Not surprisingly, Starbucks is the most talked-about coffeehouse chain online, according to Zócalo Group’s most recent Recommendation Index.

But despite being the leader in online conversation volume, the brand is only recommended in about one in 200 conversations, while smaller rival Caribou Coffee earns a recommendation once in every 20 conversations. Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s follow Caribou in the Recommendation Index rankings of the top 10 largest coffeehouse chains operating in the US.

“Recommendations drive not only brand perception, but more importantly, purchasing decisions,” said Paul Rand, president and CEO of Zócalo. “By making the important distinction between a cursory mention and a positive recommendation, we were able to glean more revealing insights about the role that recommendations played within the coffeehouse chain industry.”

The Recommendation Index found that top themes associated with positive coffeehouse chain recommendations include product quality and freshness, brand loyalty and brew consistency. Primary drivers of negative word of mouth point to poor product quality, unskilled baristas and brand detractors, all of which further illustrate the value consumers place in great taste and service when choosing where to buy their coffee.

"The Recommendation Index illustrates that while a brand’s volume of conversation is important, a high volume doesn’t necessarily increase the likelihood that someone will make a recommendation,” says Zach Mesenbourg, manager of Zócalo Group's insights & analytics team. "And that scenario is exactly what we saw with Caribou Coffee and Starbucks. While people talked more about Starbucks overall, those who talked about Caribou Coffee were stronger advocates and recommenders.”

Top drivers of positive recommendations in the coffeehouse chain conversation include:

• Product Quality & Freshness – good taste, always fresh, and delicious flavor
• Brand Loyalty – an unconditional affinity for a particular brand
• Brew Consistency – getting the same good cup of coffee time after time
• Skilled Baristas – friendly staff that create delicious specialty drinks
• Physical Location – the best place to hang out, relax, and meet with friends

Top drivers of negative recommendations include:
• Poor Product Quality – bad taste, poor flavor, and old or burnt coffee
• Unskilled Baristas – staff that often “messes up” drinks
• Brand Detractors – overall dislike, contempt, or hatred for a particular brand
• Exaggerated Comparisons – tastes like dirt, tanning oil, and other substances
• Physical Side Effects – complaints of discomfort associated with the coffee