Fast Food Chains in America, Ranked from Okay to Terrible

By Rachel R.Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:17:20 PM ET
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Fast food is quick, convenient and cheap, but it’s also losing its edge. Consumers are interested in high quality and fresh food, cleanliness and great service. However, many fast food chains are struggling to meet their customer’s standards. As a result, guests don’t return.

A Consumer Picks survey found consumer scores of America’s popular restaurants. The scores are based on customer loyalty to the brand.

Read on to find out the worst fast food restaurants in America and why they’ve failed their customers.                   

34. Arby’s

Only 44 percent of customers return to Arby’s for its huge roast beef sandwiches. Some diners call the food at Arby’s expensive and “delicious trash.” Many guests also say that they get sick after eating its food. To make matters worse, Arby’s has been dealing with a nasty rumor and an extra ingredient in their sandwiches that will make you lose your appetite.

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For years, Arby’s has been trying to stop rumors about their roast beef. Plenty of guests believe that the meat is made of paste, powder, liquid, or gel. However, Arby’s has denied those claims.

Arby’s has also been the subject of controversy when a customer found a piece of human skin in a sandwich in 2004. Another incident occurred in 2012, when an Arby’s employee accidentally served a human finger in an order.

Consumer Score: 44%

33. Wingstop

About 44 percent of diners go back to Wingstop for their chicken wings, boneless wings, fries and ranch. Many reviewers compliment their house-made ranch and sweet fries. However, the company still gets some complaints from customers. The biggest issues are the food’s saltiness and the boneless wings.

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Wingstop wings are too salty to enjoy because the salt overpowers the rest of the flavors. The chain’s boneless wings also get slammed. Diners say that the boneless wings come out soggy instead of crispy. Other complaints include high prices and terrible sauce options.

Consumer Score: 44%

32. Boston Market

In the 1990s, Boston Market boasted 1,100 locations in malls and shopping plazas across the nation. Today, that number has shrunk to 400 stores. Boston Market offered customers rotisserie chicken, so they don’t have to deal with the process of cooking a whole chicken at home. However, the chain’s main attraction is also its downfall.

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The idea of making rotisserie chicken more convenient was easy to replicate. As more supermarkets provided their own roasted chickens, Boston Market faced increased competition. The chain’s menu also fails to keep up with customer’s new demands. Today, modern-day diners are interested in multi-cultural flavors and vegan options.

Consumer Score: 43%

31. Dairy Queen

Where else can you find ice cream that’s served upside down? Known for its thick blizzards that defy gravity, Dairy Queen has been serving up ice cream since 1940. But guests mock the chain, saying that their cold dessert isn’t even real ice cream. It tastes like plastic and oil, and it melts too fast.

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Reviewers have plenty of bad things to say about Dairy Queen’s food. The hot dog looks like a blown up Slim Jim in a cold, soggy bun. The burgers come with burned patties and squishy buns. Dairy Queen also gets shamed for under cooking their chicken often.

Consumer Score: 43%

30. El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco is Spanish for "The Crazy Chicken." Founded by Francisco Ochoa, the fast food diner first opened in Mexico in 1975. The U.S. didn’t get a taste of El Pollo Loco until 1980, when the company opened in Los Angeles. Only 43 percent of customers return to El Pollo Loco. What’s wrong with it? From service to food, El Pollo Loco suffers from a low quality environment.

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Diners complain about the terrible service, emphasizing that employees are rude,orders are often incorrect and wait times are long. In addition, the overpriced menu isn’t worth it because of the bland and flavorless food. Guests dislike the chicken, which is either overcooked and dry or undercooked. Sometimes, locations even run out of chicken.

Consumer Score: 43%

29. Taco Bell

In 2018, Taco Bell was voted "America's favorite Mexican restaurant." The Beefy chalupa, Nacho Fries, and CrunchWrap Supreme are their most popular items. But how could Taco Bell also be the worst in the country? Many guests criticize the food.

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Diners ranked Taco Bell burritos as the least delicious, according to Consumer Reports. The menu items also don’t make customers feel full, so they become hungry a couple of hours later. On many internet forums, customers claim that eating food from Taco Bell gives them stomach pains or diarrhea. There are many jokes about it too, which damages the fast food joint’s reputation.

Consumer Score: 43%

28. Bojangles’

Established in 1977, Bojangles' first set up shop in Charlotte, North Carolina. The business only exists in 12 states, including Alabama, Maryland and Florida. Bojangles' gets some praise for their food, but the company is still considered one of the worst fast food chains in the nation. The chicken and biscuits joint doesn’t attract enough returning customers.

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Some consumers loathe their biscuits, including taste testers from the Washington Post. The judges called Bojangles’ biscuits salty and burnt. In addition, the judges said, "So many carbs, so little flavor. It’s crying out for jam, jelly, anything to distract from the bland-yet-fluffy body. I can taste leavening in this; it tastes like baking soda."

Consumer Score: 42%

27. Subway

Although Subway has more than 24,000 stores across the country, it also holds a low return score. The famous five-dollar footlongs and Fresh Fit Choices just don’t cut it anymore. In 2018, the company closed more than 1,000 stores.

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Today’s consumers are seeking locally sourced produce and hormone-free meat instead of the processed lunch meats offered at Subway. It also doesn’t help that Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike’s are kicking Subway’s buns. As a result, Subway is trying to evolve its plain menu and lackluster brick-and-mortar sites.

Consumer Score: 42%

26. Krystal

Many customers who review Krystal often compare it to another restaurant called White Castle because of their tiny hamburgers. Krystal scores slightly better than White Castle in this list. Although guests like Krystal’s Corn Pups, the burger joint still has some flaws.

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According to Consumer Reports, Krystal serves one of the worst burgers in the country. The buns are so big that the patty seems to disappear in the middle. Inside the burger, customers will find a bland square patty and the smallest amount of sauce.

Consumer Score: 41%

25. Domino’s

Before 2009, customers complained that pizza from Domino’s tasted like cardboard. The meat that the business used for toppings was gross. People also thought the tomato sauce tasted like ketchup. In other words, Domino’s was committing crimes against pizza. The company was well aware of it too.

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Domino’s admitted that their food sucked in 2009. In response, the company tried to improve the taste of their product. However, Domino’s is still considered one of the worst fast food restaurants in the nation. The company’s slow service and dirty dining environment lose customers.

Consumer Score: 41%

24. Long John Silver’s

Long John Silver’s exclusively sells fish and chips and hushpuppies. However, the fried fish flops and the hush puppies flounder. The food is hard to enjoy because it’s too stale, salty and greasy. The majority of the fried fish consists of batter instead of meat. Other common complaints include the food being either cold or overcooked.

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Poor customer service, long waits and orders with missing items are also cons for diners. Many stores also receive criticism about being untidy. Consumers describe the tables as filthy and say that the air has a foul smell. Sometimes, flies buzz around indoors, making an awful dining experience.

Consumer Score: 41%

23. Taco John’s

Taco John’s only sees 41 percent of its diners come back a second time. Customers love the Potato Olés, but many of them don’t return because the rest of the menu is a total mess. For instance, salad tacos appear carelessly tossed together, while burritos are wrapped incorrectly.

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Besides the terrible presentation of the food, the meals at Taco John’s taste awful. Customers call the food overwhelmingly salty. The taco meat is so greasy that all of the oil leaks out of the shells. Some diners also say that the cheese tastes fake.

Consumer Score: 41%

22. Wienerschnitzel

The World's Largest Hot Dog Chain, Wienerschnitzel, was established in 1961. Today, the chain serves more than 120 million hot dogs every year. But the company has a low customer returning score. Why is Wienerschnitzel falling short? The culprit is the low-quality food.

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Wienerschnitzel’s meat is vile. Guests don’t understand why there are options to have the meat cooked to your liking when it’s usually just burnt. The ratio between the meat and bread is hugely off, with the bread overshadowing the meat. In addition, some diners say the fries have a texture of rubber, while others call them mushy.

Consumer Score: 41%

21. KFC

Suffering for decades, KFC went from 5,472 locations in 2002 to 4,270 restaurants in 2016. KFC has been dealing with rumors that they inject their chickens with steroids to create "mutant chickens" or "Frankenchickens." Although the chain has denied these claims, consumers say that they still don’t trust the food.

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Diners often slam KFC for having poor food quality and a filthy dining area. The stale, bland, fatty and slimy chicken is unappealing. KFC advertises crispy, crunchy food, yet customers complain about receiving incredibly soggy chicken. Sometimes, the chicken is crispy when it’s burnt and dry.

Consumer Score: 40%

20. Cinnabon

Cinnabon attracts guests with freshly-baked pastries, like warm, gooey cinnamon buns. But only 40 percent of their customers return. Struggling to survive, Cinnabon has tried to spice up the brand. However, many consumers still aren’t biting into the changes.

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The quality of service and food at Cinnabon get bad reviews. Customers don’t want to support the chain if they believe the workers are rude. Diners also dislike getting reheated and old cinnamon buns instead of the ones that come fresh out of the oven.

Consumer Score: 40%

19. Del Taco

The Mexican fast food chain, Del Taco, serves up taco combos and cinnamon churros to keep 40 percent of customers coming back. Guests note that it seems as if they’re waiting a long time to order and receive their food. The majority of diners don’t return because of the unappetizing food.

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The meat used in the tacos and burritos lacks flavor. In addition, the amount of rice in the burrito overwhelms diners. But the chain has seen some positive reviews of its meatless tacos. Will this win over customers for Del Taco? We will have to wait and see.

Consumer Score: 40%

18. Einstein Brothers

Just 40 percent of U.S. customers choose to eat a "gourmet" bagel for breakfast at Einstein Brothers. The bagel chain receives bad reviews for its mediocre food quality and freshness. The bagels are bland, compared to grocery store bagels from Safeway and WinCo Foods.

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Besides the terrible bagels, consumers also harshly criticize the coffee and customer service. To put it nicely, the coffee is awful, and the service lacks accuracy or timeliness. It’s not uncommon for orders to be made incorrectly or take too long to get to the customer.

Consumer Score: 40%

17. White Castle

A low number of consumers love White Castle. The burger joint is famous for its small, square hamburgers, but that might actually be the company’s weakness. Guests leave unsatisfied because of the hamburger’s size. To get full, diners must buy more than just one tiny burger.

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To make matters worse, the hamburgers come with supermarket-like buns. The bread is too airy and large, compared to the meat in the burger. Customers also call the patties thin and bland. The taste of onion dominates the rest of the burger.

Consumer Score: 39%

16. Panda Express

Founded in 1983, Panda Express has more than 2,000 stores across the nation, making it the largest Asian restaurant chain in the country. Panda Express offers gourmet Chinese cuisine and lets diners create their own meal. However, the food is actually so-so and the items are overpriced.

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From BuzzFeed to chef David Chang, Panda Express often gets slammed for serving inauthentic food. BuzzFeed invited Chinese people to try the chain for the first time. In the video, some unimpressed diners criticized and mocked the food. Chang says, "Do I gnaw on my own thumb, or do I get orange chicken?"

Consumer Score: 39%

15. Church’s Chicken

Established in the 1950s, Church’s Chicken specializes in chicken, biscuits and fries.With an inferior score based on the Consumer Picks survey, Church’s Chicken struggles to win back guests. Consumers just aren’t big fans of the chain’s food, like the hand-breaded fish, honey-butter biscuits and popcorn shrimp.

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Although the chicken isn’t too dry or greasy, its lack of flavor disappoints consumers. The biscuits also frustrate diners, who describe the bread as rock hard. But Church’s Chicken plans to improve its food and service to gain more customers in 2019.

Consumer Score: 38%

14. Wendy’s

With an unimpressive returning customer score, it seems no one is interested in Wendy’s square hamburgers, sea salt fries and their signature Frosty. Many consumers take shots at Wendy’s for its 2005 "finger in chili crisis" or the live mouse found in a bag of burger buns in 2018.

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Wendy’s just can’t catch a break. Everybody mocks their overpriced meals of flat burgers, wilted vegetables and stale buns. To end on a positive note, Wendy’s often advertises the fact that their patties are never frozen, which attracts some guests. As a result, the company performs slightly better than some of its rivals.

Consumer Score: 38%

13. Little Caesars

Little Caesars is famous for its catchphrase, "Pizza! Pizza!" It’s also well-known for selling a large pepperoni or cheese pizza for only $5. Sounds like a great deal, right? Unfortunately, the saying, "You get what you pay for," is true with Little Caesars.

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The pizza chain advertises fresh, high-quality ingredients, but consumers are disappointed because the food is actually poor in both quality and freshness. Everything from the sauce to the cheese and pepperoni tastes vile. The chain often gets mocked for its pizza tasting like cardboard.

Consumer Score: 37%

12. Checkers

Checkers has specialized in hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and milkshakes since 1986. However, the chain gets mocked for their customer service and low-quality food. Guests say the service is too slow, even when there are no other customers in line.

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The chain’s hamburgers and hot dogs are also heavily criticized. Common complaints about the burgers include flavorless patties and giant flavorless pieces of iceberg lettuce adding nothing to the burger. But many customers do compliment Checkers on their fries and banana milkshakes.

Consumer Score: 36%

11. Sonic Drive-In

How can anyone resist a retro-themed restaurant with happy hour and carnival-style food? Sonic exclusively sells cheeseburgers, onion rings, corn dogs, slushies, milkshakes and chili dogs. However, the business’s biggest downfall is that the food isn’t fresh or high quality.

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A Sonic cheeseburger has all the ingredients of a typical cheeseburger: patty, melted cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles and tomatoes. But where does it go wrong? The patty and lettuce. The beef is often dry and unseasoned, while the lettuce takes up the majority of the burger.

Consumer Score: 36%

10. A&W

Founded in 1919, A&W is known for its draft root beer, root beer floats and burgers. As one of the oldest hamburger chains in the country, A&W is loved for its root beer more than its food. Customer complaints usually have to do with food quality and customer service.

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Guests slam A&W’s fries, calling them greasy and terrible. Some people say eating the fries is like consuming a cup of oil. Consumers also get aggravated about A&W’s lack of timeliness and cleanliness. For instance, customers wait a long time to receive their order. The dirty tables are often covered in grease and trash, while the garbage bins overflow.

Consumer Score: 35%

9. Auntie Anne’s

Auntie Anne’s sells doughy treats, like hot, salted pretzels. Established in 1988, the pretzel shop first opened its doors in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This chain is often found at malls, which is its biggest downfall. With fewer people going to malls in recent years, Auntie Anne’s found itself losing customers.

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To get more business, Auntie Anne’s started to set up shop where there’s more foot traffic, like tourist spots and street-side locations. Although its location is its greatest issue, Auntie Anne’s still sees some complaints. For instance, guests are disappointed by stale and burnt pretzels as well as rude and unwelcoming customer service.

Consumer Score: 35%

8. Quiznos

The toasted subs chain, Quiznos, collapsed due to store closures and financial woes. In 2008, Quiznos had 5,000 restaurants across the country. Today, there are only 800 Quiznos stores left. The company even filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Customers’ biggest complaint? The subs are too expensive.

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When its main rival, Subway, began selling footlong sandwiches for $5, Quiznos tried to compete by offering a discount. But the plan backfired. In 2009, the chain sent customers a coupon for a free sandwich, but franchise owners were already experiencing low profits, so many didn’t honor the coupon. In response, customers got angry and Quiznos’ got more problems.

Consumer Score: 35%

7. Hardee’s

Hardee’s is mainly located in the South and Midwest states. Hardee’s is best known for its charbroiled hamburgers and controversial advertisements, such as using supermodels to create "sexy" commercials. Throughout their history, the company has had intense rivalries with Jack in the Box, McDonald’s and KFC.

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Hardee’s isn’t afraid to admit their shortcomings. In fact, the company launched a campaign revealing that they were well aware of their shoddy service, gross food and confusing menu in 2003. However, Hardee’s still hasn’t changed because their poor service, dirty dining environment and mediocre food continues to disappoint customers.

Consumer Score: 34%

6. Jimmy John’s

Notorious for its "Freaky Fast, Freaky Fresh" slogan, Jimmy John’s (JJ’s) has a history of bad luck. In 2016, the sandwich shop made their workers sign a crazy non-compete clause, forbidding employees from working at other delis until two years after the end of their JJ's employment. In response, several states took JJ’s to court. JJ’s was forced to remove the clause from any hiring paperwork.

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The problems didn't stop there. JJ’s caused several large food poisoning outbreaks. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, customers got sick with E. Coli or salmonella after eating JJ’s sprouts. At least 100 JJ’s customers in Kansas fell ill in 2013. Fast forward to 2018, JJ’s was responsible for another food poisoning outbreak.

Consumer Score: 34%

5. Sbarro

"You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food," said Neil Irwin from The New York Times. About 34 percent of returning Sbarro customers agree with him.

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Sbarro loses customers because of its low food quality and lack of freshness. Customers are more interested in getting custom-made pizzas with better ingredients at pizza chains like Blaze Pizza. Sbarro stores are also cursed because of their place of residence. The chain is often located in dying mall food courts.

Consumer Score: 34%

4. Burger King

Burger King has made headlines for rolling out tacos and vegan impossible burgers. But the chain is famously known as the original Home of the Whopper. Only a small percentage of customers opt for Burger King’s flame-grilled patties due to convenience.

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Burger King gets plenty of heat for their sad, plain Whopper burger. The ratio between the hamburger’s toppings is often off. The onions dominate the rest of the burger. In addition, the patty’s size is disappointing, compared to the other toppings.

Consumer Score: 33%

3. Carl’s Jr.

Founded in Los Angeles in 1941, Carl’s Jr. was originally a hot dog stand. Today, the chain is memorable for its controversial advertisements and charbroiled burgers. However, customers aren’t impressed with the food or marketing. Some customers find their hypersexualized commercials offensive. 

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Guests are also frustrated with the burgers from Carl’s Jr. Although the burgers are large, they’re also messy, which makes the experience less satisfying. Many consumers also question why the food is getting more expensive when the quality hasn’t improved.

Consumer Score: 33%

2. Jack in the Box

Famous for their round-headed mascot and funny commercials, Jack in the Box has been in the burger business since 1951. Although the chain also offers tacos, fries, all-day breakfast and chicken fajita pitas, Jack in the Box suffers from an embarrassing low rating.

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Many customers think Jack in the Box is nasty, especially their deep-fried tacos. On social media, the chain’s customers have described the tacos as "a wet envelope of cat food" and "vile." However, some consumers are big fans, saying the tacos are gross, yet they still love them and are unable to "resist" them.

Consumer Score: 33%

1. McDonald’s

McDonald’s seems to be everywhere we look. However, the most famous fast food restaurant in the country is also the worst chain in the country. Although McDonald’s can crank out and sell a lot of burgers, the quality of the food is poor. More customers prioritize quality over quantity.

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The company proudly uses frozen patties from 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. The patties also aren’t made with any preservatives, fillers, extenders or "pink slime." However, McDonald’s burgers rank the lowest in freshness and food quality. Customers often slam the mega-chain for burgers that look and taste like a "hot mess" with dry patties.

Consumer Score: 28%