For the past 20 years, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has been rating what it calls limited-service restaurants and the rest of us call fast-food restaurants. In every one of those 20 years, McDonald’s Corp. has finished at the absolute bottom of the rankings.
The competition has gotten close in the past few years — both KFC and Taco Bell, owned by Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM), have dropped to within a few points of McDonald’s. Oddly, perhaps, the highest scoring fast-food restaurant is Pizza Hut, also owned by Yum! Brands and tied with Papa John’s with a score of 82, compared with 71 for McDonald’s, 72 for Taco Bell and 74 for KFC. The leader in the fast-food group was “All others,” which includes restaurant chains Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ: PNRA) and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG).
A workers’ group that is pressuring McDonald’s to raise its lowest wage to $15 an hour suggests that “mounting worker protests over wages” are among the reasons for customer dissatisfaction with McDonald’s. The ACSI data do not seem to bear that out: the rating for “courtesy and helpfulness of the staff” has risen from 82 to 85 year-over-year for the limited-service restaurants as a group. Even speed of service and layout/cleanliness ratings are higher than they were a year ago.
ACSI’s chairman said, “In a weaker economy, consumers respond to price, but as the economy improves, quality becomes more important to restaurant customers.” That is not the same thing as saying that the ACSI data demonstrates that worker protests are adding to customer dissatisfaction with McDonald’s or any other fast-food chain.
McDonald’s wage policies may be detracting from the company’s public image, but there is no way to extract that conclusion from the ACSI data.