratch every day.
Fun fact: Pappadeaux is a chain that likes to be hands-on and apparently doesn't think much of outsourcing. Its website says the company owns all of its delivery trucks and even makes the chairs for the restaurant dining rooms.
9. BJ’s Brewhouse
BJ’s was born in 1978 as a pizza joint. When the first seven locations thrived, the owners bought out another chain and added a microbrewery.
There are over 200 locations now, and the massive menu features both comfort food and healthy choices. BJ's 11 signature beers have won more than 200 awards.
Fun fact: BJ's was originally named BJ Grunts as a tribute to a restaurant in Chicago called R.J. Grunts. But the founders dropped the "Grunts" and made it just BJ's after the other restaurant complained, the Los Angeles Times reports.
8. Bonefish Grill
Fans are hooked on the quality, attention to detail and craft cocktails at Bonefish Grill, which was founded by two fishermen in Florida in 2000. Along with Outback and Carrabba’s, it is now owned by Bloomin’ Brands.
Bonefish’s fresh products are hand-cut daily. The menu features seasonal ingredients like Maryland soft-shell crabs in spring. Preparation on an oak-burning grill and minimal seasoning enhance the seafood’s natural flavors.
Fun fact: Famously frugal billionaire Warren Buffett hosted a small family dinner at the Bonefish Grill in Omaha, Nebraska, after he and second wife Astrid Menks got married in 2006, according to The New York Times.
7. Blaze Pizza
Blaze — which was founded in Pasadena, California, in 2011 — is America's favorite casual-dining pizza restaurant, Market Force says, thanks to its fast and friendly service, good value, high quality and healthy options.
Pizzas are created on an assembly line as customers choose toppings. Crispy perfection is the result of fast-firing the pies in a blazing oven for 180 seconds.
Fun fact: NBA megastar LeBron James has been an investor in Blaze Pizza almost from the start and promotes the brand on social media. A YouTube video of James working in a Blaze (with co-workers who call him "Ron") has been viewed more than 2 million times.
6. LongHorn Steakhouse
It's the place where "you can't fake steak," as the slogan goes. In addition to very affordable steaks, these restaurants offer mouthwatering ribs, seafood, burgers and more than 30 lunch combos.
Each LongHorn location has a sustainability team that oversees recycling and energy use.
Fun fact: The name used to be LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon. The first one opened in Atlanta in 1981, but it didn't get noticed until the following year, when a freakish snowstorm blew into town. Stranded motorists discovered a great place to eat.
5. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
Cheddar’s, opened in 1979, is best known for comfort food like country-fried steak and chicken potpie, but there are plenty of waistline-friendly options. It gets high marks in the survey for its food quality, good value and prompt service.
This casual dining chain is such a hot property that when Darden Restaurants announced it was acquiring Cheddar's in 2017, Darden was the day's top gainer on the S&P 500.
Fun fact: Why the cheesy name? The story goes that founders Doug Rogers and Aubrey Good weren't sure what to call their original restaurant in Arlington, Texas, so they asked some schoolkids — who said they just liked the word "cheddar."
4. Cracker Barrel
For Southern hospitality, it’s tough to beat Cracker Barrel. The stone fireplaces, rocking chairs and local artifacts have drawn diners for 50 years.
The menu, featuring Southern staples like chicken and dumplings, catfish and turnip greens, has expanded to include local favorites and lighter fare. Market Force says the chain scores high for its friendly service and "inviting atmosphere."
Fun fact: Founder Dan Evins was a salesman for Shell Oil and opened the first Cracker Barrel in his hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee, as a gimmick to help sell gasoline. The restaurant was attached to a gas station.
3. First Watch
Scorning deep fryers and heat lamps, this daytime-only chain boasts fresh, made-to-order foods. If you ask for coffee, you’ll get a whole pot — and a complimentary newspaper.
First Watch opened in 1983 in California, and the Market Force survey names it America's most popular breakfast chain. It tops competitors for the quality of its food, its healthy menu options and the attention it pays to food allergies.
Fun fact: The name comes from the language of the sea: The day's early shift on board a ship is called "first watch." The First Watch restaurants are open only from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
2. Texas Roadhouse
Clarksville, Indiana, is nowhere near Texas, but that’s where these casual dining restaurants got their start in 1993. The survey names Texas Roadhouse America's top steakhouse.
The steaks are hand-cut, the bread is fresh-baked, and the peanuts are free. Jukeboxes, line dancing and Texas-friendly service are all part of the experience.
Fun fact: In every Texas Roadhouse, look for a neon guitar over "Willie's Corner" — a booth dedicated to country music icon Willie Nelson. He owns two of the restaurants in Austin, Texas, and has helped promote the chain.
1. Maggiano’s Little Italy
On so many levels, Maggiano’s just works — making it America's favorite sit-down restaurant overall. The Italian-American food is out of this world, and the service is comparable to fine dining.
With Today & Tomorrow Pastas — choose two, and one is free to take home — you can feed a starving linebacker for a week. While the prices are higher than in most casual restaurants, the value can’t be beat.
Fun fact: Founder Rich Melvin came up with the name to honor the memory of his business partner Marvin Magid. "I always wanted to name something after him so I combined 'Magg' with 'iano' to make it sound Italian," Mellman told the Chicago Tribune.