Americans Flocked To Fast Food Restaurants In The Past Year, But They Are More Satisfied With Full-Service Restaurants

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A remains the favourite restaurant in America. About 20,000 customers were asked to rate their restaurant experiences to determine the ranking.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. This chain is ranked number one in the ACSI’s restaurant rankings over the past seven years. It pulls in almost $13.8 billion in annual sales, despite being closed Sundays. This shows how satisfied its customers are.

Chick-filA had the added benefit this year of having a large drive-thru footprint. This largely protected quick-service chains from the COVID-19 crisis and forced many chains to rethink real estate strategies.

However, the ACSI results for this year were a little surprising in that the quick-service section scored lower than full-service-78 points out of 100 and 80 points out of 100, respectively.

ACSI’s survey found that full-service customers preferred QSR over QSR in almost all benchmarks (layout, cleanliness, food quality, variety and staff courtesy, accuracy, and mobile app quality).

Even though the segment was hit hard by nationwide lockdowns, which eroded sales by approximately 70%, it effectively took chains like Olive Garden off the radar for 2020.

The gap between QSRs and casual dining remained through the first part of 2021, as customers continued to prefer the contactless nature and ease of the drive-thru.

However, it seems that such preferences don’t translate into satisfaction.

Chick-fil-A’s ACSI score, 83, still surpasses that of the entire industry. However, the chain lost 1% to other chains. LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden each scored 80 in full-service.

Domino’s was also able to score an 80 in the limited-service category. KFC and Starbucks were next at 79.

This year’s survey revealed other surprising results, such as the drop in customer satisfaction from year to year. These chains are Chipotle and Papa John’s and Sonic, Popeyes, Wendy’s and Sonic. However, all of these chains saw material sales increases despite the crisis.

Chipotle’s reported that digital sales now make up 50% of its mix during its April Q1 earnings. Chipotle is currently testing digital-only restaurant models and car side pickup. It has also added a quesadilla menu item to its digital channel only. In addition, Chipotle’s loyalty members increased more than twice since 2019, reaching more than 21,000,000 people.

However, despite consumers’ demand for all these options, Chipotle’s satisfaction scores dropped by 4 points this year. Although it’s difficult to identify the problem, the chain has been criticized for increasing its menu prices and promoting small social media portions.

Papa John’s was able to leverage its strong delivery business to increase sales in 2020. According to Restaurant Dive, it also plans to build its largest number of company units in 20 years. However, its satisfaction scores fell by one point.

Popeyes continued to enjoy a strong tailwind after its 2019 chicken sandwich launch. Q1 same-store sales increased by 30% over two years, but customer satisfaction scores fell by one point. Likewise, sonic’s scores fell one point, despite the company’s growth of over 20% in 2020.

Wendy’s saw a 5.5% increase in same-store sales in Q4 2020 and 2% for 2020. Wendy’s has found a good cadence for its recently launched breakfast daypart. It is expected that it will account for 10% of all sales this year. The loyalty program, however, is expected to account to 10% of sales by 2022. However, the chain’s customer satisfaction scores dropped by four points.

Another surprise is McDonald’s score of 70, which is flat year over year but ranks McDonald’s as the lowest QSR chain. McDonald’s closed Q4 with an increase in same-store sales of 5.5%. It generated double-digit traffic growth and buzz about two highly successful celebrity partnerships, Travis Scott and BTS. However, a drop of 30 seconds in drive-thru time could not generate customer satisfaction.

What does all this mean? It could be that we all have such a high demand for full-service experiences that any kind of experience is satisfactory at this time. This could also refer to full-service chains’ creativity and agility over the past year, which has delighted customers.

It could also mean that we might not be happy with our experiences at certain brands, but we will still turn to familiar brands for comfort in times of crisis. This is a warning sign. It will all get back to normal soon, and experience will prevail over comfort and familiarity.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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