From Endurable to Inedible: America's Top Fast Food Chains, Ranked
| LAST UPDATE 05/26/2022
The roots of the American fast-food industry go back to the 1920s. But the public's perception of the many restaurants has changed over the decades. A survey by Consumer Reports has proven exactly that...
This fast-food chain's slogan of "we have the meats" doesn't lie - Arby's is famous for the variety of meat options on its menu. But its roast beef sandwiches have brought lots of trouble to the chain.
Theories about what strange ingredient could be hiding in those sandwiches included paste or even gel. A survey by Consumer Reports found that 44% of customers weren't phased by the sandwiches and planned to continue eating at Arby's. That might explain the incident in 2004, when one customer found human skin in their food.
49. Wetzel's Pretzels
Wetzel's Pretzels has totally changed American consumers' experiences at shopping malls. Ever since the chain opened in 1994, the heavenly aromas of freshly baked pretzels has filled the spaces between stores and stands, making the mouths of shoppers water as they walk around.
For some, these buttery pretzels taste just as good as they smell - if not better! However, a few Yelp users had different opinions. "Lmao I asked for wetzel bitz what the h*ll is this? They don't even separate them - also uncooked," wrote one unsatisfied customer.
A childhood filled with trips to Baskin-Robbins was almost always a happy one. The ice-cream chain has been offering its customers several flavors of the frozen dessert since it first opened in 1945. However, some people wouldn't agree that the chain never failed to put a smile on their face.
According to a few angry Baskin-Robbins customers, the chain has disappointed them more than once since it's "constantly out of chocolate ice cream and they refuse to order more! All I'm get is excuse after excuse enough is enough." Not exactly a 5-star review...
47. Krispy Kreme
Of course, this list wouldn't be complete without Krispy Kreme's signature glazed donuts. Alongside a cup of coffee, the chain's donuts are the perfect bite to grab on the way to work for some customers. One customer even wrote that Krispy Kreme is "hands-down one of my favorite donut places."
However, others' experience at the eatery wasn't exactly as sweet as this customer's words. A few unhappy customers have even gone so far as to leave the restaurant some negative reviews. "High glazed donuts very poorly looking," wrote a SiteJabber user. Ouch...
This next item on our list offers an experience that's a little bit too salty for some customers' taste. And we're not talking about Wingstop's homemade ranch and sweet fries - rather, several diners have been unhappy with the restaurant's famous wings.
Apparently, customers have complained that this item on the menu was too salty for them to enjoy. But that's not all they had to say - the chain's boneless wings were deemed more soggy than crispy, costing it a significant fraction of its customers. According to Consumer Reports, only about 44% of diners would return.
There was a time when Popeyes' chicken sandwich caused a lot of buzz around the country. However, some people couldn't exactly see what all the fuss was about. In fact, Trustpilot reports that the chain only received a nationwide average rating of 1.5 stars from about 690 customers.
One user claims that the chicken sandwich "wasn't only a disappointment, it was dangerous." They go on to explain that this was because "the chicken was spoiled, burnt, and smelled horrible." Probably not the feedback Popeyes was looking for, but at least they still seem to be doing well 50 years into the business.
44. Shake Shack
Everywhere our attention goes, Shake Shack's name seems to follow. Whether we see it in an Instagram photo, or another branch that's just opened right around the corner, the restaurant certainly is a big deal for American fast food lovers. But it doesn't always live up to the hype...
1,800 customers who left reviews of the restaurant on Yelp appear to think that it does. But a few who left the chain one star or Trip Advisor would likely disagree. However, despite having some negative reviews, it doesn't look like Shake Shack will be disappearing anytime soon.
The next fast-food chain is not only famous for its signature chicken wings but also for its unique uniform worn by the waitresses who serve them. With over 420 branches across 42 states, the restaurant is so popular we couldn't help but wonder if anyone had any negative reviews of it.
Unfortunately, not everybody's Hooters experience was a satisfactory one, according to Yelp. Not only did customers express their views that the restaurant objectified its servers, but they also claimed that the food was cold and service was poor. "Literally couldn't get any worse," one user shared.
42. Nathan's Famous
We all know the Empire State is famous for its mouthwatering pizza. But there is one more type of food New Yorkers do like no other - and one of the best places to find it is at Nathan's Famous. Since it was founded in 1916, the Coney Island fast-food chain has become one of the most famous hot dog chains in the world.
The question is, though, are these hot dogs as good as everyone claims they are? From the reviews of 1,300 customers on Yelp, we can conclude the answer is yes. From their chili dogs to their cheese fries, the items on the menu at Nathan's Famous attract thousands of tourists every year.
41. Boston Market
Next up is a fast-food chain that will send our 90's babies on a small trip down memory lane. In every neighborhood was a Boston Market branch, with a total of 1,100 locations around the country. Although it seems today the chain doesn't have the same level of success it once did years ago...
Boston Market's number of customers has dropped to only 43%, according to Consumer Reports - perhaps because of the restaurant's menu. "Is it too much to ask to make your rotisserie chicken, the menu item that is synonymous with Boston Market, taste at least average?" one customer complained on Yelp.
It may be known as "the world's largest hot dog chain," but Wienerschnitzel's online reputation suggests the food it serves could be better. According to Consumer Reports, only 41% of their customers would go back to dine at the restaurant for a second time.
Despite the impressive size of the sandwiches at Wienerschnitzel, the meat packed inside could use some improvement. One Yelp user actually wrote, "There were more pieces of bone in the patty than there was 'beef.'" But at least the customers' experiences might be explained by the restaurant's low prices...
Whether on soda cans in the fridge at home or in restaurants on the street corner, the A&W logo is easily recognizable. This brand's root beer has had a wide fanbase around the country since it was established in 1919. As for the restaurant itself - well, customers' reviews didn't show as much satisfaction...
Consumer Reports estimates that only about 35% of customers would go back for a second round at the fast-food chain. However, it may not be the menu itself that's earned the restaurant its negative reviews. Several customers have reported they were shocked at how dirty the tables were at their different chains.
38. Dunkin’ Donuts
Dunkin' has been a morning stop for coffee and sweet snacks for as long as we can remember. But while their favorable coffee has fueled busy Americans for quite some time, several customers claim that the nationwide chain's baked goods aren't as applaudable.
One opinion shared by many consumers is that the food isn't as fresh as they would have wished. According to one Yelp user, "I have never had a fresh donut here." And although many people may agree, this hasn't stopped the chain from opening thousands of branches across the country.
37. Tim Hortons
Before Tim Hortons opened its branches in the United States, Americans knew it only as one of Bieber's favorite places. However, since we were introduced to the Canadian chain, things have taken a turn. And it appears the prices at Tim Hortons are low for a reason...
Trustpilot reports that nearly 75% of customers described the chain as "Bad." Although the cheap prices are attractive, the food seems to be less than impressive. For example, when reviewing their menu items, customers shared that the hot coca tasted like "dishwater." Yikes.
36. Panera Bread
Panera Bread's signature bread bowl and pastries are many diners' favorite options to order at the eatery. But what about the other items on the restaurant's menu? According to consumers, they're far from impressive - compared to the chain's freshly baked dough.
TikTok user @Briannaraelenee, who is a former Panera employee, once shared that the restaurant's famous Mac N' Cheese isn't fresh at all. In fact, she posted a video showing how the frozen pasta packets were heated in the microwave before served to customers. Despite this, however, the chain is still a favorite among many.
A three-word phrase came to founder Harmon Dobson's mind when he came up with the idea of the now-famous restaurant: "What a burger!" Eventually, the phrase became the official name of the eatery. Considering the size of the burgers served at Whataburger, we can't help but agree - what a burger indeed!
However, although the chain promises its customers "Southern hospitality," several people would disagree. From inaccurate orders to long lines at the restaurant, Whataburger's has received a lot of criticism for its customer service, as well as a 2 1/2 star rating on Yelp.
34. Chipotle Mexican Grille
Despite Chipotle's relatively high prices for its famous guac and extra sour cream on the side, the majority of its consumers would agree it's well worth the money. Ever since it first opened in the 90's, the Mexican eatery has been a favorite across the country - and it's easy to see why.
With its spicy flavors and healthy options, the chain has become very popular across the country. However, its success doesn't come without some criticism: users on Trustpilot have shared their disapproval for the eatery's constantly increasing prices. One user even wrote, "The burritos were small and overpriced."
33. Five Guys
Especially proud of using the freshest ingredients of all, Five Guys also has one of the more expensive dishes on the menu, from burgers to nuggets. But the price comes with perks, like getting fries with an extra scoop in the bag, as promised on the restaurant's official site. But let's take a closer look at customer reviews...
Trustpilot tells us all we need to know in that regard. Nearly 50% of consumers ranked Five Guys as "Bad" on the site, saying that the high prices weren't worth the disappointing service they received. "Everyone who works there is full of attitudes," one user pointed out, while another said the menu "cost 3 times what it should."
32. Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut may be a go-to for some, but for others, the experience wasn't satisfactory enough for a second visit to the famous chain. Trustpilot revealed some of the comments left by online consumers, who complained about the poor customer service they received when ordering for delivery.
But the service wasn't the only disappointment - apparently, their pizza arrived both cold and soggy in many cases. This might explain the 2-star review from more than 1,400 consumers the chain received on Trustpilot. But seeing that it's still one of the largest chains in the world, Pizza Hut doesn't seem too fazed.
31. Papa John's
Alongside Domino's and Pizza Hut, Papa John's has long been one of America's favorite pizza chains across the country. With more than 5,000 branches across the world, we're curious how this pizza giant ranks compared to its famous competitors. Let's see what customers had to say...
It looks like Domino's or Pizza Hut might be better options for Americans craving a good pizza. On Trustpilot, 55% of customers described Papa John's as "Bad," noting a drop in the quality of the food as well as the customer service at the chain. One user even wrote that "Average John's" might be a more appropriate name.
30. Dairy Queen
Ever since it crowned itself Queen of all dairy desserts back in 1940, Dairy Queen has expanded its menu to include not only frozen sweets but fast food meals as well. However, it seems that this chain's hamburgers and hot dogs don't quite live up to its royal title.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Dairy Queen's burgers are "as poorly made as a fast-food burger can be... the gray and limpid patty was dry and flavorless." It seems only 43% of customers on Consumer Reports shared they would continue eating at the chain. But for now, it's safe to trust that its ice cream won't disappoint.
29. El Pollo Loco
Originally a Mexican-based restaurant, El Pollo Loco has become a favorite among Mexican food lovers in the United States ever since it expanded into Los Angeles in 1980. Unfortunately for the chain, a survey by Consumer Reports revealed that only 43% wouldn't mind going back to the restaurant for more.
Customers complained not only about the service at El Pollo Loco, but also about the quality of the food they were served. Not only that, but a few even claimed that dishes were overpriced, considering the lack of flavor in the food. But although less than half the customers were satisfied, the chain seems to be doing well.
28. Taco Bell
Although opinions on Taco Bell may vary, the chain was once quite popular nationwide. In fact, it was even voted America's favorite Mexican restaurant in 2018. The chain seems to appeal to everyone, given its wide variety of menu options that range from tacos to chalupa.
Despite the wide range of options the restaurant offers, it seems customers aren't too fond of the food itself. Some people said the portions at Taco Bell were too small, while others alleged that the food gave them stomachaches. Either way, only about 43% of customers would go back, according to Consumer Reports.
Famous for its chicken and biscuits, Bojangles is one fast-food chain that can't be found just anywhere in the country. It only has locations in 14 states, most of which are in the south. But how well does the restaurant rate, compared to other fast food places around the United States?
One person said the restaurant's biscuit had "so many carbs, so little flavor," while North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis disagreed: "Bojangles makes the best 'fast food' biscuits, period." We'll leave it to our readers to decide which opinion to side with. Either way, only 43% of customers said they'd return to Bojangles.
With a slogan that reads "eat fresh," one would think that Subway's food would use the freshest ingredients in the game. However, some disappointed customers pointed out that that's not exactly the case. Though it was a fast-food chain with the most locations in the world in 2020, that's no longer the case.
Over the past several years, Subway has closed thousands of its branches internationally, and it looks like this could simply be explained by a few customer reviews of the restaurant. While many people said the eatery was relatively clean, only 42% of Consumer Reports' taste testers said they might give Subway a second chance.
Krystal's relatively small and square hamburgers remind many of its customers a little of White Castle. However, this fast-food chain ranks a bit higher on this list than its rival. The criticism that Krystal's customers did offer, though, was that the burgers there were too bland and the patty too small for the oversized buns.
The good news for Krystal is that, unlike other fast-food chains, customers at least weren't disgusted by their food. Their only criticism was that it wasn't special - a comment that earns the chain a few points compared to what was said about its competitors. Consumer Reports noted that 41% of people would go back to Krystal.
Only about ten years ago, Domino's Pizza was getting complaints from its customers, who said the pizza tasted like "cardboard" and claimed that the food at the chain was "mass-produced." As a result, the chain launched its "Pizza Turnaround" with the goal of changing Domino's reputation worldwide.
But did the restaurant's new recipes manage to save Domino's status? According to Consumer Reports, only about 41% of customers said they'd give the pizza chain a second shot. Although many customers still don't think Domino's pizza is excellent, the chain's good deals have several customers coming back for more.
23. Long John Silver's
Although the food at Long John Silver's isn't of top quality, the relatively cheap prices may be enough to convince customers to give their fish and chips a shot. However, a Consumer Reports survey tells us that only 41% of customers said they'd return to the restaurant. Several diners claimed the food was overcooked and oily.
"Never again will I ever get the baja shrimp tacos or the fish tacos, they were so nasty," explained one customer who wasn't happy with their experience. "I don't recommend either of them." On top of that, several people criticized the chain for the unhealthy ingredients used in its food.
22. Taco John's
The next item on our lists shows us that the quality of food doesn't matter if the staff gets the orders wrong. Multiple customers have complained that their orders were wrong or had missing ingredients. "I honestly got a tortilla with maybe a tablespoon of beans, a sprinkle of cheese, and a little sauce," griped one customer.
"Unreal. Never seen anything this bad," added another disappointed diner. Seeing that a few others wrote similar reviews about the chain, a survey by Consumer Reports showed that only about 41% of customers would go back to eat at the restaurant again.
As most of us know, KFC had to close around 1,000 franchises over the past 20 years because it was suffering financially. Nevertheless, the fast-food chain is still going strong, even managing to get through a rumor saying that "mutant chickens" were used to make food at the restaurant.
One good thing about KFC is that their prices aren't that bad - in fact, a giant, $20 bucket of fried chicken can feed the whole family, along with the abundance of side dishes that come with the meal. However, a few customers did say that "the chicken went from tasty to very disgusting in the past two years!"
The average mallgoer is probably familiar with the heavenly aroma of Cinnabon's cinnamon rolls that fills the spaces between stores. But we all know food doesn't always taste as good as it smells. Unfortunately, this was one of those times - in fact, several customers claimed they were served old pastries that had been reheated.
Not only that, but many diners also reported getting poor service at the chain, which made their experience even less satisfactory. After conducting a survey, Consumer Reports found that only 40% of customers would go back to Cinnabon. Luckily for the chain, though, some people can't say no to a glazed bun while shopping.
19. Del Taco
Despite the large number of fast-food taco restaurants on this list, Del Taco ranks below its competitors. "My first and last trip to Del Taco!" one customer shared. "I understand it's fast food, but this made its competitors seem like a Michelin star-rated restaurant."
Other diners claimed the quality of food they were served makes sense when considering the low price of the meals at Del Taco. The conclusion of a study by Consumer Reports determined that 40% of people who went to Del Taco would go back and give it a second try.
18. Einstein Bros. Bagels
Although bagels and coffee are supposed to be a specialty at Einstein Bros. Bagels, a few of the chain's customers believe it may be time for the eatery to find a new area of expertise. A Consumer Reports survey shows that only 40% of customers would like to return to the chain.
"I can tell you that Einstein Bagels are not the real thing," noted one customer. Some of the criticism by diners is the bagels aren't properly cooked and are lacking in flavor. Several people also claimed that the coffee is of low quality. But these reviews aren't even the worst ones we've seen directed at fast-food chains...
17. White Castle
Found mainly in the Midwest, White Castle has become quite famous in the region for its small, square hamburgers. However, due to the tiny portions at the chain, one serving is typically not enough for the average diner, and customers say they often remain unsatisfied by the time they've finished their food.
When the chain appeared in the 2004 comedy Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, some viewers believed the characters would have been better off choosing one of White Castle's competitors instead. Despite Consumer Reports saying that only 39% of customers would go back, the chain is still thriving.
16. Panda Express
Since it's the largest Asian restaurant chain in the United States, it makes sense that Panda Express can be found in shopping malls throughout the country. However, its food has been called inauthentic and even unappetizing by some diners. "Do I gnaw on my own thumb, or do I get orange chicken?" said Chef David Chang.
The good news is that the restaurant is squeaky clean and has passed every health inspection. For those who don't mind the authenticity of their food, Panda Express may actually be a great option! But it looks like a clean kitchen isn't what 39% of disapproving taste testers from Consumer Reports are looking for.
15. Church’s Chicken
For those looking for the perfect comfort food, Church's Chicken might seem like a fast-food restaurant with all the right ingredients. Unfortunately, though, a few unsatisfied customers may think that there's a lot of room for improvement in this restaurant's recipes.
Despite the good texture of their chicken, customers pointed out a lack of flavor in their meals at Church's. However, the restaurant's buttered biscuits, which consumers described as "rock hard," may have been what earned the chain such a low score, with Consumer Reports finding that only 38% of diners said they'd return.
Wendy's may be a favorite among Americans today, but that doesn't mean this fast-food chain hasn't had a rough past. The first major blow to this restaurant's reputation was the time a human finger was allegedly found in one of their meals in 2005. In 2018, a customer actually found a live mouse in a bag of buns!
Despite these obstacles, Wendy's still has thousands of locations across the country. However, that doesn't mean all issues with the food have been fixed. One customer said the "hamburger was tasteless and dry, did not taste like a burger." Ultimately, Consumer Reports found only 38% of diners willing to return.
13. Little Caesar's
Little Caesar's $5 pizza is particularly attractive to hungry college students looking for a quick and cheap bite to grab in what little free time they have. But while the low price of this cheesy meal is certainly convenient, we can't help but wonder whether it's really worth it for these hungry customers...
Although Little Caesar's has had thousands of customers over the years, a Consumer Reports study has found that only 37% would be willing to dine at the pizza chain again. One person said the pizza was "the absolute worst in terms of everything," while another noted, "you get what you pay for." There might be some truth to that...
Fans of Checkers love the fast-food chain's burgers, hot dogs, fries, and milkshakes. But while many people have enjoyed their experience at this restaurant, there's a large group of others who don't quite agree. According to these diners, the chain could do better in terms of customer service.
Although they expected the food to be well worth the long time they spent waiting for it to arrive, some customers were utterly disappointed with the meal they received. "The food was made so bad that it fell apart before I can even take my first bite," said one customer. Consumer Reports says only 36% would go back.
11. Sonic Drive-In
We have no doubt that customers enjoy Sonic Drive-In's retro theme and roadside pickup. However, we're curious as to whether these features alone are enough to keep American consumers satisfied. As it turns out, several diners enjoyed their experience at the restaurant up until they took their first bite into the food...
The Chicago Tribune notes that "the oversized bun deserves the most scorn, though the pallid-looking patty deserves to be covered up with something." Based on this analysis, the best advice we can give our readers is to drown Sonic's patty in lots of sauce. According to Consumer Reports, 36% of diners would return.
10. Auntie Anne's
Auntie Anne's is another one of those shopping mall pretzel chains that manage to lure hungry consumers looking for something to snack on as they go from store to store. Like Cinnabon, the chain has received feedback from its customers - and it's not so good...
While some customers still can't resist a warm pretzel from their favorite Auntie at the mall, others have been disappointed to often find their food stale or even burnt. The chain has expanded its menu to include options for pizza and hot dogs as well, but Consumer Reports says only 35% of people are convinced to return.
A once-popular fast-food chain has seen more than half of its stores close over the years due to the financial struggles it's experienced. From nearly 5,000 locations in 2007, the number of Quiznos franchises in 2021 was about 255. But what exactly caused this downfall?
It seems that customers at this chain are not only unsatisfied with the food, but also aren't fond of its steep prices either. According to Consumer Reports, only 35% of consumers say they'd be willing to give Quiznos a second shot. It seems the low quality of the food at the restaurant doesn't make up for its high prices.
Hardee's isn't a restaurant chain most people are familiar with, since most of its franchises are located in the Southern and Midwestern regions of the United States. Although they're known for the unique hexagon-shaped burgers they serve, it seems the shape of the meal isn't enough to keep customers satisfied.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Hardee's burger toppings "lack flavor, and, worst of all, the meat has a spongy texture without any recognizable beef flavor." Taste testers from Consumer Reports couldn't help but agree and ultimately determined that only 34% of Hardee's customers are happy enough to go back.
7. Jimmy John's
On the glass door of every Jimmy John's restaurant is a sign that reads, "free smells." But it seems that the chain needs to offer a lot more than just good smells to keep its customers coming back for more. Their 2019 promotion showed just how badly the restaurant was in need of more diners.
According to their ad, customers who could prove they lived outside of the delivery zone could enter to win a $250,000 reward for a house within the area. Those who lived within the delivery area could expect their food to arrive "Freaky Fast, Freaky Fresh." Based on a Consumer Reports study, only 34% were convinced to return.
The experience of passing through an airport or movie theater may include getting a whiff of Sbarro - and for those who are hungry enough, ordering a slice of pizza with a drink may seem like a good idea. According to several customers, the food might not be the freshest or most appetizing, but it's at least edible.
"You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food," said Neil Irin of The New York Times. According to Consumer Reports, 34% of customers find the availability of Sbarro to be a good enough reason to dine there.
5. Burger King
For decades, the home of the whopper has been offering its customers all kinds of new and unique menu items - ranging from chicken fries to vegan burgers. But unfortunately, it seems not everyone is impressed with the quality of food at Burger King, with only 33% of customers satisfied, according to Consumer Reports.
One customer who's voiced his complaint said, "it was the most disgusting thing I've ever had. I took one bite and spit it out. I don't think it was chicken." Luckily for the chain, other customers seem to be rather happy with the eatery, considering their prices are on the low side.
4. Carl's Jr.
What started out as a small and simple hot dog stand in 1941 quickly expanded to a well-known fast-food chain with locations all over the country. It seems the founder, Carl Karcher, had his intuition in the right place when he spent his life savings on the small cart all those decades ago.
However, the success hasn't been without criticism, with only 33% of customers enjoying the food enough to go back for more. Not only that, but many people also find the commercials a bit disturbing. "We believe in putting hot models in our commercials because ugly ones don't sell burgers," said former CEO Andy Puzder.
3. Jack in the Box
Fast-food lovers who live on the west coast know that Jack in the Box is not merely the name of a children's toy. The burger chain is known for its deep-fried tacos and seasoned curly fries. However, a few customers who didn't enjoy the food at the restaurant called it "tough and tasteless."
A few unsatisfied customers even said the food was "so gross and cold we threw it away and left." However, those who enjoy their meals at the chain have a large menu full of options to choose from, including a wide range of burgers, all-day breakfast, and tacos. Consumer Reports found only 33% of customers would return.
2. Cici's Pizza
The perks of having Cici's Pizza around include a large amount of food for a relatively low price. In fact, for just a few bucks, the chain offers its customers an all-you-can-eat buffet of a variety of pizza, pasta, and desserts to choose from! But apparently, the quantity isn't as concerning to their customers as the quality.
Cici's even got the nickname "Dollar Tree of food establishments" from one unhappy diner. Another customer called the food at the chain "actually seriously terrible." But for those who are looking for the bright side: at least the prices can get you a decent amount of food here. Consumer Reports said only 28% of diners would return.
Despite the simplicity of its design, McDonald's red-and-yellow logo is probably one of the most famous in the world. However, not everyone who's familiar with this fast-food chain is a fan of its meals - especially after seeing the amounts of pink slime in the 2004 documentary Super Size Me about the chain.
By revealing the ingredients behind those mouth-watering McDonald's meals, director Morgan Spurlock managed to significantly change most of the public's perception of the eatery. And it certainly showed up in Consumer Reports' survey, which revealed that only 28% of customers would eat at McDonald's again.