Ranking America’s Largest Fast Food Chains by Customer Satisfaction

Let’s move away from sales and into consumer response. What has this past year taught us?

Many quick service restaurant brands have been well positioned to support off-premises dining during the waves of COVID. Already serving a high percentage of sales through the drive-thru, they’ve been set up to do more of the same. Where were they? Looking at the satisfaction ratings of QSR 50 brands, it seems that their customers haven’t always felt the same way. Customer satisfaction dropped by a quarter of a star from January to December 2021. While the restaurant industry as a whole also saw a decline, it was less severe. So what caused the downward move, what impact did it have on sales, and what does this mean for the future?

The reason for the movement

It seems that the QSR 50 channels were perhaps not as prepared as one might have concluded, at least from a consumer response perspective. Exam speed increased significantly from March to August 2021. This likely indicates that there has been a similar increase in demand. Pent-up demand has generated impressive sales, not just in 2020, but in some cases in 2019, as drive-thru and takeout have become the go-to for COVID-conscious diners. However, the drop in satisfaction – particularly the largest drop for major fast food chains in America – indicates that fast food was generally not ready to serve diners with the same level of customer experience as that for which they were known in the past (labour shortages could be culprit). Diners more frequently mentioned that the quality of the food had declined, as had the behavior of the staff.




We can drill down into the feedback that makes up overall customer satisfaction to see why customers were less satisfied over time. Using Merchant Centric’s proprietary artificial intelligence, we count the number of positive and negative mentions in reviews on key topics such as food, staff behavior, staff dedication, timeliness, service accuracy, price/value, loyalty and referral and over 100 additional themes. . We then use the Theme Performance Scores (tps), the ratio of positive mentions for a theme compared to the percentage of negative mentions for the same theme. A TPS score of 1.0 indicates that customers mention this theme at the same rate positively and negatively. The higher the score, the better, as it indicates a higher ratio of positive to negative mentions. The table below presents the TPS of the key themes for the QSR 50 in 2021.

Praise for food and staff behavior have the highest mention rates in review comments and, as the table shows, also have the highest GST scores. This indicates that these are key themes that customers focus on when determining their rating. The chart shows that both have declined over time, with food down 32% at the end of the year and attitude down 26%. This indicates that customer satisfaction with food quality and staff behavior deteriorated significantly in 2021.

Meeting deadlines, another key theme for fast food brands, experienced a similar decline as Food, although less frequently mentioned. Staff dedication recorded the largest drop, largely occurring in the second half of the year, and suggests restaurants are still struggling to hire, train and retain staff with the same efficiency as before COVID. Ironically, order accuracy, another very important topic for the industry, has not been so negatively recognized over time.

The decline in customer experience among QSR 50 concepts has led to a decline in price/value perception, ultimately challenging the crucial decision of whether customers will remain loyal, return or recommend others. We see respective declines for price/value and loyalty/referral at 23% and 22%, respectively.

So what does this mean for the rest of 2022 and beyond? Customers will show loyalty to brands that delight them with a comprehensive, high-quality experience, not just because they’re open and convenient. Quick services looking to understand why their 2022 comp sales are down should explore what customers are saying online and through internal feedback forms. Ensuring your restaurant meets all tenants of your brand promise will be key to winning in 2022, as the landscape is ripe with the opportunity to capture loyal customers from the competition. Customers are hungry for quality taste options served by courteous staff, which usually presents an opportunity for emerging chains. Just look at Chick-fil-A — which sits at the top of our customer satisfaction chart (left) — and see that brands that deliver what they’re known for will succeed.

To note: All data and analysis presented in this article are based on findings from Merchant Centric and, like all datasets, are inherently limited in scope and nature. The data presented here may not be comprehensive and may exclude certain brands or brand locations. The data is provided without warranty as to its accuracy, completeness or timeliness, and Merchant Centric expressly disclaims any liability resulting from reliance on any information or opinions included herein. The brands selected are for illustrative purposes only and the data should not be taken to reflect or be attributable to all brands in any segment or cuisine. Please note that some brands included here are Merchant Centric customers.

Theme Performance Scores (tps) is the ratio of positive mentions for a topic to the percentage of negative mentions for the same topic in all reviews collected for the brand. A TPS score of 1.0 would indicate that customers mention this theme at the same rate positively and negatively. The higher the score, the better, as it indicates a higher ratio of positive mentions to negative mentions

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