McDonald’s popular slogan may be “I’m lovin’ it,” but consumers beg to differ. The fast-food icon was joined by Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell among the lower ranked chains in Consumer Reports’ first major fast-food ratings.
The survey, based on responses from 36,733 subscribers who made more than 98,000 visits to 53 fast-food chains, revealed that readers found them to offer uninspiring food and service that was only so-so. Other major chains with relatively low scores: sandwich shops Arby’s and Quiznos and pizza joints Domino’s and Pizza Hut.
“Chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell boast super-sized values, but consumers don’t necessarily think they offer much bang for the buck,” said Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports. “Fifty-four percent of our subscribers cited low prices as a reason for picking a particular fast-food restaurant.”
By contrast, the survey revealed good deals and even better meals at dozens of ever-present fast-food restaurants. CR’s readers gave 21 of the 53 chains high marks for food.
Among the winners:
* For burger fans, In-N-Out Burger rated highest of all 53 chains rated in CR’s survey with high scores for food, service, value, and speed.
* Chipotle Mexican Grill was among the best of eight leading Mexican food chains and earned high scores for food, politeness of staff and speed of service.
* One chicken chain topped the rest hands down: Chick-fil-A. With outstanding scores for politeness of staff, and high marks for food, value and speed of service, respondents rated it higher than seven other leading poultry stops.
* If you’re craving a top-notch wedge, hero, hoagie or sub served quickly with a smile on the side, try Jason’ s Deli or Firehouse Subs. Readers gave them the highest marks for food and favorable scores for politeness of staff and speed of services among 11 sandwich and sub chains.
* The single standout for pizza: Papa Murphy’s Take ‘ N’ Bake Pizza, which has an unconventional concept where the patrons order a pizza to bake at home. It earned the highest marks for food and exceptional scores for value, staff politeness and speed of service among the pizza chains.
Other key findings:
* Diners want better food. Many restaurants scored higher for service — specifically, speed and politeness — than for food. At chains with the highest scores for food, 42 to 54 percent of patrons called the fare excellent, but at Burger King, KFC, McDonald’ s and Taco Bell, no more than 11 percent of patrons did. In fact, 15 to 19 percent of respondents who ate at one of those chains thought the food was fair, poor or very poor. At Sbarro, an Italian chain, 27 percent of patrons judged the food fair, poor or very poor.
* Diners want a better experience. Whether they ordered cafeteria-style, at a counter, at a drive-thru or had food delivered, readers were much less pleased overall with fast-food restaurants than with casual full-service eateries like Cracker Barrel, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster. Sixty percent of respondents said they were completely or very satisfied with their fast-food dining experiences vs. 68 percent of casual-restaurant patrons.
Who makes the best fries?
Wendy’s says its new fries are so good that they beat McDonald’s by a wide margin in a recent independent consumer taste test. To see for itself, CR had two sensory experts taste fries from those two chains and from Burger King, Five Guys, Fuddruckers and KFC in the New York tri-state area.
Bottom line: Wendy’s has the right to brag, and CR scored its fries very good. Its experts gave Wendy’s a slight edge over McDonald’s because its fries were ” a bit more potato-y.” The others were close, too, except Burger King; its fries tasted fatty, had less-intense potato flavor, and rated only good.
Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.