How to Make the Grade—Online Reviews

TripAdvisor is starting a new end-of-the-year ranking—the top restaurant chains as determined by the quality, quantity, and number of recent reviews. Let’s take a look at who made the cut and what made them stand out from the crowd.

Ten restaurants were named in each class—small (representing 10 to 50 locations), medium chains which required 51 to 100 locations, and large chains with over 100 locations. Here’s the top three in each class as determined by TripAdvisor reviewers.


  1. Eddie V’s Prime Seafood has restaurants in 11 states with my favorite located in Chicago. Their oyster and champagne pairings are hard to beat with offerings from Maine, Washington, and Connecticut. What makes them stand out from the crowd? In stead of offering everything under the sun, they have specialized in top-of-the line seafood and premium hand-cut steaks. Lesson? Do one or two things great instead of a hundred things “ok.”
  2. Seasons 52, with restaurants in 20 states, excels at happy hour small plates that start at just $5. Think Kona-crusted Lamb Lollipops, Caramelized Grilled Sea Scallops with micro greens, and Seared Handline Ahi Tuna. As their name implies, they focus on in-season and all-natural. Lesson? Bring in new patrons with a great consistent happy hour that turns them into loyal patrons.
  3. Houston’s is the place to go for made-from-scratch American classics. Think fresh squeezed juice, daily baked bread, and burgers made from house-ground chuck and brisket. When you think of Houston’s, your mind goes to down-home comfort. Lesson? Delve deep when you are determining your brand and what you want to stand for.


  1. The Capital Grille is in 26 states with 2 international locations and, in addition to being known for its high-end steaks and seafood, has upped the anti in their cocktail offerings. An example is their signature martini, the Stoli Doli, that consists of Stolichnaya Vodka infused with fresh pineapple, or the In Fashion that combines Russell’s Reserve 10 Year small batch bourbon with Grand Marnier and black walnut bitters served over an orange ice sphere. Lesson? Creative cocktails are the new craft beer.
  2. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar says it all with their name and motto, “Prime is our Middle Name.” You want a great steak with a unique glass of wine, this is your place. Wines such as Orin Swift’s 8 Years in the Desert are offered by the glass for limited times. Lesson? Your name is your calling card.
  3. Texas de Brazil opened their first Brazilian steakhouse in 1998. They envisioned the rancher’s life and the churrasco culture native to Brazil and brought it, first, to Addison Texas. Meats are cooked over an open flame grill and served with imported cheeses, roasted vegetables and unique offerings such as fried bananas. Lesson? Dining can offer us cultural experiences in our own backyard. Follow your passion.


  1. Ruth’s Chris Steak House has become a global phenomenon with 150 restaurants worldwide. When you go to Ruth’s Chris, you know you’re getting USDA Prime beef served on a 500° plate. They’ve built their reputation on that key factor—great steaks. Lesson? Know what you’re good at and then excel.
  2. The Cheesecake Factory is a lesson in what not to do and yet make a great success out of it. Their 250 made-from-scratch menu items makes you wonder how they manage quality and consistency—and, yet, they do, along with over 30 great cheesecakes. Lesson? Rules are made to be broken.
  3. Bonefish Grill was born in St. Petersburg, Florida on January 15, 2000. They specialize in seasonal fresh fish. You’ll find unique locally-inspired offerings such as Lobster Fritters, Cranberry Salmon, and Kung Pao Monkfish. Their TripAdvisor reviews point to guests appreciating their happy hour drinks, cocktail selections, consistently good service, and high-quality seafood. Lesson? Consistency is the cornerstone of a successful establishment.

Looking to make the top of your class in restaurant reviews? The key to receiving more reviews is simply asking. Tools that can help you reach out include Review Express, which allows you to send emails that encourage guests to write reviews, or simply create custom reminder cards that can arrive with the check at the end of a meal. The old-fashioned approach? Friendly servers, confident in their service and dining experience, simply ask. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.


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