Waffle fries at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Every major fast-food chain, ranked by customer satisfaction

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March 10, 2023
Deutschlandreform // Shutterstock

Every major fast-food chain, ranked by customer satisfaction

Historically, fast-food restaurants have been perceived as a more affordable dining option for Americans, but recently, that hasn't been the case. According to the latest Consumer Price Index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released on April 10, 2024, the index for limited-service meals, which includes fast food, rose 5% over the last 12 months, compared to the 2.2% increase the food category saw overall in the same period. The rising costs mean a meal at a fast-food chain is becoming more of a luxury than a cost-saver, so folks are sticking to their favorites.

Many fast-food chains have particularly loyal bases of customers. Someone who loves Burger King may not love McDonald's, despite the two chains having similar menus. Why? One reason is taste. Many fast-food chains have specific spice blends, sauces, and recipes they and their fans claim differentiate their products from competitors.

In addition to food quality, customer service can be a major factor in determining consumer opinion of a fast-food chain. Chains that prioritize friendly and efficient service, such as Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, have built a loyal customer base who appreciate the experience they provide, and they come back again and again.

Adam Chandler, author of "Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom," argues that people see fast-food restaurants as a reflection of American ideology: open for everyone. Chandler also notes that fast-food chains are frequently demonized and have become proxy battlegrounds for many political issues, such as health and fair labor practices.

No matter how Americans feel about fast food, the industry generates a lot of cash. Per a Stacker analysis of QSR data, seven of the 23 chains on this list surpassed $10 billion in sales in the United States for 2021. The 23 chains combined for $213.07 billion in sales during 2021, an average of $9.26 billion per chain. Only one fast-food chain improved its customer satisfaction score from 2021 to 2022. All the other 22 chains on this list either stayed the same or decreased. Stacker ranked 23 major fast-food brands based on their 2022 customer satisfaction score, as calculated by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Click through for a look at how these 23 brands fared and what makes each unique.

A woman in a green coat eating McDonald's fries.
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#23. McDonald's

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 68
- Change from 2021: -2

McDonald's is the largest restaurant chain in the world by revenue, with over 37,000 stores in over 100 countries. Although the menu has expanded in the decades since it was founded, consumers still gravitate toward its core offerings of hamburgers and french fries.

A woman entering a Popeyes restaurant.
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#22. Popeyes

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 71
- Change from 2021: -2

Popeyes thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. What's more, it's growing. The chain boasted 2,754 U.S. locations and 3,705 international locations in the fiscal year 2021, the highest number of openings since Restaurant Brands International bought the chain in 2017. The secret to the franchise's success? Its fried chicken recipe, known for its signature crispiness.

A drink and burger from Jack in the Box.
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#20. Jack in the Box (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 72
- Change from 2021: -1

Jack in the Box is a fast-food chain founded in 1951 in San Diego. The chain is well-known for its hamburgers, fries, and soft drinks. One of the most polarizing options on the menu is the brand's tacos, which some love and some hate but are always the subject of hearty debate.

The exterior of a Taco Bell restaurant.
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#20. Taco Bell (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 72
- Change from 2021: -2

Taco Bell founder Glen Bell discovered hard-shell tacos from the sit-down restaurant across the street, Mitla Cafe, in San Bernardino, California. Rather than laboriously making each taco by hand, Bell found a way to assemble it quickly. He started selling them out of a stand in December 1951—and thus began Taco Bell. In the years since, the chain has gotten creative with its menu, historically offering Kit Kat quesadillas, Cheetos burritos, and an Airheads slushie.

The exterior red sign of a Wendy's restaurant.
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#19. Wendy's

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 73
- Change from 2021: 0

Wendy's founder Dave Thomas named the fast-food chain after his daughter, Melinda Lou "Wendy" Thomas. Although plenty of fast-food staples are on the menu, health-conscious consumers may have more reason to go to Wendy's, as it was the first fast-food company to pioneer a salad bar.

The exterior of a Sonic drive-in restaurant.
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#16. Sonic (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 74
- Change from 2021: 1

Soon after its founding in the 1950s, Sonic began experimenting with intercom ordering systems, which allowed customers to place their orders without leaving their cars. Today, Sonic is known for its drive-in concept, with carhops delivering food to customers' cars. The company has over 3,500 locations across the United States, and it is known for its extensive drink menu, which includes slushies, milkshakes, and other frozen treats.

The exterior of a brick Dairy Queen restaurant at night.
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#16. Dairy Queen (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 74
- Change from 2021: 0

Dairy Queen was founded in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, by a man named Sherb Noble. The very first Dairy Queen location served soft-serve ice cream, a new concept at the time. Nine years later, milkshakes and malts were put on the menu, which keeps people coming back today.

A pink-and-orange neon Dunkin' Donuts sign.
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#16. Dunkin' (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 74
- Change from 2021: -3

The founder of Dunkin' Donuts, William Rosenberg, started out selling coffee and donuts in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1948. The company's original name was Open Kettle, but it was later changed to Dunkin' Donuts in 1950. Today, Dunkin' Donuts is one of the world's largest chains specializing in coffee and baked goods, with more than 12,000 franchise locations worldwide, and is beloved by many, including celebrity fan Ben Affleck.

Two people ordering at a Subway sandwich shop.
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#12. Subway (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 75
- Change from 2021: 0

Subway is a sandwich chain where customers can get healthy, hearty fare on a sub sandwich bread. Wraps have also become available more recently. Subway even offers a "sandwich artist" training program to teach employees how to make each sandwich to the customer's exact specifications.

A burger, fries, and a drink from Burger King.
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#12. Burger King (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 75
- Change from 2021: -1

Burger King has so many fans that it's successfully marketed merchandise beyond Whoppers. In 2015, the company launched a Flame-Grilled fragrance that smelled like its signature flame-grilled burgers. The limited-edition perfume was available for purchase in Japan.

A table of people eating pizza at Little Caesars.
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#12. Little Caesars (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 75
- Change from 2021: -1

Little Caesars is known for its iconic "Pizza! Pizza!" advertising slogan, introduced in 1979. The slogan was originally created to promote the chain's two-for-one pizza deal, but it quickly became synonymous with the brand and is still used today. The chain is also known for being more affordable, making it a good choice for a wide variety of consumers.

People standing in line ordering while Panda Express employees serve plates.
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#12. Panda Express (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 75
- Change from 2021: -1

Panda Express was founded by Chinese immigrants and husband-and-wife team Andrew and Peggy Cherng in 1983, a spinoff of a restaurant concept called Panda Inn. In 1987, the chain found its signature dish, Orange Chicken, thanks to in-house chef Andy Kao. The company is also known for its American take on Chinese dishes, even introducing regional Chinese dishes such as Sichuan-style Kung Pao Chicken and a General Tso's Chicken that uses Hunanese spices.

The red and white exterior of an Arby's restaurant.
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#9. Arby's (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 76
- Change from 2021: -1

Leroy and Forrest Raffel opened the first Arby's location in Boardman, Ohio, in 1964, with the name Arby's, based on the initials "R" and "B," meant to stand for "Raffel Brothers." The company's signature dish is its roast beef sandwich, made with slow-roasted, thinly sliced beef and topped with various sauces and toppings. Arby's has since expanded its menu to include a range of sandwiches, salads, and sides, and today has more than 3,400 locations around the nation.

Stacks of Papa Johns pizza boxes.
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#9. Papa Johns (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 76
- Change from 2021: -1

Today, Papa Johns is the fourth-largest pizza chain in the world, with more than 5,500 locations across the globe. The company is also known for its commitment to using high-quality ingredients in its pizzas, including fresh, never-frozen dough and vine-ripened tomatoes for its pizza sauce. This isn't bad, considering the company started out in a converted broom closet in the back of a bar founder John Schnatter co-owned with his father.

A crowded Five Guys restaurant with a red lit up sign.
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#9. Five Guys (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 76
- Change from 2021: -2

Founded in 1986, Five Guys is a family-owned company that has leaned into franchising. Since it opened for franchising in 2002, it has grown from five restaurants to over 1,700 locations across the globe. The company is known for its simple menu of burgers, fries, and milkshakes and its commitment to using high-quality ingredients and cooking everything to order. Among these high-quality ingredients are fresh beef and fries cooked in peanut oil.

Chipotle employees making burritos.
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#5. Chipotle (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 77
- Change from 2021: 0

Chipotle has been called an anti-McDonald's for its unconventional approach to fast food. It prides itself on serving responsibly sourced food with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It operates all 2,950 restaurants it owns across the globe. In 2022, its revenue increased by 14.4% to $8.6 billion. It also opened 236 new restaurants. More recently, it launched a $50 million venture fund focused on eateries with a similar socially conscious approach to dining as the company.

Two people ordering at a Panera Bread restaurant.
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#5. Panera Bread (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 77
- Change from 2021: -1

Panera Bread is a fast-casual restaurant known for its quality ingredients. It even maintains a "No No List" of items the chain would never use in its recipes. Panera began in 1987 as the St. Louis Bread Company, armed with a sourdough starter from San Francisco. In 2017, JAB Holding Company purchased the chain. It now operates more than 2,100 bakery-cafes under Panera Bread or St. Louis Bread Company across 48 states and Ontario, Canada.

The exterior of a Pizza Hut restaurant.
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#5. Pizza Hut (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 77
- Change from 2021: -1

Pizza Hut has a unique claim to fame that may appeal to outer space fans: In 2001, it became the first company to deliver pizza to space. Pizza Hut worked with the Russian space agency to deliver a pizza to the International Space Station. However, only cosmonauts enjoyed the pizza because of NASA's policy against advertisements.

A Starbucks coffee cup on a table.
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#5. Starbucks (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 77
- Change from 2021: -2

Starbucks has a reputation for providing a consistent experience across its many locations. Customers know what to expect when they visit a Starbucks, from the quality of the coffee to the store's ambiance.

A KFC fried chicken meal on a table.
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#3. KFC (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 78
- Change from 2021: -1

KFC is known for its blend of 11 herbs and spices, which gives its chicken a distinct and delicious flavor many people love. The family who started the fried chicken chain has guarded its secret recipe for years, but a photo revealed from a family scrapbook may have exposed the recipe to the world.

A Domino's employee carrying an order out for delivery.
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#3. Domino's (tied)

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 78
- Change from 2021: -2

Domino's has a reputation for delivering pizzas quickly. They offer a "30 minutes or free" guarantee, which can appeal to customers looking for a fast and convenient meal. The chain offers a wide range of toppings and crust options, allowing customers to customize their pizzas to suit their tastes. They also provide a range of side dishes and desserts.

A Jimmy John's sandwich, bag of chips, and a drink.
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#2. Jimmy John's

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 79
- Change from 2021: No 2021 data

Jimmy John's is a beloved fast-food chain for those who value both fresh food and giving back to the community. The company has a policy of only using bread baked fresh daily and only served after up to four hours. The company was founded by Jimmy John Liautaud and has since been bought by Inspire Brands.

A crowded Chick-fil-A restaurant.
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#1. Chick-fil-A

- 2022 customer satisfaction score: 83
- Change from 2021: 0

Chick-fil-A is known for its 100% whole breast meat with no fillers and hormones. Founder Truett Cathy created the recipe over 50 years ago, and it hasn't changed. The chain has faced backlash for its founder's philanthropic efforts, especially giving to conservative and Christian organizations opposed to LGBTQ+ rights. Still, it does abstain from donating to politicians, a common practice in the industry. No matter the politics, the chicken sandwich is undeniably good, and more recently, it has been testing a plant-based sandwich it took four years to develop.

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