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Some major fast-food chains—McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell—may find the latest Consumer Reports fast-food survey hard to swallow.
According to the survey, released on Wednesday, more than 30,000 Consumer Reports subscribers say these restaurants’ signature items are the worst in their categories: McDonald’s has the worst burger; KFC has the worst chicken; and Taco Bell has the worst burrito.
Consumer Reports surveyed 32,405 subscribers about their experiences at 65 fast-food and fast-casual chains. This is what they were asked: “On a scale of 1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste” of their signature dishes?
Habit Burger Grill, In-n-Out and Five Guys Burgers received the highest rating for their burgers, 8.1, 8.0 and 7.9 respectively. Meanwhile, McDonald’s scored a paltry 5.8 rating.
McDonald’s: Changing menu adds pressure to prep kitchen
McDonald’s has been busy changing its menu in an effort to attract more customers. But despite the novelty items the company promoted in 2013 — Fish McBites in February, McWraps in March, Mighty Wings in September, etc. — the company’s U.S. sales dropped 0.2 percent last year.
During a conference call with investors, McDonald’s chief financial officer Peter Bensen said the company “probably did things a little bit too quickly” in terms of introducing those new menu items. The constant changes and bold experiments with the menu put pressure to the restaurants’ kitchens, which sometimes took too long to fill orders. But new items introduced this year will be welcomed by the chain’s new kitchen equipment. Prep tables will be replaced with larger surfaces that are able to hold more sauces and ingredients.
In 2014, Bensen said, the company will “refocus the core,” including tried-and-true favorites such as the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets and the Quarter Pounder, as well as breakfast.
Consumer searches for healthier choices
Research shows Americans are spending $683.4 billion a year dining out, and they are also demanding better food quality and greater variety from restaurants to make sure their money is well spent.
When deciding where to dine, consumers are giving more consideration to food quality, according to the Consumer Reports survey. The restaurant’s location is less important than it was in 2011, when the group last conducted the survey. Diners today are more willing to go out of their way and find tasty meals that can be customized.
“Fast-casual dining in places like Chipotle and Panda Express lets the consumer guide the staff to prepare their meal just the way they like it,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food-service consulting firm, said in the report.
While many of the traditional chains have lagged in offering higher-quality ingredients, he said, some food chains — including Chipotle, Noodles & Company and Panera — have been offering meat raised without using antibiotics in animal feed, a feature that attracts consumers searching for healthier options.
Fast-food alternatives: fast-casual restaurants
Chipotle was rated by readers as their top fast-casual restaurant. (Fast-casual restaurants usually serve higher-quality, higher-priced fast food.) According to the survey, McAlister’s Deli gets the award for most improved as the chain’s score increased significantly since the 2011 report.
Top fast-casual restaurants:
Chipotle Mexican Grill Firehouse Subs Five Guys Burgers and Fries Jason’s Deli Jersey Mike’s Subs Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches McAlister’s Deli Panera Bread Schlotzsky’s