6 Major Fast-Food Chains Slipping in Quality
If you're a regular at a major fast-food chain, you've probably experienced a disappointing order at one point or another. Ingredients get forgotten, deliveries are late, customer names are misspelled—the possibilities for error at a fast-moving chain are just about endless.
But at some chains—particularly in the past year, following nationwide labor shortages—the mistakes seem to be adding up. Chick-fil-A, a longtime industry leader in customer service, has lost points from its American Customer Satisfaction Index score for a few years. (The chain currently has a mere five-point lead on Jimmy John's.) And across the industry, restaurants have been dinged for having a decreasing variety of food and beverages on menus. Website quality is the only metric that has increased in quality.
Here's a look at six chains that have been slipping in quality in recent years, and customers have begun to notice.
Dunkin' took a huge hit on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, falling three points. Plus, it had the largest percentage change of all of the restaurants listed. It went from a respectable position in the top half of the rankings to a dismal spot in the lower third.
What could have caused this dip for Dunkin'? In late 2022, Dunkin' changed its DD Perks loyalty program and customers were outraged. While Dunkin' positioned the changes as an upgrade and something that customers wanted, the customers cried foul. "Interesting way to say 'We've significantly devalued our rewards system, good luck,'" tweeted one customer.
McDonald's has had a tough year in terms of customer satisfaction. In the past year, McDonald's lost 2 points off of its overall score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It now ranks dead last and is the worst-performing chain when it comes to providing satisfactory service to customers.
The chain has been accused of having outrageous prices for a fast-food giant that isn't all that innovative, leading to actual confrontations in the restaurants. The new menu items have been called "lazy" and customers aren't buying the chain's poor marketing attempts to inflate interest, in the case of the McRib "Farewell Tour."
Fast-food burgers are constantly going head-to-head to be the best, but one in particular that has steadily been getting more and more heat from customers is Five Guys. Complaints about the burger chain stem from its outrageous prices in comparison with the product quality customers end up receiving.
The chain, usually a fan-favorite, has slipped in the American Customer Satisfaction Index by 3% over 2021. One dissatisfied customer went to Twitter to explain, "When you pay $20 for a burger and fries at Five Guys, you expect it to at least be ok. It was gross. Soggy fries. Cheeseburger fell apart. $20 for that crap."
Five Guys burgers are also only cooked one way—well done, with no changes and no exceptions. Customers tend to find their food from the popular chain these days underwhelming and nowhere near as high quality and consistent as it used to be. Once claimed to have one of the best side of fries in the industry, are now being called by customers as, "terrible," overrated," and even "disgusting."
Popeyes made headlines in late 2022 when a DoorDash driver filmed cockroaches swarming all over the takeout orders. Meanwhile, over on the Popeyes subreddit, customer complaints include (in order of egregiousness): chicken and fish sandwiches that are shrinking, waiting forever in the drive-thru line, and sad sandwiches that look like they'd been sitting around for hours.
Anecdotal evidence aside, the latest data isn't on the chain's side, either. In the past year, Popeyes has lost points off its overall score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, slipping to the second to last spot for limited-service restaurants.
The Tex-Mex chain currently ranks among the bottom four on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Taco Bell has had a bumpy 2021 and mediocre 2022. In 2021, the taco chain launched its own, limited-time Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco—to somewhat mixed reviews. Food media had kind words to say about the hybrid menu item, but Taco Bell fans on Reddit disliked the Sandwich Taco, voting against it in a 1,300-person vote at a rate of about 2:1. They also called it "tiny" and "disappoint[ing]" (and Twitter concurred).
Reviews of 2022's Crispy Chicken Wings were equally mixed, with fans, again, criticizing the portion sizes, but regardless they returned at the end of the year. The chain was also called out for not doing enough to source from farms and meat-packing firms that don't use dangerous antibiotics.
Wendy's currently ranks among the bottom five fast-food chains in terms of customer satisfaction.
In 2022, Wendy's earned the title of the most expensive fast-food restaurant, beating out last year's "winner" Burger King. Wendy's prices increased by an incredible 35% last year, representing the largest increase among the analyzed chains. Plus, Wendy's drive-thru also got abysmal marks for order accuracy, fulfilling only 79% of the drive-thru orders correctly. In fact, the chain had the lowest order accuracy and customer satisfaction scores among several brands.
A version of this story was originally published in June 2022. It has been updated to include new information.