Special Report

Fast Food Chains You Should Never Eat At

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One of the oldest established fast-food restaurants to open in the United States was White Castle, which opened its doors in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, although they had food stands as early as 1916. The fast food market saw a boom in the 1940s and 1950s, with the opening of eight more restaurants, from In-n-Out Burger and Dunkin Donuts to KFC and Dairy Queen. Since this time, fast food has become synonymous with a quick meal. But it doesn’t necessarily equate to better for you.

According to Boston University’s The Brink, an online research publication, fast food makes up 11 percent of adult energy intake in the United States and has been implicated in rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But when you want a quick bite, you opt for a place where you know the food will at least taste good. While the golden age of fast food is long behind us, there is no doubt restaurants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s remain wildly popular. There is just something about the taste of fries or the sipping of a milkshake that drives good memories for millions of fast food customers.

These chain restaurants may offer you plenty of options but a lot of once-popular fast-food choices should now be avoided. Brands that you once loved may have let their food or service quality suffer over the years leading to a drop in customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, this means you may need to start looking elsewhere for the rush that comes from the first bite of a fast food hamburger.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2023 American Customer Satisfaction Index to see which fast-food chains rank the lowest.

11. Burger King

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Burger King has long relied on the Whopper to drive its business, but customers have found the taste lacking lately.

Burger King opened its doors in 1954 and today is often regarded as McDonald’s biggest competitor. The chain, where they tout you can “have it your way” has often taken its competition head-on. Funny commercials comparing the Whopper and Big Mac have long been among the best marketing campaigns in recent memory.

The hard truth is that good marketing doesn’t always equate to satisfied customers. With a score of 76 on the ACSI, Burger King has to rediscover its customer satisfaction scores. Perhaps Burger King can start by bringing back salads or grilled chicken menu options to create a healthier menu.

With far too many of its best meals offering high-calorie counts and plenty of saturated fat and sodium, Burger King can do right to introduce healthier choices. Even the Impossible Whopper isn’t having the desired effect with its plant-based take on the Whopper.

10. Chipotle

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Chipotle was once a fast food darling but small portions and dropping taste have caused a customer exodus.

 

This fairly recent addition to the fast-food market, which first opened its doors in 1993, is often thought of as a healthier fast-food restaurant. If you were to ask many people off the street what the most popular fast food brand is today, Chipotle might be a frequent answer. But popularity doesn’t always mean satisfaction as Chipotle ranks poorly with a measly 75 American Consumer Satisfaction Index score.

It might be a disappointment to say, but Chipotle simply isn’t all that good. Between lacking food quality and frustrating customer service, Chipotle has lost its luster.

Among the chief complaints from customers are small portion sizes, even though you can watch as your meal is made right in front of you. Chipotle is no doubt an acquired taste both in service and food quality, but as this taste has waned over the last few years, so too has its popularity as a fast food choice.

9. Dairy Queen

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Dairy Queen’s reliance on the Blizzard cannot overshadow the disappointment with the rest of its menu.

Blizzards and various ice cream desserts seem to be iconic offerings from this chain that first opened its doors in 1940, but it is still a fast food restaurant to avoid. Matching Subway with an ACSI score of 75, Dairy Queen is another prime example of a popular brand falling off the wagon.

While Blizzards may remain iconic, just about every other fast food menu choice at Dairy Queen can be avoided. As good as it is at making ice cream drinks, Dairy Queen is just as bad at making a proper burger. Customers of DQ restaurants have long complained that their burgers are often overcooked and lack any taste.

What’s worse is that another food item, chicken, is often the butt of jokes on social media for being undercooked. An undercooked hamburger is gross, but undercooked chicken is downright dangerous. Dairy Queen has a long way to go to restore it to fast food glory.

8. Subway

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Subway was once a fast-food star but has seen store traffic decrease because of poor food quality.

Another chain on the list that is touted as healthier for you is Subway and if you thought that would allow them to escape the honor of being considered one of the fast food brands to avoid, you would be wrong. Ranking poorly with a 75 ASCI rating, Subway’s once shining star has dimmed over the last few years. The only consolation is that Subway might still be better than Quiznos, which didn’t even appear on the 2023 American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

One of the fastest ways to see Subway scoring poorly is that its stores are simply not as busy as they used to be. There was a time when you would walk into a Subway and stand in line for over 20 minutes. This was a telling sign that Subway was a hot commodity in the fast food world.

Today, it feels like every time you go into a Subway, you are the only customer there. What’s worse is that Subway’s once-held reputation for being among the healthier choices in the fast food world doesn’t help the quality. Under most circumstances, this should help Subway rank higher. Unfortunately, the dropping quality of the food has led to an overall drop in Subway as a fast-food favorite.

7. Little Caesars

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Little Caesars pizza has great pricing but can’t live up to Domino’s quality.

Tied with Wendy’s and Popeyes, Little Caesars is currently ranked as the least satisfactory pizza fast-food chain in the U.S. With an ASCI score of 74, it sits well below its biggest rival Domino’s, which is ranked as one of the best fast-food chains in the U.S.

Little Caesar’s slogan of “Pizza! Pizza!” is certainly catchy and it’s helped the company grow, but what’s holding it back is the food quality. This is very much a scenario of you getting what you pay for. Customers are drawn to Little Caesar’s discounted pricing compared to the rest of the fast-food industry. Unfortunately, the pizza tastes like the cardboard it’s providing to customers.

If Little Caesars could find a way to raise the level of its food quality without raising prices, it could easily turn around its brand reputation.

6. Popeyes

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A catchy marketing jingle isn’t enough to overlook Popeye’s bad food quality.

Popeyes ranks as the fifth worst fast-food chain according to its 2023 ASCI rating of 74. While its commercial says you should “Love that chicken from Popeyes,” unfortunately, customers are falling out of love. Perhaps the biggest complaint about Popeyes is one of the most shocking.

Customers often take to social media to complain about the amount of salt added to all of Popeye’s fried chicken. For a brand that focuses heavily on fried chicken, this should be a big warning to Popeyes executives.

Also of concern is that Popeyes customers in 15 states indicated Popeyes is the worst chicken chain according to the same 2023 SavingSpot study. On top of the food, customers also frequently complain about broken drink machines.

5. Wendy’s

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Wendy’s snarky social media presence hides complaints about its stores and poor-tasting hamburgers.

According to Wendy’s, founder Dave Thomas intended this chain to be a place to get great food, made fresh and served by friendly people; a place that didn’t cut corners on quality. But unfortunately, long gone are the days of Wendy’s square burgers feeling juicy and tasty or pretty much the opposite of how McDonald’s has always tasted.

Wendy’s probably doesn’t deserve to be this low considering its social media presence is hilarious. After all, this is the company that rewarded a customer with a lifetime supply of nuggets for the most Twitter/X retweets of all time. Unfortunately, social media humor doesn’t always translate to fast-food success.

Today, Wendy’s is well past its 2005 “finger food” incident, but it still ranks poorly for customer service. Between cold food, difficult employees, and dirty restaurants, Wendy’s has its work cut out. This is even more true when you consider its ASCI score of 74 ranks it right near the bottom of the list.

4. Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box has an odd combination of different foods, none of which taste better than the competition.

As a chain that mostly lives in the West and Southwest of the U.S., Jack in the Box doesn’t have the same visibility as some of the other names on this list. This is probably why there’s a pretty good chance most people will never get to try it. That may not be a bad thing. What it lacks in name recognition, Jack in the Box also lacks in the taste department as well. This is why Jack in the Box ended up with a 73 ASCI 2023 rating.

At first, it might seem like this would help Jack in the Box rank higher,  especially when you consider they serve breakfast all day long. However, any restaurant that tries to combine both burgers and tacos into one menu is bound to miss something. The 1,150-calorie milkshake doesn’t do Jack in the Box customers any favor either. It’s probably a good thing Jack in the Box hasn’t expanded into the rest of the U.S.

3. Sonic

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Sonic wants to recapture the drive-in magic but needs healthier food choices.

While the drive-in style of Sonic takes us back to better times of ordering food without opening a car door, the truth is Sonic’s food quality doesn’t capture the same magic. This unfortunately leads the chain to having the distinct honor of receiving a meager 72 on the ASCI 2023 chart.

For starters, Sonic can get rid of its dry beef, which has even less flavor than McDonald’s hamburgers. To be below McDonald’s taste is saying something. Sonic can also do better with health as they have multiple burger combinations all over 1,000 calories. This is before you order any fries or a milkshake. In other words, you can get your entire 2,000 daily caloric intake at Sonic in one meal.

If you just want a milkshake, Sonic might be okay, for anything beyond that, go anywhere else.

2. Taco Bell

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Taco Bell has tried to reinvigorate its brand with french fries but it doesn’t offset unhealthy foods.

Ranking right above McDonald’s with an ASCI score of 71, Taco Bell is a definite fast food chain to avoid. Aside from Taco Bell simply not being a healthy meal, the company has a history of scandals and difficulties.

For its part, Taco Bell has tried to reinvigorate its brand with expensive Super Bowl commercials and even the introduction of french fries. However, the fast food-adoring public doesn’t buy what Taco Bell is selling. According to a 2022 SavingSpot study, respondents in 26 states ranked Taco Bell as their least favorite Mexican fast-food establishment.

Perhaps the biggest argument against Taco Bell is the one around health. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that among fast-food chains to avoid, Taco Bell is the worst for sodium, calories, and saturated fat.

1. McDonald’s

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In McDonald’s case, being the biggest isn’t the best as the company has been hit with food complaints for years.

With a 2023 ACSI score of only 69, McDonald’s is broadly considered the least favorable fast food chain in America. While this might seem contrary to McDonald’s status as the best-known fast food chain, it has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of satisfaction lists for years.

Everything from bad publicity, broken milkshake machines, and food quality have all impacted McDonald’s reputation. More importantly, McDonald’s pricing has gone up enough that it has all but eliminated the idea of the budget-friendly meal its customers have been accustomed to.

Unfortunately, McDonald’s troubles aren’t new as Consumer Reports has been ranking McDonald’s as the worst fast-food restaurant since 2014. Hopefully, McDonald’s can turn things around in the future (and fix its milkshake machines).

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