Customers continue to prefer full-service over fast food restaurants, and the gap is widening.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Restaurant Study 2021-2022, customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants is stable with a score of 80 (on a scale of 0 to 100), while the fast-food industry drops 2.6% to 76.
Restaurants had to shift their tactics over the past few years, relying more on a digital, touchless approach to stay inbusiness and keep customers satisfied. Some have had more success than others.
“The large group of smaller full-service restaurants experiences substantial deterioration in mobile app quality, contributing to a steep decline for the industry overall, which tumbles 8% to 78,” says Forrest Morgeson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and Director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI. “Amid the pandemic, restaurants needed to quickly up their game in the mobile arena. With fewer resources, smaller chains and independent restaurants are offering apps that aren’t making the grade per customers. In contrast, positive shifts inboth mobile app quality and reliability for several larger chains appear to reflect major app updates for these bigger industry players.”
Smaller full-service restaurants stumble, fall into three-way tie with LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse
After securing the industry lead last year, the group of smaller restaurants declines 1% to an ACSI score of 80, falling into a three-way tie for the top spot with LongHorn Steakhouse (unchanged) and Texas Roadhouse (unchanged).
Cracker Barrel (unchanged) and Fridays (up 1%) are next at 78 apiece, followed by three full-service restaurants with scores of 77: Olive Garden (down 4%), Outback Steakhouse (down 1%), and Red Robin (down 1%).
Chili’s and The Cheesecake Factory both slide 1% to 76, ahead of Denny’s and Red Lobster, falling 1% and 3%, respectively, to 75. Buffalo Wild Wings is next, tumbling 3% to an ACSI score of 74.
Applebee’s and IHOP both occupy the bottom spot with scores of 73. The former plummets 5%, while the latter slips 1%.
Chick-fil-A maintains its stranglehold on the fast-food industry
Chick-fil-A leads the industry – and all restaurants – for the eighth straight year with a steady ACSI score of 83.
The group of smaller fast-food purveyors slips 1% to 79, tying ACSI newcomer Jimmy John’s for second place. Domino’s (down 3%) and KFC (down 1%) follow suit at 78 each.
Four chains score 77: Chipotle (unchanged), Panera Bread (down 1%), Pizza Hut (down 1%), and Starbucks (down 3%). Three fast food restaurants fall to 76: Arby’s (down 1%), Five Guys (down 3%), and Papa Johns (down 1%).
Burger King, Little Caesars, and Panda Express all dip 1% to meet a stable Subway at 75. Dairy Queen (unchanged), Dunkin’ (down 4%), and Sonic (up 1%) are next with scores of 74, just ahead of Wendy’s, which stays put at 73.
Jack in the Box and Taco Bell drop 1% and 3%, respectively, to 72, while Popeyes decreases 3% to 71. McDonald’s remains in last place after faltering 3% to an ACSI score of 68.
Customers still favor sit-down dining over fast-food experience
In terms of the customer experience, full-service restaurants are the preferred choice again.
Customers agree that sit-down spots outperform fast food chains when it comes to food order accuracy (87 to 83), restaurant layout and cleanliness (84 to 81), food quality (86 to 81), and food variety (84 to 79).
Additionally, staff are more courteous and helpful (84 to 82) at full-service restaurants than at fast food chains. Sit-down establishments offer a wider variety of beverages (83 to 77) and greater beverage quality (84 to 81).
Full-service restaurants also have more reliable mobile apps (85 to 82). However, the quality of fast-food apps is vastly superior to full-service apps (83 to 78), as the latter tumbles 8% year over year.
The ACSI Restaurant Study 2021-2022 is based on interviews with 20,143 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between April 2021 and March 2022. Follow the ACSI on LinkedIn and Twitter at @theACSI.