The titans of American fast food are in for a supersized reality check. KFC, Taco Bell and McDonald’s were slammed as the worst in their categories—chicken sandwich, burrito and burger, respectively—according to the latest exhaustive survey of American fast-food chains conducted by Consumer Reports.
For the survey, some 32,500 subscribers were asked about their experiences at 65 fast-food and fast-casual chains. The question was simple, and targeted directly at the signature dishes for which the chains are known: “On a scale of 1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste?” Across the board, national fast-food giants ranked at the lower end of the spectrum, falling behind regional favorites like the West Coast’s beloved In-N-Out burger and Midwest sandwich chain Portillo’s Hot Dogs.
Though Americans are spending more money than ever dining out (over $680 billion per year), the survey suggests that customers now expect more for their money, including higher-quality food and greater variety than what is offered on your standard dollar menu. The hallmarks of fast food are convenience and cheapness, but contemporary diners are more willing to venture a few extra blocks out of their way and spend a few extra dollars for a better quality (marginally) healthier meal.
Chains like Chipotle and Panera have made health-conscious, vegetarian-friendly and hormone-free options central to their branding, devoting entire sections of their websites to their farming methods and “ craftsmanship,” and offering alternatives like tofu and whole grains. (Even the probiotic-obsessed and gluten-free have to resort to fast food sometimes.) And their messaging is working: Chipotle, which offers higher-end ingredients like guacamole and carnitas, topped the list for best burritos.
McDonald’s, on the other hand, was ranked worse than 20 competitors, including White Castle and Steak 'n Shake. They serve flash-frozen patties the company claims are free from “preservatives, fillers, extenders, and so-called pink slime.” Good to know, but that statement doesn’t exactly make you want to head out for a Big Mac. The full rankings in each category are included in the chart below.