Study: Americans still love In-n-Out, Chik-fil-A , Chipotle, Firehouse, Marco's Pizza

March 7, 2017

Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Marco's Pizza, Firehouse Subs and In-n-Out still top the list of Americans' favorite fast food chains, according to a consumer study conducted by Market Force that ranked America's favorite chains in five popular food categories: burgers, Mexican, pizza, chicken and sandwiches.

More than 11,000 consumers were polled for the study, which also revealed consumers' QSR dining habits, brand preferences and in-restaurant technology use, according to a company press release.

Burgers: In-N-Out Burger is favorite, McDonald's lands at bottom

In-N-Out ranked No. 1 in Market Force's 2017 study, followed by Culver's and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. On the flip side, Carl's Jr., Burger King and McDonald's received the lowest scores among the 13 chains studied.

In-N-Out dominates all customer experience categories

In-N-Out was not only the favorite burger brand overall but also took the top spot in all eight customer experience categories, including value, food quality, service speed, staff friendliness, cleanliness, atmosphere, healthy options and curb appeal. Five Guys also performed consistently well, ranking second for food quality, service speed, cleanliness and atmosphere. Culver's similarly landed in the top three in nearly every attribute. Results were based on the study participants' most recent visit to a given restaurant.

Other burger highlights:

  • 45 percent visited a burger fast food or fast casual restaurant at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • 42 percent used the drive-thru during their most recent visit, and 42 percent dined in
  • 17 percent brought children on their most recent visit
  • Steak n' Shake has the highest awareness for its loyalty program at 20 percent
  • McDonald's has the highest mobile app awareness at 47 percent

Mexican: Chipotle makes a comeback

After a rough couple of years that included an e.coli outbreak and a hit to its stock price, Denver-based Chipotle is again leading the Mexican food category, a position it shared with Qdoba in the 2015 study before landing second behind lesser-known Taco Bueno in 2016. Moe's Southwest Grill took second place this year, while El Pollo Loco ranked third, Qdoba fourth and Taco Cabana fifth.

Chipotle Leads in food, Moe's in service

Chipotle's effort to improve its customer experience over the past 18 months is clearly paying off as it managed to earn a top-three rating in every category except value, including taking first place for food quality, cleanliness and curb appeal, and tying for first with Qdoba and Moe's for service speed, and with El Pollo Loco for healthy options. The study also found Moe's has the friendliest service and best atmosphere, and Del Taco is the value leader. Taco Bell and Taco John's lagged across the board

 Other Mexican highlights:

  • 37 percent visited a Mexican QSR chain at least five times in the previous 90 days 
  • 31 percent used the drive-thru during their most recent visit, and 43 percent dined inside
  • 22 percent brought children on their most recent visit
  • Qdoba has the highest awareness for its loyalty program with 59 percent
  • Moe's edged out Chipotle for awareness of its mobile app with 46 percent and 41 percent , respectively

Pizza: Marco's leads

In the competitive $44 billion pizza industry, Marco's Pizza edged out Papa Murphy's — consumers' favorite over the past three years — to take the top spot for the first time. Second place went to Papa Murphy's, third to Pizza Ranch, fourth to Jet's Pizza and fifth to Papa John's.

Marco's, a fast-growth chain that is averaging at least one opening every three days, improved 13 percentage points over 2016 to move up two spots in the rankings.

Papa Murphy's healthiest and tastiest, Pizza Ranch most welcoming 

Papa Murphy's and Pizza Ranch took first and second in every customer experience category. Papa Murphy's was head and shoulders above the competition for offering healthy options, and ranked highest for value, service speed, food quality and cleanliness. Pizza Ranch was found to have the best atmosphere and curb appeal, as well as the friendliest staff. Marco's made large gains in service and value

Other pizza highlights:

  • 28 percent visited a pizza chain at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • Take out (54 percent) is the most popular way to dine for pizza chain customers
  • 20 percent of pizza chain customers dined with children on their most recent visit
  • Pizza Ranch led in loyalty card awareness — 93 percent of customers know they offer one
  • Domino's has the greatest awareness for its mobile app — 64 percent are familiar with it

Chicken: Chick-fil-A rules roost for third consecutive year 

Chick-fil-A was named the chicken chain favorite for the third year straight with a 78 percent score, while Raising Cane's ranked second with 70 percent, and Zaxby's was a distant third with 61 percent. El Pollo Loco and Wingstop rounded out the top five, while Bojangles slipped two places from last year to sixth.
 

Chick-fil-A dominates most categories

Chick-fil-A received the highest scores in every category except healthy options, a top ranking that went to El Pollo Loco for the second year in a row. Raising Cane's and Zaxby's had strong scores, ranking second and third in most attributes. KFC tallied the lowest scores for food and atmosphere of the chains studied, as did Wingstop for value and speed.
 

Other chicken highlights

  • 30 percent visited a chicken chain at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • The majority of customers opted for the drive-thru (38 percent), followed closely by those who chose to dine in the restaurant (37 percent)
  • 20 percent dined with children on their most recent visit
  • Raising Cane's again led in loyalty card awareness — 29 percent know they offer one, followed by Chick-fil-A at 18 percent and Buffalo Wild Wings at 17 percent
  • Chick-fil-A has the highest mobile app awarewess with 46 percent, followed by Wingstop at 37 percent

Sandwiches: Firehouse Subs ranks first

Firehouse Subs rose to the top of the heap to be named favorite sandwich chain this year, after placing second in 2016. Jersey Mike's and Jason's Deli ranked second and third. McAllister's, which was the 2016 favorite, came in fourth this year, followed by Wawa and Panera Bread.

Jimmy John's is fast, Jason's Deli  healthy

While Firehouse Subs took the top spot in four of the eight customer experience categories, including food quality, cleanliness, friendliness and atmosphere, other brands emerged as winners in the remaining categories. Jason's Deli ranked highest for healthy options, Jimmy's John's for service speed, Wawa for value and McAlister's Deli for curb appeal. Jersey Mike's placed behind Firehouse Subs for food quality and, while Panera also fared well in the food-related categories, it was last for value.

Other sandwich highlights:

  • 33 percent visited a sandwich chain at least five times in the previous 90 days, a drop of 6 percentage points from last year
  • Customers more often chose take-out in the sandwich category — 48 percent
  • Only 12 percent of customers brought children on their most recent visit to a sandwich QSR chain
  • Panera led in loyalty card awareness — 78 percent know they offer one, up four percentage points from last year
  • Convenience store sandwich chain Wawa has the highest mobile app awareness with 48 percent, an honor that went to Panera Bread last year

Ordering on tablets rises

Guests are increasingly using technology to place orders at QSRs, with 55 percent using a smartphone app or tablet at the table to do so over the past 90 days, a 39 percent jump from 2015, according to the study. Just under half said they prefer to order the old-fashioned way from someone at the counter, a more than 20 percent decrease from the 70 percent who reported that they prefer to do so in 2015.

In addition, 31 percent of customers recently used a mobile app or a digital wallet to pay for their QSR meal, up from 23 percent in 2016 and 19 percent in 2015.

"We are seeing strong year-over-year trends indicating that the adoption of consumer technology in the QSR industry is increasing dramatically," said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force Information. "Recent announcements of QSRs rolling out more kiosks, apps and delivery services should accelerate that adoption even further and have a huge impact on the future of dining out."
 

Methodology

For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent QSR experience, and their likelihood to refer that restaurant to others. The results were averaged to attain a composite loyalty score. Only chains that received at least 100 votes and representing 2 percent or more of votes were analyzed. 


Topics: Trends / Statistics


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