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5 Major Fast-Food Chains Slipping in Quality

These chains are dropping the ball and customers are making their complaints known.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

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 three consecutive years. (The chain currently has a mere four-point lead on KFC.) And across the industry, drive-thru performance has been on the decline, with quick-service drive-thrus slower and less accurate in 2021 than they were during the pandemic.

Here's a look at five chains that have been slipping in quality in the past year.

For more fast-food news, check out 8 Worst Fast-Food Burgers to Stay Away From Right Now.

1

Popeyes

popeyes
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Popeyes made headlines in late 2021 following a viral video of a rat infestation in one of its Washington, D.C. locations. Meanwhile, over on the Popeyes subreddit, customer complaints include (in order of egregiousness): chicken tenders that are too dry, gravy that tastes like dishwater, and chicken sandwiches with screws in them.

Anecdotal evidence aside, the latest data isn't on the chain's side, either. In the past year, Popeyes has lost 1.4 points off its overall score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, slipping to one of the bottom spots for limited-service restaurants.

2

Subway

subway
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Subway has had plenty of issues marring its reputation in the past. From Jared Fogle to its iconic footlong sandwich measuring only 11 inches, the chain has faced some serious public backlash (and more than its fair share of lawsuits.)

Most recently, Subway came under public scrutiny last summer following a lawsuit alleging its tuna was not, in fact, real tuna. Subway rejected these claims, insisting that it only used "100% skipjack tuna." But multiple DNA tests (one commissioned by The New York Times) could not confirm the true ingredients of Subway's sandwich topping.

It is no surprise, then, that in the past year, Subway lost over 5 points off of its overall score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It now ranks among the eight worst-performing chains when it comes to providing satisfactory service to customers.

3

Chipotle

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Chipotle lost 3.8 points off of its overall American Customer Satisfaction Index score in 2021. Like other quick-service chains, Chipotle has struggled with labor shortages in the past year. It even made headlines in November when staff jumped ship at a location in Kentucky, complaining of unreasonable hours and mistreatment by customers.

As a fast-casual brand serving better-for-you food, Chipotle's transition to off-premise dining hasn't exactly been smooth sailing. Employees have sounded off in the Chipotle subreddit about the difficulty of keeping pace with no fewer than three lanes of customer traffic (including in-person diners, drive-thru customers, and off-premise orders). Meanwhile, on Twitter, complaints of inaccurate Chipotle orders are as common as ever.

4

Taco Bell

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Taco Bell has had a bumpy 2021. Looking to get in on the Chicken Sandwich Wars, 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 last month's Crispy Chicken Wings were equally mixed, with fans, again, criticizing the portion sizes. The Tex-Mex chain currently ranks among the bottom six on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

5

Wendy's

wendy's
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Wendy's currently ranks among the bottom three fast-food chains in terms of customer satisfaction, after slipping more than three percentage points in the last year.

It appears that Wendy's fans aren't exactly head-over-heels for the chain's new Hot & Crispy fries, which launched in September. Add to that the recent old-new Chili controversy, and it's no wonder ratings are down at Wendy's.

Owen Duff
Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more about Owen