When it comes to fast food, Americans eat a lot of it, and they are getting more demanding about the quality of the food they are eating. And the biggest names are faring the poorest: McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) offers the lowest rated burgers. Yum! Brands Inc.’s (NYSE: YUM) KFC makes the lowest rated chicken and the company’s Taco Bell restaurants make the lowest rated burritos. Privately held Au Bon Pain is rated last in the sandwiches and subs category.
Consumer Reports magazine asked subscribers a single question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste?” The magazine got more than 32,000 responses about more than 96,000 dining experiences at 65 fast-food and fast-casual restaurant chains.
Americans are spending $680 billion a year on dining out, and they want more for their money. A senior projects editor at Consumer Reports relays the overall conclusion:
More and more, food quality — not just low price — is emerging as a deciding-factor for many Americans when choosing where to spend their dining dollars. Strong regional players and slightly more upscale fast-casual chains like Chipotle are giving the heavy-hitters in the fast-food business a wake-up call. And our survey clearly shows the big guys need to respond.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) sits at the top of the ratings in the burrito category. Until selling its stake in October 2006, McDonald’s was the largest shareholder in Chipotle.
The most highly rated hamburgers come from The Habit Burger Grill, a privately held chain with stores in California, Arizona and Utah. In-N-Out Burger, another privately held chain with hundreds of stores in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah, is the second most highly rated. Tied for third are Five Guys Burgers and Fries, with locations in 47 states and six Canadian Provinces, and Smashburger.
With the exception of In-N-Out Burger, all the named burger restaurants are fast-casual stores. The food costs a little more, the dining experience is a little more upscale, and, so the Consumer Reports subscribers say, the food is better.
The top-rated publicly traded burger joint is Wendy’s Co. (NASDAQ: WEN), which finished ninth with a score of 6.8, compared with The Habit’s top score of 8.1. Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ: SONC) scored 6.7, and Burger King Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: BKW) and Jack in the Box Inc. (NASDAQ: JACK) scored 6.6 to finish just ahead of McDonald’s, which scored 5.8 to finish last.
Privately held Chick-fil-A is the top scoring chicken fast-food restaurant, Portillo’s Hot Dogs is the top scoring sandwich and sub shop, and Chipotle is the top burrito seller. Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen Inc. (NASDAQ: PLKI) was tied for second among the chicken purveyors. Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ: PNRA), Potbelly Corp. (NASDAQ: PBPB) and Einstein Noah Restaurant Group Inc. (NASDAQ: BAGL) ranked tied for fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, among sandwich shops.