According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, McDonald’s has the worst burger in America. Consumers consistently rated smaller, upscale burger chains higher than what is arguably America’s most iconic hamburger franchise. And interestingly, McDonald’s wasn’t the only major fast food franchise to receive failing marks. Consumers deemed that KFC served up the worst chicken and that Taco Bell crafted the worst burritos. Subway ranked second to last in the sandwich category, beating out only Au Bon Pain.
So, if consumers are now bucking major fast food chains, where are they eating? Those restaurants that managed to steal top spots in the survey were a part of the growing fast-casual movement. For example, Chipotle was deemed the creator of the best burrito, and smaller chains The Habit Burger Grill and Portillo’s Hot Dogs won best burger and best sandwich, respectively. Upscale burger chains In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and Smashburger ranked No. 2, 3, and 4 in the burger category, while Chick-fil-A’s move toward a more fast-casual style has also been rewarded, as the chicken chain snagged the top spot for chicken.
The survey, released after the product-testing magazine surveyed 32,405 subscribers, who ate 96,208 meals at 65 chains, is indicative of changes in consumer behavior. Specifically, consumers want higher-quality, better tasting meals — even if it means they have to shell out a bit more cash or travel a bit longer. “Restaurants are a part of the millennials’ social structure, and they choose to spend less at meals so that they can eat out more often,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food-service research and consulting firm, recently explained. “Fast-casual dining in places like Chipotle and Panda Express lets the consumer guide the staff to prepare their meal just the way they like it,” he added.
The major difference between more upscale burger franchises, such as In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys Burgers, is the quality of ingredients. A burrito at Chipotle costs two or three times as much as a burrito from Taco Bell. Naturally, the chain is able to afford better ingredients than Taco Bell. Furthermore, such chains as Chipotle, Noodles & Company, and Panera are even offering meat that has been produced without the use of antibiotics in animal feed, an attraction for many health-conscious consumers.
The bottom line is that fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, are not necessarily trying to produce the best product. They are trying to turn something out as fast and cheaply as possible. It may be impossible for a chain to simultaneously keep costs low and produce a top-quality product. However, considering this shift in consumer preferences, franchises like McDonald’s and Subway may need to start trying harder.
Article by Jason Duncan, CEO/Founder of ManagerComplete.com. ManagerComplete is an online software application that helps multi-unit franchises manage operations effectively. Follow him onTwitter for latest updates.