The Worst Fast-Casual Restaurants, Ranked
Fast-casual restaurants caught on in the ‘90s as healthier, tastier alternatives to traditional fast food. They don't offer full table service, but they tend to offer better ingredients than most over-processed drive-thru meals.
However, a study by Nation's Restaurant News compared 126 popular restaurants and found that several fast-casual joints earned low marks in customer loyalty. Check out how the worst fast-casual restaurants stack up against each other, and learn which one is the worst of them all.
30. Hungry Howie’s
Hungry Howie's is the 11th largest pizza chain in the United States, with more than 550 locations. The chain is most commonly known for its Flavored Crust Pizza, with options ranging from Butter Cheese to Sesame and Garlic Herb.
29. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Popeyes enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 2019, thanks to the introduction of its tasty fried chicken sandwich. The first restaurant, which opened in 1972 in Louisiana, attempted to compete with fast-food giant KFC. The brand has since carved out its own lane with its signature Cajun spices and less focus on fast food.
Blimpie is a successful sandwich chain that started with three high school friends from Jersey City. They referred to their sandwiches as "blimps" because they didn't call sandwiches "subs." The original store was a hit, and now you can find a Blimpie in 25 countries.
27. Firehouse Subs
Firehouse Subs first opened in 1994 in Florida by brothers and former firefighters Robin and Chris Sorensen. They've expanded their empire to more than 1,100 sandwich shops across the country. In 2005, the owners created the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to provide aid to public safety organizations.
Togo's first started in a tiny shack in Beverly, Massachusetts. The restaurant was so small that only four people could fit inside at one time. The sign outside read "Sandwiches To Go" with "To Go" being the largest words on the sign.
25. McAlister’s Deli
McAlister's Deli is a sandwich restaurant with more than 400 locations throughout the country. Besides sandwiches, McAlister's is also known for "Texas-size" baked potatoes and boxed lunches. You can wash down the deli’s meals with their Famous Sweet Teas, available by the glass or by the gallon.
It’s time to step away from sandwiches and head into the chicken coop for some Southern cooking. With more than 900 locations in the Southern United States, Zaxby's is the place to go for fried chicken. The restaurant is best known for chicken fingers and dipping sauces with names like "nuclear" and "insane."
23. Baja Fresh
Baja Fresh is fast-casual's answer to Tex Mex. Each restaurant features a signature self-serve salsa bar with fresh ingredients. Their commitment to freshness helped them open up stores from California to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
22. Boston Market
Boston Market first opened in 1984 and sold rotisserie chickens with big side dishes. The concept caught on quickly, and the restaurant expanded its menu as it opened more stores. The popular chain currently has more than 460 stores and offers all sorts of deli favorites.
21. Charley’s Philly Steaks
Charleys Philly Steaks first opened in 1986 on campus at Ohio State University. The juicy cheesesteaks have bizarre ingredients, including pepperoni, jalapeños and lots of bacon. With 600 locations in 17 countries, Charley’s claims to be "the #1 Philly cheesesteak in the world!"
20. Golden Corral
If you're hungry, but you're not sure what you actually want to eat, you should head to Golden Corral. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in an all-you-can-eat buffet format. You can literally serve yourself all three meals at once if you've got the appetite for it!
19. Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Potbelly Sandwich Shop has been selling sandwiches and other meals for more than 42 years. The signature sandwich, A Wreck, comes with salami, roast beef, turkey, ham, cheese and mayo. You know, the perfect ingredients to give you that signature potbelly.
Did you know TCBY stands for "The Country's Best Yogurt?" We didn't either. The frozen yogurt chain first opened in 1981 in Little Rock, Arkansas, but has since expanded to more than 470 locations, making it one of the largest frozen yogurt chains in the country.
17. Which Wich
Which Wich specializes in sandwiches and salads. Their ordering system separates them slightly from the other fast-casual restaurants on this list. Customers use red Sharpie markers to select their meals on pre-printed sandwich bags. If you draw something unique enough on your sandwich bag, it could get hung up on the wall of fame!
16. Corner Bakery Cafe
Corner Bakery Cafe knows how to separate itself from fast-food restaurants. Their shops all look like upscale bakeries with checkered floors and comfortable seating. They also provide various healthy food options for all your breakfast and lunch cravings.
15. Noodles & Company
Noodles & Company serves pasta dishes with recipes from across the globe. The Italian options include pesto cavatappi while the Asian options include Korean beef noodles. With more than 450 locations and a wide array of noodle dishes, you would think the chain knows the recipe for success.
Smashburger first opened in 2007, making it one of the newest restaurant chains on the list. In only 12 years, the burger chain has expanded to more than 370 locations across the country. Why the interesting name? Smashburger comes from the way they "smash" the never-frozen patties on flat-top grills.
Subway came from humble beginnings in 1965. It started out as Pete's Super Submarines but changed its name to Subway a few years later. As of June 2017, there are approximately 42,000 locations in more than 100 countries.
12. Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain, which means "At the Good Bread" in French, is a café and bakery owned by Panera Bread. It offers all sorts of baked goods and pastries that are perfect for your morning commute. The chain currently has more than 200 locations throughout the United States, India and Thailand.
The first Domino's Pizza served up pizza pies back in December 1960. Through the years, the monster chain has expanded to more than 16,000 Domino's locations, thanks in large part to a smart business strategy. The company sells pizza out of brick-and-mortar locations but also relies on speedy home deliveries to boost sales.
10. Taco John’s
Taco John's first opened in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1969. 50 years later, the "West-Mex" restaurant operates in 27 states with almost 400 locations. The signature dish isn’t what you might think. Potato Olés, which are deep-fried potato nuggets smothered with various toppings, are the main crowd pleaser.
9. Del Taco
Del Taco sells American-style Mexican food — along with burgers, fries and shakes. By offering two different menu styles, the chain capitalizes on both markets in the Western United States. It's a solid business strategy that helped them expand to more than 550 restaurants.
8. Baskin Robbins
Baskin Robbins is one of the longest-running ice cream shops in America. Founded in 1945 by Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins, the chain currently operates in nearly 50 countries. They're most known for offering 31 flavors of ice cream, so you could have a different flavor every day of any month.
7. Panda Express
With more than 2,000 locations spread across the country, Panda Express is the largest Chinese-American chain. The restaurant is most known for signature combo meals, where you can combine a noodle or rice with other Chinese-inspired cuisines. The company takes in $3 billion a year and employs almost 40,000 workers.
6. Church’s Chicken
Church's Chicken started from humble beginnings in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1952. The restaurant initially only sold chicken but slowly added more items as the business grew. The menu now includes items like fried okra, jalapeño poppers and honey biscuits.
5. Little Caesars
Little Caesars is the third-largest pizza chain in the United States and offers two different kinds of pizza menus: HOT-N-READY and specialty. The HOT-N-READY items are available for immediate take-out — a cheap, popular concept — while specialty items include the "ExtraMostBestest" products. Grammar is clearly not their forte.
4. Steak ‘n Shake
Steak 'n Shake opened 85 years ago in Normal, Illinois. The 24-hour restaurant is famous for its steakburgers, which are made of T-bone, sirloin and round steaks. With round-the-clock hours, the restaurant offers a menu with breakfast, lunch and dinner items.
3. Quizno’s Subs
Quizno's is a sandwich shop that specializes in toasted subs. Its founder, Jimmy Lambatos, was an experienced chef who styled his subs like the oven-baked sandwiches he grew up eating back in New York. According to Lambatos, "Heating the sandwich brings out the flavors."
2. Jimmy John’s
Jimmy John's is a restaurant chain that offers quick service and delivery options. The menu is stacked with 20 creative sandwich choices, including the Gargantuan, which consists of five kinds of meat. The chain first found success when the owner hand-delivered orders to students at Eastern Illinois University.
Ah, Sbarro. Home of the Original XL NY Pizza. Most people think of Sbarro as "the last pizza choice in a mall's food court." To be fair, the chain has also dominated fast-casual dining in airports, college campuses and casinos.