7 Most Overrated Fast-Food Chains, According to Customers
While what is truly fast food has been blurred in recent years, most agree that the category ranges from McDonald's to Panera. As such, customers expect the food to come fast—with a recent study saying that any more than five minutes is too long—be affordable, and have a relative quality.
But some fast-food restaurants may fail to hit these expected marks as time goes on—and customers notice. Whether it's the slow food, long waits, or high price tags that aren't quite justified, some beloved fast-food spots devolved into being overrated.
Inspired by a Reddit thread that asked what the most overrated fast-food chain is, we conducted our own poll, and turns out, many of our readers have an opinion on overrated in fast-food. Hundreds of fans answered the question with a few popular chains racking up the majority of votes. Taking into account our Facebook poll and the Reddit thread, here are the eight fast-food chains that our readers deemed to be way overrated and some others that aren't quite hitting the mark.
By far, most respondents pointed to Chick-fil-A as the most overrated fast-food chain. Over 30 percent of people who answered our poll on Facebook called out the chicken chain, which started in 1946 in Georgia, and is, of course, known for its chicken sandwiches. Unfortunately, it is now also known for its long lines. How long? So long that one location actually closed to change the location to drive-thru only.
While Chick-fil-A still holds a mystique for people, attracting those aforementioned long lines at most locations, people have begun to sour on the lackluster sandwiches and the long wait for "fast food." Almost 40% of the respondent to our poll mentioned the chain. A few had a bit more to say about why they're turning away from the iconic chicken sandwiches.
"I can't stand those soggy, tasteless sandwiches with a flat bun and the disgusting pickles. Don't get me started on the line thing," says one. Another said that the chain is "hyped like a 'healthy' and 'classy' choice, but it's literally just another place to get a chicken sandwich with fries." A third echoed that sentiment, "It's just a chicken sandwich with a pickle slice on it." Plus, many people in a recent Reddit thread about Chick-fil-A cited the issues that Chick-fil-A has had with the LGBTQ community as a reason they stay away from the chain.
Despite all that, many people came to bat for the chain praising the service as "the best in the hospitality industry by a mile." Others praised the clean kitchens and some still adore those pickle-laden chicken sandwiches. It has long lines for a reason, after all.
McDonald's is the leader of the pack in terms of fast-food sales, and thus, has always had its detractors. People keep coming despite the chain's spotty reputation with customers. McDonald's used to be one of the cheapest fast-food chains, but in recent years that has changed and many customers report they cannot afford it. About 20 percent of those who responded to our survey said that McDonald's had become highly overrated, and price for what a diner gets seems to be a huge factor.
"Everything is super expensive," says one. "Years ago they were really good and cheap. Don't know what happened but the chain definitely needs a revamp. Yet everyone I see stays busy, go figure," replies another.
Others think the chain is resting on its laurels too much. "It certainly DOES NOT have the "Customer Service " Integrity & Pride in their teamwork like it used to," says a former fan. "Needs more Management training for that to actually happen. You can't just throw someone in that position & expect good results."
Again, some customers are taking issue with the "fast" part of McDonald's. On a recent Reddit thread one notes that drive-thru visits take a very long time, "Whenever I go to a Mcdonald's and place an order at the drive-thru, they tell me to wait in a parking spot…It usually takes a little more than fifteen minutes." In the thread customers also called out prices often, one said, "The price is atrocious now it's crazy. I've been getting my normal order for about a decade and in that decade the price has risen by about $8. Hasn't improved a lick but prices always going up."
And while the app, which is the most popular fast-food app by far, has helped with prices. it appears to be losing some of those great deals. "This is the point when people start to realize what is known as "the honeymoon period," for a brand new app to capture users is ending or has ended," responds one.
But the chain did have its supporters. "People pick at McDonald's but if you study menus of the others, McDonald's items are mostly less calories (not saying it's good but less calories than BK, Five Guys, KFC, Popeyes, etc)," defended one customer.
And overall, this spotty perception does not appear to have hurt the company. Which opened more locations than it closed last year for the first time in over eight years. McDonald's is still the most profitable fast-food chain in America, and people keep ordering Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, and McFlurries despite the perception. It seems to be the fast-food giant that everyone loves to hate.
Yes, the mythical In-N-Out—at least to an East Coaster—gets thrown into the mix. It pulled in about half the mentions of McDonald's. In-N-Out is a strictly West Coast chain, although it will be heading slightly more east in the coming years. The chain is known for its 100% fresh beef burgers, hand-cut fries, and superb shakes. Countless celebrities and hungry chefs have endorsed the beloved burgers, but customers say that they aren't all they're cracked up to be.
Disillusioned In-N-Outers called out the chain for not being worth the hype. "You just GOTTA try it when you are out west, they say. The burger was a greasier version of Culvers," says one. And another notes that there is, "Absolutely nothing special about their burgers (except they're extra greasy) and their fries are pretty much the worst of all burger chains!"
Numerous Reddit threads jump in on the debate about whether the chain is overrated. Those who think it is have a lot to say. One commenter on a recent one says, "Agree! I've never understood why the one in my hometown (norcal) was always packed with lines wrapping around the parking lot! It's just burgers and fries! Not very good ones either! I think its cool they make the fries fresh from potatoes but I assumed that meant they were gonna be flavorful and delicious….not unseasoned cardboard. "
It seems that In-N-Out also suffers the Chick-fil-A fate of being too popular, with long lines adding the overrated aspect. We are talking about fast-food again, right? "It's a totally average hamburger. I would eat there occasionally if there wasn't always a line. I have no idea why people will wait 20 minutes for a fast food burger," remarks one commentor.
The issue also seems to be that visitors are expecting more when they finally get a chance to taste the fabled chain. One local explains, "You probably fell into the trap of 'in n out is sooooo amazing' when you first came here. I'm from California… so many people were so disappointed by in n out cus it's apparently super hyped up outside of this state. I always told them, 'ya it's good but not a huge deal'." Caveat, emptor.
While many people just mentioned the chain without explaining, one said, "The portions are big but it's mostly rice and beans. I don't even think it tastes good." Another echoes this, calling the chain's meals "90% rice." Plus, Chipotle seems to keep raising prices and that might have finally caught up to it, according to some reports.
Taco Bell is another chain that people don't seem to have to explain what is wrong with it, as many just called it out. But a few had some thoughts. "They've removed all their best-tasting items from the menu," says one. Another says, "Taco Bell has really changed for the worst. It's a real shame."
Whataburger—a regional chain with a big following in 13 states—has its staunch fans, but again some believe that the lines are too long and that the orders are often wrong or items are missing. And one opines, "[I've] never seen a food so hyped up… be so disappointing.."
While it's debatable whether Panera is truly fast-food, most would place it into the category. It got nearly as many mentions as Whataburger, Chipotle, and Taco Bell in our poll. In the original Reddit thread, it was at the top of the list.
One called it "overpriced hospital food." Another had more to say, "Being from a city with zero Paneras, I really expected a lot more from the way people were hyping it up. The first time I went I was shocked [at] how incredibly mediocre it was. Basically just the crap you get at random airport cafes."
Many former fans of the chain also wondered where Panera's healthier options had gone. "I hate to say Panera Bread… but most options aren't healthy, just healthy looking," says one commenter. "They should add some additional options like lower calorie dressing, almond flour bread, and lower sugar coffee drinks that don't take forever to prepare."