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Millennials' chain rankings pack some surprises

Which restaurant chains are valued most by Millennials for the brands’ social-responsibility efforts? Here’s a hint: Don’t waste a guess on Chipotle or Starbucks.

The fast-food chain viewed by 19 to 34-year-olds as the most considerate toward the environment and employees is the throwback burger concept In-N-Out, according to new research from Technomic.

McAlister’s Deli gets the youngsters’ highest rating among fast-casual brands, Cracker Barrel tops the charts for family restaurants, and Logan’s wins the top honors among full-service brands, Technomic says.

"Millennials visit restaurants more frequently than any other generation," says Darren Tristano, Technomic’s executive vice president. "Success with today's Millennial consumer will depend on making an emotional connection and setting expectations."

Food quality is important, but the definition of quality differs from the one used by older or younger consumers, Technomic affirmed with the research.

Taste is part of that definition, but it also extends to the methods used to produce the ingredients. Beef that was grass-fed is preferable to the vanilla variety. Ditto for free-range chicken.

Topping the Millennials’ food ratings are Jimmy John’s in the fast-service sector, McAlister’s in fast-casual, Cracker Barrel in family dining, and Red Lobster in full-service. They picked Chik-fil-A, Corner Bakery, Bob Evans and Bonefish Grill as the standouts with the respective service categories for giving back to local communities.