Industry News | March 13, 2017 | By Alex Dixon | QSR Exclusive Brief

In-N-Out is America's Favorite Burger Chain

In-N-Out topped every single customer experience category in the burger segment. image used with permission.
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In-N-Out, Chipotle, Marco’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, and Firehouse Subs topped respective categories in a new study to identify American consumers’ favorite quick-service restaurant chains in five segments.

The study, conducted by Market Force Information, ranked concepts offering burgers, Mexican food, pizza, chicken, and sandwiches.

“Across categories, the perceived value [quality of food plus price] is very important. [Quick serves] perform well if customers feel they are getting value for money spent,” says Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force. “Also, service matters, whether that is speed of service or friendliness of service.”

In each food category, Market Force ranked the brands based on staff friendliness, value for money spent, food quality, speed of service, overall cleanliness, curb appeal, atmosphere, and healthy options.

In-N-Out topped every single customer experience category in the burger segment, with Culver’s and Five Guys following close behind in several areas. McDonald’s placed at the bottom in five of the eight categories.

In the Mexican food segment, Chipotle topped the speed of service, food quality, overall cleanliness, and curb appeal while Moe’s Southwest Grill topped the atmosphere and staff friendliness categories. Del Taco topped value for money spent and El Pollo Loco topped healthy option offerings.

While Marco’s Pizza edged out Papa Murphy’s—a consumer favorite the past three years in the study—to take the top spot in the pizza category, the brand lost out to Papa Murphy’s and Pizza Ranch in every customer experience category. Papa Murphy’s led the competition in offering healthy options, and ranked highest for value, service speed, food quality, and cleanliness. Pizza Ranch was found to have the best atmosphere and curb appeal, as well as the friendliest staff. Marco’s made gains this year in service and value, according to Market Force.

In one of the fast-growing segments in the quick-serve space, Chick-fil-A was named favorite chicken chain favorite for the third year in a row with a 78 percent score while Raising Cane’s ranked second with 70 percent. Chick-fil-A received the highest scores in every category except healthy options, a category that went to El Pollo Loco for the second year in a row. KFC tallied the lowest scores for food and atmosphere of the chains studied, as did Wingstop for value and speed.

While Firehouse Subs took the top spot in four of the eight customer experience categories for the sandwich segment, including food quality, cleanliness, friendliness, and atmosphere, other brands emerged as winners in the remaining categories. Jason’s Deli ranked highest for healthy options, Jimmy John’s for service speed, Wawa for value, and McAlister’s Deli for curb appeal.

Flink says that consumer tastes have changed across the board in recent years, as winning brands are focused on higher quality food and slower service.

“We are seeing higher ratings for fast casual concepts and relatively poor ratings for the bigger chains focused on speed,” Flink says.

According to the study, quick-service guests are also increasingly using technology to place orders. Fifty-five percent of customers used a smartphone app or table tablet to place orders over the past 90 days, a 39 percent increase since 2015.

Under 50 percent of customers said they prefer to order from someone at the counter, a more than 20 percent decrease from the 70 percent who reported that they prefer to do so in 2015.

“We are seeing strong year-over-year trends indicating that the adoption of consumer technology in the quick-service industry is increasing dramatically,” Flink says. “Recent announcements of [quick serves] rolling out more kiosks, apps, and delivery services should accelerate that adoption even further and have a huge impact on the future of dining out.”