"It's virtually impossible to live anywhere in America without having a fast food chain outlet in the neighborhood," says Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. “We know that these chains play an important role in feeding our population. That's the reason why we undertook this survey and why we believe the results are so important.”
The survey results divided the chains into four categories: Large (up to 5,000 U.S. outlets), Mega (more than 5,000), Full-Service (with table service), and Quick-Refreshment (focusing on beverages, ice cream, and the like).
Wendy's is this year's Top Food champion, dominating the Mega-Chain category. Also holding onto its title is West Coast burger chain In-N-Out Burger, which again takes Top Food among Large Chains. New to the survey is regional seafood chain Bonefish Grill, which stormed the competition to take top food honors in the Full-Service category, while Ben & Jerry's prevailed in the Quick-Refreshment category.
Celebrating their commitment to health-conscious menu items are this year's winners for Top Healthy Options. Subway wins in the Mega-Chain category, while Jamba Juice's all natural fruit smoothies helped them take the prize in the Quick-Refreshment category. Jason's Deli won for healthy options among large chains, and Bonefish Grill's specialized seafood menu was judged most healthy in the full-service category.
Value-oriented restaurants offering good but inexpensive alternatives to home cooking are especially appreciated during the down economic times. Taking home the prize for Best Value among fast food establishments is McDonald's, which also celebrated top honors for its Breakfasts, Value Menu, Child Friendliness, and Drive Thrus. The remaining top-ranked values among Fast Food chains are (in order) Panera Bread, Chipotle, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-A. The top three full-service winners for Best Value are Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, and The Cheesecake Factory.
Surveyors have ordered a double-shot of love for Starbucks, which wins in the category of Best Coffee once again. The Seattle-based coffee behemoth with over 16,000 branches beat out rival Dunkin' Donuts, which came in second, followed by McDonald's in third place.
Whether being served from a drive-thru window or a server on roller skates, burgers, fries, and shakes remain the most timeless fast food menu items. This year, Virginia-based burger chain Five Guys has earned bragging rights in the hotly contested Best Burger category, edging out regional and mega-chain competitors alike. However, no chain has been able to dethrone McDonald's, which wins in the category of Best French Fries for the third straight survey. In the category of Best Milkshakes, Dairy Queen has stepped into the spotlight taking home this year's prize.