Despite the quick-service industry’s continued battle for improved sales following the recession, a recent study shows that many of the larger chains are in fact showing an increase—in customer satisfaction.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released its annual report on satisfaction in the airline, hotel, express delivery, and restaurant industries, and many in the quick-serve business boast significant bumps.

KFC leads the pack between 2009 and 2010 with an 8.7 percent bump in customer satisfaction, followed by Burger King (7.2 percent) and Papa John’s (6.7 percent).

Papa John’s has the highest overall satisfaction score among the top quick-serve brands, with an 80 out of 100. It’s followed by Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks at 78.

“We found that in almost every category there was a small decline with smaller chains … while the biggest chains in those categories actually improved,” says David Van Amburg, managing director of the ACSI.

Indeed, Van Amburg says smaller chains—categorized as “All Other” brands in the study—took a hit in the ACSI report.

In its 2010 study, the ACSI reported that “All Other” brands were down 8.4 percent in customer satisfaction, which Van Amburg chalks up to some of the more high-quality chains with fewer units.

“In a down economy, in an economy where consumers are more challenged in terms of their spending, the biggest chains … are probably best positioned to leverage generating revenue via value,” Van Amburg says.

“When the economy is good, those kind of smaller establishments tend to thrive, but when the economy is on a downturn, it’s much harder for those small players to leverage price, to leverage value. As a result, satisfaction will typically suffer, because in a down economy, what are customers looking for? Not so much quality as value.”

v The ACSI studies specifically 10 of the largest quick-serve brands: Papa John’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, Wendy’s, KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s.

The quick-service industry as a whole was down 3.8 percent in customer satisfaction between 2009 and 2010. Part of that was because of the decline in the “All Other” brand category, but part of it was because of the chain that was hardest hit: McDonald’s.

The Golden Arches was down 4.3 percent in customer satisfaction, the only of the 10 big chains studied by the ACSI that was down. It ranked as a 67 out of 100 in customer satisfaction.

“What happened with McDonald’s over the last year is its revenue has grown, significantly more than its competitors,” Van Amburg says.

“What seems to be happening here is that as McDonald’s customer base is growing, they’re actually generating more revenue … but [customers are] less satisfied, and they’re actually less satisfied with McDonald’s experience than they might have been with a Wendy’s experience or a KFC experience or someone else in the business.”

By Sam Oches

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