Eating out is no longer a treat. It has become a way of life. Americans will spend an estimated $720 billion this year at restaurants, roughly $2,200 for every man, woman and child.
So who deserves your dining dollars? Consumer Reports can tell you.
Nearly half of every dollar budgeted for food is spent eating out. Much of that money will be spent at table-service restaurants, where you can sit down and be served.
So where should you be eating? Consumer Reports surveyed nearly 70,000 readers about their experiences at close to 240 restaurant chains - from diners to fine-dining - to help you find the best meals and deals.
"Diners want a sure thing when they go out to eat. They want to have a clean restaurant, tasty food and good value," said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports.
For contemporary fare, both Hillstone and Seasons 52 stand out for food and ambience.
Seasons 52 boasts a seasonal menu. While it's not inexpensive, it is one of the few restaurants topping the ratings, where you can grab dinner for $40 or less.
For a truly great steak, regardless of price, try Capital Grille. But dinner runs roughly $64 a person.
You'll spend less than half that at Longhorn Steakhouse. You give up a bit on service and ambience, but their food bested several other chains, including Outback.
"It's all about expectations. People aren't necessarily looking for the same thing in a $20 meal as you are in a $60 meal," Marks said.
Dave and Busters serves up plenty of arcade fun, but it's at the very bottom of the ratings for ambience, service, value and food.
If you are dining with kids, standouts include Cracker Barrel, Ruby's Diner, Islands Fine Burgers and Drinks and Rainforest Café.
In the end, there are plenty of choices to keep most diners happy.
Overall, most people think they don't get a great value at chain restaurants. The Consumer Reports survey did find that people are much more likely to feel they're getting a good "bang for their buck" at independent restaurants.
Nearly 60 percent of people say the value they get at local restaurants is either very good or excellent.
All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2016. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not for profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org
Consumer Reports: Best restaurant meals and deals
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