A new nationwide study by Market Force Information reveals consumers’ favorite quick-service restaurant chains in four popular food categories: pizza, Mexican fare, chicken, and sandwiches. Papa Murphy’s topped the pizza category for the second consecutive year, Chipotle and Qdoba tied in the Mexican category, Chick-fil-A led for chicken, and Jason’s Deli ranked first for sandwiches.
For the rankings, Market Force polled more than 12,700 consumers who were asked to rate their satisfaction with their last experience at a given restaurant and their likelihood to recommend it to others. That data was averaged to rate each restaurant brand on a Composite Loyalty Index. The Market Force study also looked at the attributes that drive these preferences, analyzing factors such as service, food quality and value, as well as the latest industry trends involving social media and mobile technology.
For the second year running, Papa Murphy’s was voted favorite pizza chain, based on satisfaction. The Washington-based company differentiates from other pizza restaurants by making pizzas for customers to take home and bake themselves. It edged out Pizza Ranch, which ranked second, followed by Papa John’s, Domino’s, and CiCi’s Pizza.
In the battle of the burritos, Chipotle and Qdoba Mexican Grill tied for first place. Both Colorado-based restaurant chains have put a unique stamp on their approach to food: Chipotle focuses on the use of natural ingredients and Qdoba on a varied list of menu items such as specialty burritos, soup, and three-cheese queso sauce. El Pollo Loco moved up several spots in this year’s study to land in second place, and was followed by rapidly growing Moe’s Southwest Grill and Del Taco.
As consumers’ appetite for chicken continues to grow, so does the contest for favorite chicken chain. Chick-fil-A snagged the top spot in Market Force’s 2015 QSR study with 74 percent, just edging out Raising Cane’s, which earned 73 percent on the Composite Loyalty Index. In the 2014 study, the tables were turned with Raising Cane’s ranking first and Chick-fil-A a close second. Raising Cane’s is a regional chain focused in the Louisiana area and known for its chicken fingers, which are growing in popularity among adults and children alike. It has undergone rapid growth in the past few years and has plans to expand to other parts of the country. Zaxby’s and Wingstop came in third and fourth, respectively, as they did in 2014.
Sandwiches continue to be a growing quick-service and fast-casual restaurant sector, excelling even when the economy was in a downturn. Within the sector, Jason’s Deli has evidently found the secret to consumers’ stomachs, beating out incumbent Firehouse Subs to be named favorite sandwich chain in this year’s study. Family-owned Jason’s Deli has grown to more than 250 locations in nearly 30 states, differentiating itself with a salad bar and a menu focused on healthier food. McAlister’s Deli, Jersey Mike’s, and Panera Bread also fared well on the list.
Market Force also included three convenience store brands in the sandwich category this year, given that convenience stores are increasingly putting the squeeze on quick serves by offering customized and fresh food options. Of them, Wawa was the strongest performer, scoring nearly as well as traditional sandwich brands such as Jimmy John’s and McCalister’s Deli—and clearly outperforming Subway.
Market Force’s study shows the use of technology to place orders and pay for them at QSRs and fast-casual restaurants is taking off. In fact, approximately half of consumers said they had used some form of technology to place their food orders within the previous 90 days: 20 percent used a smartphone app; 16 percent used a tablet at the table; and 13 percent used a kiosk in the restaurant. What’s more, one in five (19 percent) diners noted that they had paid for their food using either a mobile app or digital wallet within the previous 90 days.
“Most restaurant brands are focusing on service as their competitive differentiator today, but that may not be the case tomorrow as technology for ordering and paying continues to attract attention,” says Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force. “Our study found that nearly one in three consumers prefer using tabletop technology or apps to place their orders and pay. That’s a surprising shift, and speaks to consumers’ growing thirst for convenience, speed and accuracy.”