Industry News | August 21, 2013

In-N-Out, Whataburger Among Most Satisfying Burger Chains

Empathica, a global provider of Customer Experience Management (CEM) solutions to multiunit enterprises, released burger brand findings from the 2013 Quick Service Restaurant Benchmark Study, which surveyed 10,000 U.S. consumers and determined brand rankings in categories such as food, staff, and atmosphere, as well as the drivers behind social media engagement and loyalty.

American burger-brand guests were asked to rate their recent visit to a burger chain on a number of factors, and a “percent delighted” score was calculated by averaging ratings of overall satisfaction, likelihood of revisiting, value for money paid, and likelihood of recommending.

The Benchmark then ranked America’s top quick-service burger brands from highest percent delighted to lowest, with the ranks as follows:

  • In-N-Out Burger: 66 percent
  • Five Guys: 57 percent
  • Whataburger: 49 percent
  • Culver’s: 48 percent
  • Steak ‘n Shake: 46 percent
  • Krystal: 43 percent
  • Sonic Drive-In: 43 percent
  • Dairy Queen: 40 percent
  • Jack in the Box: 36 percent
  • White Castle: 36 percent
  • Carl’s Jr.: 35 percent
  • Hardee’s: 34 percent
  • Wendy’s: 34 percent
  • McDonald’s: 32 percent
  • Checkers: 30 percent
  • Burger King: 29 percent

Findings show that the top three burger brands by sales—McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s—are ranked at or near the bottom of guest satisfaction in almost all categories including food, staff, menu, and atmosphere.

These results demonstrate that a high number of locations and visits do not necessarily lead to high customer satisfaction, a key driver in customer loyalty.

“Our findings reveal that the top drivers of burger chain visits include speed, price, and menu, followed by portion, staff, and promotion,” says Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica.

“However, these are not the same drivers of customer satisfaction. The ultimate goal for location managers is to keep their guests coming back,” he adds. “Most [quick-service] burger brands are delivering a good product to guests, but this is table stakes in driving customer delight. To achieve this goal, burger [concepts] must provide a continually exceptional experience in addition to a great-tasting, quickly served food item. Conversely, the smaller specialty burger chains like In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys, and Whataburger do a consistent job on both product and service quality.”

Benchmark results show factors important to Americans when selecting a burger quick serve for dine-in, take-out, and drive-thru experiences. Food taste was the top factor in each dining experience category, while menu variety was least important when making a burger chain choice.

Americans continually cite “felt valued” and “attentive staff” as important factors when making their burger chain selection. Guests rely on previous experiences when selecting a burger concept, whether they select a dine-in, take-out, or drive-thru option.

Empathica findings reveal marked differences in customer satisfaction for several quick-serve burger brands between lunch and dinner dining. While In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys held strong at the top two rankings for both meals, Krystal dropped from ranking seventh during lunch to 15th at dinner.

Jack in the Box had an opposite switch, moving from 13th at lunch to sixth during dinner.

“Interestingly, several brands are really failing to deliver what customers expect across occasions. It is critical that brands deliver a high-quality, consistent experience regardless of whether the guest comes into a location in Dallas for lunch or a late night snack in Des Moines,” Edwards says. “We know that customer loyalty is the sum of all their experiences with the brand, so consistency really is king—customers have to know what they are getting, regardless of location or occasion.

“The burger chain Benchmark results are consistent with what Empathica has found in our overall [quick-serve] findings,” he continues. “It’s clear that location number and size do not equate with high customer satisfaction. National burger chains need to focus on improving the little things that make a guest’s experience exceptional, as well as making it seamless throughout the time of day or occasion choice.”