CR Readers Aren't Loving McDonald's, Say 'No Mas' to Taco Bell

×
disappointed businessman eating ...
Ana-Maria Tanasescu/Shutterstock
Sometimes you really do get what you pay for, especially when it comes to fast food restaurants.

A new survey by Consumer Reports finds industry giants McDonald's (MCD), Taco Bell (YUM) and KFC are at or near the bottom of the rankings, based on food quality, value and service. The magazine's rankings, from on a survey of more than 32,000 subscribers, placed McDonald's burgers as the worst-tasting of all the major chains.

Fast food restaurants originally boomed because of the convenience and low prices. But that's no longer good enough. Consumers are increasingly demanding better quality food. Consumer Reports says young adults, in particular, are more likely to go out of their way to get a better quality meal.

Younger Diners Want More

"The big guys leave a lot to be desired," said Tod Marks, senior projects editor at Consumer Reports. "They're not delivering" in terms of food quality, value and service. "A lot of young diners go out of their way for a tastier meal," he added. They are willing to spend a bit more by eating out less frequently. He said dining out, even at fast food restaurants, has become more of a social experience for younger people.

This might explain why McDonald's and many leading chains have struggled mightily of late to improve sales, especially in the U.S. McDonald's ranked last among the 21 burger joints on the list. Jack in the Box (JACK) and Burger King (BKW) were just slightly better.

At the top of the list were The Habit Burger Grill, In-N-Out Burger, Five Guy Burgers and Smashburgers. Those and other regional chains have found the right recipe to meet the increasingly demanding tastes of fast food customers. In-N-Out Burger, Jason's Deli, Papa Murphy's Take-N-Bake Pizza (FRSH) and Portillo's Hot Dogs are among the top rated chains.

"People are far more interested in the quality of food" than they were in Consumer Reports' previous fast food survey in 2001, according to Marks.

Chicken, Subs, Calories, Fat and Salt

In the chicken category, KFC might as well stand for Kan't Find Consumer satisfaction. It ranked last in the group. Chick-fil-A was cooked to perfection. Consumers like its food, even though its politics remain controversial. The company and its fonder have taken a strong stance against gay marriage, which has stirred up plenty of ill will (though not enough to stop it from overtaking KFC to become the No. 1 chicken chain in the country). El Pollo Loco came in second in the chicken coop rankings.

For sandwiches and subs, size also doesn't matter. Subway is the world's largest chain, with more than 40,000 restaurants worldwide. Still, it was second-to-last in the group, ahead of only Au Bon Pain. The best sandwich ratings went to Portillo's Hot Dogs, Firehouse Subs and Schlotzsky's.

Despite its low rankings for taste, consumers did favor Subway for offering healthful choices. The company says it has lowered the sodium content in its low-fat sandwiches by an average of 28 percent over the past three years. And if health is a consideration, skip White Castle, Little Caesars and Five Guys Burgers. They had the worst ratings for healthy options.

Consumer Reports found that most people are not concerned about dieting when they eat at fast food restaurants, so maybe these final numbers aren't surprising. The worst diet-busting meal is Firehouse Subs' large Sweet Thai Chili Pork Sub, which has 1,541 calories, 95 grams of fat and 3,458 milligrams of sodium. That's more fat and sodium than the recommended daily allowance for the average adult. Hardee's Monster Thickburger also has 95 grams of fat, and Burger King's Triple Whopper tips the scale with 1,160 calories.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Timing Your Spending

How to pay less by changing when you purchase.

View Course »

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

206 Comments

Filter by:
kinged1

There's an important lesson to be learned here.
Patronize your local restaurants, not behemoth commercial cookeries that ship in their frozen hockey pucks from God-knows-where and calls them hamburgers, after dosing them with salt and grease.
Local restaurants who cook with love and attention to detail and value their reputation will always make the tastiest burgers and any other dish.
But remember, these local "mom-and-pop" places need your support to exist. Don't let the frozen hockey pucks drive them out of business.

August 14 2014 at 3:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rock Ranger

I have found considerable emotional energy can be excited when discussions poke at personal preferences in religion, politics, music and food. Few passions are more excited than when discussing favorite dishes or eateries.

Lost my best friend last year. I love mushrooms--in omelets, on pizza, on burgers, in spaghetti sauce. He abhorred them. Our favorite pizza was a Guiseppe's #16: hamburger, onions and bell pepper. When dining with him, I never missed mushrooms.

Few things are as subjective as taste. Taste in music, food, fashions. . . Knew a young man who preferred his hamburger rare, as in Steak Tartare. Raw hamburger makes me anxious. That little E. coli thing.

Coke vs Pepsi. Chevy vs Ford. Ketchup or mustard on a hot dog. Thin crust or deep dish. Shaken or stirred. Runny or firmly set yolks. Coffee or tea. Lager or ale. Butter or mayonnaise. Bleu cheese or Thousand Island.

We are a diverse bunch. Enjoy.

July 08 2014 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JAMES GUI

Why did AOL erase my nine line comment and let these two stupid things through. AOL sucks. I'm one inch from shifting over to Gmail.

July 05 2014 at 11:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JAMES GUI

Up yours.

July 05 2014 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JAMES GUI

xxxxx

July 05 2014 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mybenetton2012

dry and tasteless

July 05 2014 at 8:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

Apples and oranges. Compare national/international franchises with same types, and not strictly local or regional brands.

There are many restaurants that healthy and fine-tasting hamburgers, but they are not "fast food" national chains.

So, let's be intellectually honest when writing such a comparative story.

July 05 2014 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
charlesrplott

Trachtenberg seems to have a definite anti-'McDonald' s agenda. Who and how many were 'surveyed'? Drew can aledge any 'numbers' - any 'opinions' ! McDonald's is a reliable souce of tasty, safe fast-food all over the world. Wherever I travel globally and I am unfamiliar with the local eateries, I am happy and relieved to find a McDonald's where I know I can depend on the quality and service. (Sorry they discontinued their Angus Burger.)
In-&-Out fans are, seriously, a mystery to me. The meat should be weighted for the biggest score. I don't load my burgers with anything else (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, catsup, pickles, mustard, chili, etc.), and In & Out meat patties are extra small and full of grissle - only the bun is edible! Yes. It's crispy around the edges and has kind of a buttered/onion powder flavor..........but where's the BEEF?

July 05 2014 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to charlesrplott's comment
Rock Ranger

This was Drew reporting on a Consumer Report survey. That suggests greater scientific rigor than a single person rant.

McDonalds specializes in mediocre, please-the-palate-of-the-masses, fast food. In this, they excel. Their success has more to do with their sales model and their taste research than superior quality of their offerings. And it would be silly to expect more. Especially at their price points.

My complaint with McD has to do with the increasing indifference to preparation and delivery. Every Big Mac I've ordered over the past 20 years has included an explosion in the box. A blizzard of lettuce shreds everywhere, few in the burger. Patties hanging off the bun, in separate directions. "Special Sauce" in a glob, some escaping out the side. None of the bun pieces line up over each other. And those little rehydrated onion bits are amusing. The patties are usually cold. So I trudge back to the counter and try again. Or I make them try again.

McD's frozen patty pucks are particularly evident in the Quarter Pounder.

I used to love McDonalds. Ate there every week as a teen. Back then burgers were 19cents. Now those are the burgers I snarf when everything else is closed, I am on a road trip and I am feeling really cheap.

My experience with In-N-Out was most enjoyable. No gristle in my burger. Miss them considerably.

Lived in Portland, OR. Loved Burgerville. They have a wonderful sauce in their single patty burgers. And they include regional products in their offerings: Walla Walla sweet onion rings; local berries in their shakes. Miss them a lot.

McDonalds provides predictability for us. We know what we are getting, the standardization is that complete. With a little tweaking during ordering, we can get a fresher made burger than one sitting on the sliding ramp under the heat lamp. I order my Big Messes without onions and lettuce, extra sauce. Less reconstruction to perform. Warmer patties. And no cheese. Not a fan of low cost processed American cheese food.

When available, I prefer Wendy's. Fresh burgers. Real condiments. And better service.

Used to love Whoppers. Seems BK cannot proffer a hot one, though. Many times I have gotten coupons and apologetic letters from franchise owners. But getting one hot off the flame broiler seems an insurmountable challenge, ever since the carcinogen scare.

Good luck fellow Americans. Finding that acceptable compromise between quality and taste, and convenience and cost doesn't appear to be an accomplished feat anytime soon.

July 08 2014 at 12:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dtrevdav1

Try telling that to kids who seem to gobble the stuff down. Try surveying that group and they'll tell you different

July 05 2014 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wjs27skeet

Well I guess Consume Reports suscribers who answered the survey must be in a minority, since McDs seems to be selling millions of hamburgers. Or could it be that the survey was made up? Now that begs the question, how many magazines does CR sell a month? Maybe their readers are all the caviar and champagne crowd.

July 05 2014 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wjs27skeet's comment
Rock Ranger

Billions and Billions served is a testament to their longevity, their ubiquitousness, their sales model and their countless millions spent on taste research. Similar to the research Heinz did formulating their ketchup which dominates the market.

Quantity does not equate to quality. And the masses prefer predictability. Especially when hungry kids are part of the selection process.

I like Happy Meals, too. Have quite the collection going back years of Happy Meal toys.

July 08 2014 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply