Chain Eateries Failing To Satisfy

According to a recent survey, chain restaurants are failing to satisfy their customers. The survey of over 3,000 people showed across the board performance drops from last year; customer satisfaction for McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King all fell by more than 5%. KFC fell by 8.5%.

Starbucks and Cracker Barrel fared well, along with several upscale chains, including Bonefish Grill, Ruth’s Chris, Legal Sea Foods, and Morton’s. The survey attributes the faltering satisfaction levels to record expansion and a lack of innovation.

“They all drowned in the sea of sameness,” he said, asserting that they had failed to innovate and largely had similar menus. “They overbuilt and underwhelmed.”

Does a lack of innovation leave you unsatisfied, or is it something else? Tell us in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Eateries found failing to deliver [Chicago Trib]
Restaurant-Beverage Demand Today 2007 [Kanbay Research Institute]


Edit Your Comment

  1. legerdemain says:

    My best-ever chain fast-food experience was at a Chik-Fil-A. A distant but still impressive second place goes to KFC.

    Fast food chicken just tastes better when people open the door for you, call you by name, and offer you soda refills at the table.

  2. mantari says:

    I kind of think that the fast food menus have grown old on me. But, more importantly, I think I’m also too well acquainted with the downside of the fast food places that I visit:

    KFC = Yummy, but heart attack city!
    Subway = Somewhat better for you, but not as yummy, and inconvenient.
    Quizno’s = Subway, but with harder bread? No real reason to go.
    Taco Bell = Good, but it grew old on me. I burnt out on it.
    Arby’s = Yummy, nice place, but overpriced.
    McDonalds = Known cheap quantity. Don’t feel good about eating it, though.
    Wendy’s = No compelling reason to go there vs. McDonald’s.
    Burger King = Slightly more compelling than Wendy’s – “flame broiled”.
    Backyard Burgers – Awesome hamburgers. Just it is too far across town.
    Panera Bread = Good, but a little pricy and “coffee shop” like.
    Dunkin’ Donuts = An unhealthy addiction that I don’t want to start.
    Long John Silver’s – I’m just rarely in the mood for fish for fast food.

    The remaining choices I’m not acquainted enough to comment on. But I really don’t hear people in my circles who are singing their praises. I know, I know. I really should like _X_ because they do _Y_ differently.

  3. LAGirl says:

    Cracker Barrel is a restaurant?? i thought it was the place to get nasty cheese + sausage logs to give people you don’t really care about at Christmas.

  4. roothorick says:

    LAGirl: Most Cracker Barrels are gift shop / restaurant combos, though a few dedicated gift shops are out there. Look around, I guess. There used to be one here and the food was meh, decent. The locally-owned Chinese restaurants beat anything national chains can do, so it’s not like I particularly cared when that shop closed.

  5. aromatase says:

    Don’t you know that cats are Weapons of Mouse Destruction?

  6. aromatase says:

    Ignore last post. How do I get it to stop automatically posting this comment every time I log in?

    Anyway, most chain fast food is too bland and lowest common denominator. They change a sandwich by just making a flavored mayonnaise (yuck!). Local or regional chains are usually much better, like In-and -Out in CA or Taco Cabana in east TX. I would prefer ethnic street food better, like papusas, kabobs, satay, falafal, asian noodles, etc, freshly prepared from local fresh ingredients. But that would never happen.

  7. SOhp101 says:

    Only places on that list that I would actually want to eat:

    Chick-fil-A: always wanted to try it (heard it was good) but none of them are close to where I live.
    Chipotle: Just don’t get sour cream on your food and you’re good to go.

    All of those other restaurants have terrible customer service and/or nasty food.

  8. homerjay says:

    @mantari: I love how you rattle off all the positives and negatives of all the fast food restaurants you seem to frequent and then single out Dunkin Donuts as THE unhealthy addiction– cuz the rest of those are juuuust fine. :)

  9. weave says:

    I don’t expect places like McDonald’s to be a gormet paradise. What I do expect is to get my order right so when I’m down the road when I dig into the bag I don’t see I got someone else’s order.

    After having that happen a few times, I now just sit there at the window going over everything to make sure it’s right, even though it’s slowing down their average service time and pissing off the people behind me.

  10. legerdemain says:

    @weave: I know what you mean; I lived briefly in a tiny town with a completely daft set of fast food eateries. After a month there, most of the restaurants lost their “quick departure” privilege.

  11. Rajio says:

    none of these options ever come up for me when hungry. they’re more expensive, less healthy, less tasty and less enjoyable experiences than home made food or even just hitting up a pub/restaurant.

  12. jamst149 says:

    Customer satisfaction sucks prolly cause job satisfaction at these places is exponentially suckier. Hell I’d treat me crappy if I worked at Micky Dee’s.

  13. TedSez says:

    Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s had better be satisfying, considering that a dinner for two can easily cost upwards of $100. The question is, is one meal there worth more than 15 meals at Taco Bell? (Answer: Yes.)

  14. Jon Parker says:

    When I lived in the suburbs, I ate at Baja Fresh quite a bit. Good stuff. Other than that I tended to avoid chains. Now I live in the city, and I have tons of cheap, good local places within walking distance. I have no reason or desire to eat at a chain, and I like it that way.

  15. Jon Parker says:

    @TedSez: See, even Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s suffer from chain-itis. It’s a lot better than Mickey D’s, but is it as good as my local places? No way.

    Of the two I’d pick Morton’s simply because they don’t advertise with Sean Hannity, but I’d much rather go to Prime Rib, a local place (they have three locations, actually — DC, Baltimore and Philly). Jackets and ties required, impeccable service, absolutely delicious and perfectly prepared food — no chain can even come close.

  16. guroth says:

    The problem is not innovation or lack of menu, it is lack of quality.

    Pick almost any fast food place, set out 10 different times in a single day and order the exact same thing each of those 10 times. You might get 3 that are made with decent quality, the rest are horrible slapped together.

    In-n-Out Burger has an extremely limited menu. Your choice basically consists of how many burger patties you want on your burger (yes I know, the “secret” menu where you get to add pickles or use lettuce as a bun, not exactly a large menu even including that).

    But In-n-Out is AWESOME. They are constantly packed, even during off meal hours, and people keep going back for more. Why? Quality. They start with quality ingredients and they piece together a quality burger, and they keep the restaurant clean and friendly. Most of the time their bugers actually look like the picture on the menu, a crazy concept?

    Go to McDonalds or KFC and you have some ex con drug addict service you food that has been sitting under a heat lamp all day long. Go to one of the more “upscale” fast food restaurants like jack in the box or carls jr and you still have some high school drop out serving you your half-assed-pieced-together burger with a heaping side of attitude.
    At no ordinary fast food restaurant will you get a meal that even barely resembles what was on the menu.

  17. angryconsumer says:

    Burger King has a bunch of idiots working there. It took them 30 minutes to get my order right. Usually the idiot working there doesn’t get my order right 9 out of 10 times. Chick-fil-A is good, but the fact that they are closed on Sundays is inconvenient for me. Subway is great, but expensive and you have to go in.

  18. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Y’all seem to have a lot of money to be picky with. I mean, even if I HAD $100 to drop on dinner EVER I wouldn’t go to Ruth’s Chris, mostly because the name angers and confuses me. If I’m a little flush, I go get my shabu-shabu on. For being-too-lazy-to-cook, I love me some Del Taco, and once and a while I need KFC or Church’s, and if my husband NEEDS a burger, I can get a baked potato and yogurt at Wendy’s.

    I don’t think that Chik-A-Fil-A place exists in Los Angeles county though.

  19. mac-phisto says:

    while there may be a trend among the entire industry, i don’t think there is one answer that explains why our satisfaction has gone down. for fast food companies, i know i care less about innovation & more about getting my lunch in 5 minutes, hot & how i ordered it. considering all that stands between me & that food is a microwave & a person pushing the button, i don’t think that’s too much to ask. surprisingly, most companies repeatedly drop the ball on this menial task.

    as for the “sit down” chains, i’d say innovation is probably part of it. d’ya ever notice that when a chain opens, you can’t get a seat w/o waiting for 2 hours for the first few months? after that, it’s like walking into a cemetery, the place is so dead. people like new dining experiences & unless they are highly impressive (which most of these aren’t), they’ll gladly take their business elsewhere.

  20. Spider Jerusalem says:

    @guroth: In-And-Out is gross with nasty toenail-like fries, and the two I have to pass between work and home ALWAYS block up traffic because they have twenty-foot driveways and usually that fifth car is just sitting awkwardly in the street.

  21. synergy says:

    People are unhappy because they want their food fast and cheap. Unfortunately that also means that the niceties go out the window too. Like someone else said, the employee isn’t likely to be nice and open the door for you and give you extra attention when they’re only making $850/mo takehome pay working full-time.

    Then there’s their manager and impatient customers on their back to hurry up too, so yeah. You have to pay for quality and that’s probably highly unlikely to happen in a fast food chain restaurant.

  22. roamer1 says:

    @weave: To me, “satisfaction” with fast-food places is less about the food (I don’t expect much) and more about the service — I avoid specific locations of chains, and sometimes even entire chains, that don’t get the basics, such as getting orders right the first time and having enough food on hand to serve what’s on the menu (a BK up the road from my old job had a chronic issue with being out of various food items; once they were out of meat!), right.

    @spiderjerusalem: There’ are Chick-fil-As in Cerritos, Long Beach, and Torrance (at Del Amo), and even more in O.C. (I saw one under construction in Irvine a couple of weeks ago); they just haven’t managed to get north of the 105 yet.

    @guroth: When I’m in California, which is relatively frequently, I pretty much live on In-N-Out…

    @aromatase: True, but some areas (Atlanta tends to be like this, as do a lot of rural areas, especially in the South) are rather devoid of local/regional chains of any sort (not just fast/fast casual food).

  23. G-Dog says:

    I can’t believe that my former favorite eating hole, Bennigans, has changed their menu so much that it’s just a mirror of TGI-Applebees.

  24. etinterrapax says:

    What mac-phisto said. The sameness of the menu is bothersome, but not really enough to break the experience for me. My expectations are already low. What I really, really hate (and the restaurants probably love, because it’s good for them) is waiting for a table. And on a Friday or Saturday night around here, every restaurant is packed. Chain, local, you name it and there’s a two-hour wait. And I’m not waiting two damn hours, or even one, for a table in a crowded chain restaurant on a Saturday night. When we have company, we take our guests to the one place in town that takes reservations, a local steakhouse with terrific food. I’d love to go all self-righteous and say that the presence of the unwashed masses proves that the chains suck, but the truth is that I’d eat at most of them under the right circumstances, i.e. no wait and a relatively quiet atmosphere. With the baby, we’re forced to eat earlier, but if we’re alone and want to eat at a normal hour, we don’t even bother checking.

    The other problem, which is more specific to us, is that $30-50 for dinner is a bit of an extravagance right now, so it’s not as though we get out that much. For the quality of the food, it’s dreadfully overpriced. It’s not that I need to have it cheap, but for God’s sake, In-N-Out manages to have fresh food for a fraction of that amount. And I never waited more than ten minutes there, and that was so that I could have fresh, hot fries. It’s a pity there aren’t any here.

  25. EtherealStrife says:

    Here in California I live off of a combination of In-And-Out, Del Taco, Green Burrito, and Chick-fil-A. In-And-Out I cannot complain about. Really, it’s great food at excellent prices. Del Taco and Green Burrito have cheap food, if a bit tasteless. Chick-fil-A is good, but the religious crap gets old. I’ll be halfway there and realize it’s Sunday, and they’re closed! Bah humbug.
    Most of the other places people have been mentioning are out of my price range.

  26. Havok154 says:

    All I want to know is: When the hell are they going to open a Chipolte’s near me. I had it the first time while visiting my cousin and it actually impressed me.

  27. LAGirl says:

    @spiderjerusalem: i always liked In + Out fries. but the next time i order them, i’ll be thinking of ‘nasty toenail-like’. eewwwwww!

  28. JDAC says:

    Ruth’s Chris rocks! At least, it did the one time I went, and it wasn’t on my dime so that made it better.

    But their lamb? Hot damn that’s some good shit.

  29. SkyeBlue says:

    Now that the majority of “fake food” establishments are charging close to or OVER $5.00 now for a meal it is no wonder satisfaction ratings are going downhill! Maybe people are slowly beginning to come to their senses and realizing that you can actually go to a decent restaurant that serves REAL food and get a good meal for what you pay at a typical fast-food restaurant now.

  30. Starfury says:

    I’m cutting my fast food/chain restaurant eating back to near 0. It costs too much to eat out even with the dollar menus places have. I’ve also grown tired of the generic flavor that fast food places have; this also goes for the chain places. My waistline and wallet will thank me for this I believe.

    But…food I like at these places:

    McDonalds: French fries fresh from the fryer, lightly salted. Yum.

    Red Robin (Burger chain): Fries

    Jack in the Box: Chocolate Milkshake. Best one of any fast food/chain place I’ve been to.

  31. quantum-shaman says:

    How much innovation do you need in a hamburger or grilled salmon?!?

    Please, just give me good food, good service, and fair prices. Oh, and stuff not imported from China. Thanks.

  32. mac-phisto says:

    @Starfury: oh man, i love the mcd’s fries. i swear they fry them in crack. there’s a great local deli by my office that makes a mean sausage, pepper & onion grinder & it’s right next to mcdonalds, so i always pick up an order of fries to go with it. mmmmm.

  33. I’m surprised Ruth’s Chris made the list.

    In Baton Rouge, they seated my father next to a table with four people smoking during dinner – the smoking section and ‘non smoking’ sections were all of 18 inches apart. When we complained about the smoke, they put us in a corner, forcing my dad (he’s disabled and uses a walker) to painfully snake his way into the cramped quarters.

    Ruth’s used to be a place where you could get a great steak in a rarefied atmosphere, but on the last night we went, there were people there in t-shirts and shorts. The steak was stringy and tough. Practically the only thing decent about the meal was the wine, which arrived _after_ the food.

    Eating out is a zoo these days. I stay home and make great food that costs less and my blood pressure is lower because of it.

  34. alterboy says:

    If I’m eating fast food I normally don’t stray too far from the usual. What irks me more than anything is the shear incompetence of the entire operation. Speakers not working in the drive through, waiting for employees to stop talking and help me and taking over 10 minutes to give me my food. If it takes any longer it’s not really fast food as i could’ve cooked something within the time it takes to walk or drive to the place and then get food.