The publication’s annual fast food survey, released Wednesday, found giants like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and Taco Bell all lagging behind their newer, hipper fast-casual counterparts, like In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle.
“After devouring 96,208 meals at 65 chains, Consumer Reports readers told us that quality of the food has become more important in their dining decisions, and convenience of location is less so,” the Consumer Reports release on the study read. "They could be reasons the traditional fast-food chains are losing their edge: Diners, especially younger adults in the millennial generation, may be more willing go out of their way to get a tasty meal.”
Consumer Reports evaluated food quality, value, and service at the nation’s biggest chains in four categories: burgers; chicken; sandwiches and subs; and burritos. In the “taste” rankings, McDonald’s finished dead last among 20 burger restaurants, while KFC and Taco Bell each ranked No. 8 of 8 in the chicken and burrito categories. In the subs rankings, Subway, the chain with the most locations in the world, came in second to last, sandwiched (pardon the phrase) between Arby’s and Au Bon Pain.
On the other end, a few familiar, if less mammoth, names came out on top. Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based eatery known for its chicken sandwiches, came in first among chicken chains. In-N-Out, the primarily West Coast chain, was one of the top burger joints along with The Habit Burger Grill and Five Guys’ Burgers and Fries. Chipotle topped the burrito rankings.
Consumer Reports’ findings, based on responses from 32,405 readers, seemed to confirm what financial reports have been suggesting for years now: The titans that have dominated the US restaurant landscape for more than half a century are losing ground, at least in the US. McDonald’s and KFC are still hugely profitable, but most of their expansion efforts are now focused overseas in Europe and Asia as sales in the US slip. McDonald’s saw a 1.7 percent decrease in same-store sales last quarter.
Their smaller, slightly more regional competitors, meanwhile, are faring much better. Chick-fil-A, which is heavily concentrated in the southeastern US, beat KFC in US sales by about $800 million last year, even though it has less than half of the locations.
See Consumer Reports’ full survey, here.