The quick-service industry is closing the customer satisfaction gap standing between it and the full-service industry, according to a new study.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), released today, found that customer satisfaction with the quick-serve industry had increased 5.3 percent between 2010 and 2011, to a score of 79 out of 100.

The full-service industry, meanwhile, increased only 1.2 percent to a score of 82.

David VanAmburg, managing director of the ACSI, says the quick-serve industry is enjoying its highest score in the ACSI’s 17-year history. 

“Certainly cost is a big part of what’s attracting customers and satisfying them at this time,” he says. “It’s very, very common in a challenged economy, as we’ve seen over the last two or three years now, for customers to gravitate toward good value propositions.”

Pizza Hut was the highest-ranked quick-serve brand, with a score of 81. It was followed in the top 5 by Little Caesars (80), Starbucks (80), Papa John’s (79), and Domino’s (77).

VanAmburg says pizza companies usually do well in the ACSI study because of their takeout and delivery model.

“With pizza, they really have figured out the formula of creating hot food delivered to your door—I don’t think burger chains are ever going to go that route,” he says.

Variety of menu offerings also helps pizza concepts, VanAmburg says, as many of them have added pastas, wings, and desserts.

Wendy’s was the top-ranked burger quick serve, with a score of 77, good for sixth place overall. It was followed by Taco Bell (76), Burger King (75), and KFC (75).

McDonald’s, meanwhile, sat in last place among the 10 brands studied for the ACSI, with a score of 72.

VanAmburg says it’s difficult for McDonald’s to rate much higher on the study because of the sheer size of the company, and because of its significant business with kids and families.

Still, McDonald’s increased its score by 7.5 percent between 2010 and 2011, which VanAmburg attributes to its coffee business and focus on refurbishing stores.

“Their business model is really growth [and] value, but we’ve seen a big change for them in the last year,” he says. “They’ve definitely improved, even if they are still last in the industry.”

For quick-serve restaurants to maintain their satisfaction growth in an improving economy, VanAmburg says, they will have to focus on more than just their value proposition.

“It’ll really be more of a focus on the quality and the experience versus the price,” he says. “So customer service, the quality of the food itself, the variety of the food that’s offered—that’s going to play the biggest role if they’re going to keep up the trend.”

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, News, Pizza, Burger King, Domino's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Little Caesars, McDonald's, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Wendy's