Americans Are Avoiding These Restaurant Chains in 2020

By Rachel R.Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:19:06 PM ET
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Chain restaurants used to be cool and rule the market, but now some chains are barely surviving as more and more customers ditch them. Consumers want high-quality food with quick, friendly service. Longstanding chains like Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s and IHOP frequently fail to meet these needs.

Consumer Picks calculated consumer scores for some of America’s most popular restaurants. Check out the 30 worst restaurant chains in America, ranked from terrible to worse.       

35. Cafe Rio Mexican Grill

Operating 133 restaurants in 12 states, Cafe Rio serves up Mexican classics. The chain's most famous dish is the sweet pork barbacoa burrito made enchilada-style. While customers applaud Cafe Rio for cooking fresh food everyday in the kitchen, the company still receives a lot of complaints.

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Across the nation, consumers experience rude service and filthy tables and floors. The food is loaded, but not with the preferred ingredients. For instance, sometimes, dishes are piled with iceberg lettuce and pinto beans instead of the meat requested. However, when there is enough meat in the meals, it's often overcooked and hard to chew.

Consumer Score: 48%

34. Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Failing to bring in traffic, Carrabba’s Italian Grill had to close multiple locations in 2017. The chain hopes its delivery service will attract more customers, especially young diners. After a rough 2016, the company discovered that stiff competition and more people cooking meals at home were contributing factors. 

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However, some investors angrily point fingers at the parent company, Bloomin' Brands. Investors think Bloomin' Brands owns too many restaurants, including Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. With so many businesses, Bloomin' Brands struggles to find success with them all.

Consumer Score: 48%

33. Coco’s Bakery and Restaurant

Craving a slice of pie from Coco's Bakery? Get your dessert soon because the restaurant has already closed many locations in California, Arizona and Nevada. The company has recently went through bankruptcy and mass layoffs, which are never good signs for a chain. 

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The restaurant has a higher consumer score compared to other chains, but it's not keeping them out of trouble. Many customers dislike the slow and rude service. Also, some dishes are nothing like how they appear on the menu. Yikes.

Consumer Score: 47%

32. Mellow Mushroom

Each year, more consumers see stories about Mellow Mushroom closing its doors in their local cities. Specializing in Southern-style pizza, calzones, hoagies and salads, Mellow Mushroom has been enjoyed by many customers. However, the pizza-chain is losing its extraordinary touch.

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Almost 47% of consumers say they'll come back for a hot pie at Mellow Mushroom. What's happening with the rest of the patrons? Many patrons criticize the service and the pizzas' high prices. Others think the pies aren't exceptional enough to return.  

Consumer Score: 47%

31. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Steakhouses have been in boiling hot water lately, including Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse. As beef prices went up, prices on the menu did too, leading to unhappy customers. Consequently, Fleming's felt the heat from patrons who gave low ratings to the restaurant. 

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Bad reviews aren’t Flemings’ only problem. More diners are skipping steakhouses and picking up affordable steaks at their favorite grocery store instead. Also, millennial customers find that going to Fleming's takes too much time, so they prefer to go elsewhere.

Consumer Score: 46%

30. Olive Garden

Famous for its unlimited breadsticks and salad, Olive Garden serves up Italian-American cuisine to hungry diners. Also known for its never-ending pasta deals, Olive Garden’s consumer score is higher than many casual dining restaurants, but it still has some flaws.

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Many customers slam Olive Garden for serving fake Italian food and mediocre plates of pasta. Some diners even think the food tastes like it was previously frozen and then reheated in a microwave. In other words, the food tastes gross to them. Instead of listening to diners and improving the quality of the food, the company spent $42 million on changing its logo. The move was met with public disapproval.

Consumer Score: 46%

29. Cheesecake Factory

Who doesn’t enjoy digging in to huge portions at restaurants? Cheesecake Factory is popular for having more than 50 different types of cheesecake, at least 250 items on its regular menu and massive plate sizes. However, offering a large menu doesn’t mean the food is better.

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Guests criticize the food, saying it lacks flavor and has too many calories. The restaurant’s Pasta Napoletana has a whopping 2,310 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and 4,370 milligrams of sodium. It’s not surprising the pasta dish took home top honors in the Xtreme Eating Awards for being super unhealthy.

Consumer Score: 45%

28. Famous Dave’s

Only 45 percent of diners say they return to Famous Dave’s for its pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket and different flavors of barbecue sauce. The chain is currently in some hot water, and Famous Dave locations have been closing across the country.

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Many guests dislike the unfriendly atmosphere, causing them to pick up orders to-go instead of dining in. As a result, the company is working to improve its online ordering. Some diners also want Famous Dave’s to focus on its cooking methods because they claim the ribs and brisket are too dry.

Consumer Score: 45%

27. Outback Steakhouse

Many customers don’t return to Outback Steakhouse because the food is too expensive and doesn’t even taste good. Modern-day consumers’ tastes are changing and the chain is struggling to keep up. More diners than ever before prefer convenience, inexpensive food and healthier options.

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Outback's signature appetizer, The Bloomin' Onion, was a deep-fried favorite during its heyday. However, customers are now more conscious about the foods they eat. To make matters worse, instead of trying to make The Bloomin' Onion healthier, Outback has made the signature dish worse with new versions covered in cheese, bacon, meat and fries.

Consumer Score: 45%

26. Joe’s Crab Shack

Have you ever had a difficult time hearing or talking to people in a restaurant because the atmosphere was too loud? Excess noise is a common complaint at Joe’s Crab Shack. Customers also aren’t happy with the service at the chain.

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Many of Joe’s Crab Shack locations have closed since the company filed for bankruptcy in 2017. However, it’s not all bad news. There is one important quality that consumers like about the business: price. Compared to other seafood restaurants, Joe’s Crab Shack ranks higher in value, thanks to its affordable menu items.

Consumer Score: 42%

25. Macaroni Grill

Macaroni Grill offers Italian-American cuisine, but its dishes were once considered gluttonous. In 2007, the chain received a big, red "F" from Men’s Health and earned a spot as one of the unhealthiest chains in the country. An average plate from the restaurant was plagued with more than 1,000 calories.

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However, Macaroni Grill took steps to improve its reputation and became the healthiest Italian chain three years later. The business listened to customer complaints and worked hard to slash the calories in its food. Will this help improve the brand’s consumer score in the future? We’ll have to wait and find out.

Consumer Score: 42%

24. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews

Gourmet burger chain Red Robin has taken a nosedive in sales. In 2018, the company lost $10.6 million. Yikes! Many factors contributed to the painful spiral in performance, including bad reviews related to dirty seating areas and long waits.

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So far, Red Robin’s bottomless fries hasn’t won enough customers back. Restaurant locations look like they’ve been trashed since the company replaced busboys with a new technology system. The change made cleaning tables take longer, which increased the wait times for seating. As a result, many customers have ditched Red Robin for other burger joints.

Consumer Score: 42%

23. Smashburger

Founded in 2007, Smashburger gets smashed for their dry, expensive, small burgers, with many customers saying the food is too mediocre for the price. The chain boasts that its burgers are made from 100% certified angus beef and contain a secret spice blend, which adds to the disappointment when the burgers end up being flavorless.

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Smashburger has put a lot of effort into tempting customers to return. The company has created new types of burgers and tested out different prices. Realizing that value matters, Smashburger has made at least one burger more affordable by selling the Triple Double for $4. The changes have led to some positive results, but it may not be enough.

Consumer Score: 42%

22. Sizzler

Almost 60 percent of consumers say goodbye to Sizzler and never return. Guests are ditching restaurants with buffets, primarily due to poor food quality and the "gross" factor. Sizzler’s steaks aren’t appealing, either, so most diners in search of beef go elsewhere. Also, the food at the buffet sits there for a while, driving away customers who prefer freshly-made food.

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Many guests find the buffet experience — where food is out in the open and vulnerable to contamination — disgusting. All guests share the same utensils to put food on their plates, which means guests could contaminate the serving tongs if they don’t wash their hands before touching the serving tongs. Imagine all the bacteria growing on the utensils. Yuck!

Consumer Score: 41%

21. O’Charley’s

O’Charley’s has been making headlines, but not for its food. All the extra attention is on the chain’s business struggles. Located across the Southern and Midwestern states, O’Charley’s has closed down many stores. In fact, in June 2019, eight restaurants perished in just one day.

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O’Charley’s is known for its homemade rolls and traditional American food with a Southern twist. However, the overall business concept and menu have a challenging time competing with other restaurants. Modern customers are bored with the bar and grill concept featured at O’Charley’s, and opting for independent restaurants that specialize in certain foods instead. The chain’s menu also isn’t unique, with choices that are similar to Ruby Tuesday, Applebee’s and Chili’s.

Consumer Score: 40%

20. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s

Although Beef ‘O’ Brady’s advertises "Good Food, Good Sports," the chain receives poor reviews for taste, atmosphere, reputation, menu variety and price. Customers mainly complain about rude customer service at the family sports pub. The lack of timeliness is also an issue: It takes a long time to receive service and to receive food.

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The food at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s also gets some criticism. Guests call the food gross and claim the fries appear to be reheated at times. The burgers come with old or wilted vegetables, and the chicken has a dry, rubbery texture. If the food isn’t overcooked, then you can probably expect it to be undercooked instead.

Consumer Score: 39%

19. Bob Evans

Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic restaurant Bob Evans serves baked goods, snacks and breakfast all day. Many diners mock the restaurant’s customer service and food, with some commenting that if you like being treated like "crap," this is the perfect place for you.

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The food is a little better than the service. It’s mediocre, but edible. Guests sometimes receive the wrong order, or the food could be served burned or at least extra crispy. And the best part? After waiting almost an hour for your food, it will most likely be cold and hard by the time it gets to you.

Consumer Score: 39%

18. Logan’s Roadhouse

Logan’s Roadhouse specializes in mesquite-grilled steaks and classic American dishes like hamburgers, sandwiches, soups and salads. Plenty of today’s diners are skipping steakhouses like Logan’s, and it shows. In 2016, the chain fell into a pit of despair after filing for bankruptcy and closing at least 18 locations.

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Logan’s is feeling the negative effects of the casual dining decline due to costs, quality and more health conscious eaters. Meat prices have soared, so to keep up, Logan’s increased its prices as well. No one wants that, especially when the menu items are lower grade meats with extra butter and MSG. Additionally, many consumers are abandoning red meat, due to high concentrations of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Consumer Score: 39%

17. Shoney’s

If you have ever lived in the South, you’re probably familiar with Shoney’s, which sells hamburgers, hot fudge, ice cream cakes, sandwiches and pies. Customers couldn’t get enough of Shoney’s in the 1980s and 1990s. With thousands of locations, the future of the chain looked promising.

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However, things took a turn for the worse for Shoney’s in the 2000s. Customers were unimpressed with the food quality and menu options. As a result, Shoney’s fell victim to the casual dining curse and shrunk to fewer than 150 stores nationwide.

Consumer Score: 38%

16. Applebee’s Grill + Bar

Applebee’s often gets mocked as the worst place to have a romantic date. The chain’s happy hour experience seems tempting and fun, but many guests say the lower cost still isn’t worth it. Diners criticize the chain’s subpar food, calling it microwavable food that's somehow drowned in oil and filled with tenderizer.

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Struggling to attract modern-day diners, Applebee’s added "trendy" items to their menu, like brisket nachos, sweet potato fries and new cocktails. However, customers didn’t take the bait and still see the chain as a place for cheap, bad-tasting meals.

Consumer Score: 37%

15. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

BJ’s is also trying to survive the casual restaurant death trap. The chain fell in the rankings because it’s overcrowded, too dark and the food is "nothing special." The congested restaurant leads to timeliness problems, and customers have to wait a long time to be seated, to order and to receive their food.

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The menu options at BJ’s don’t stand out compared to rival restaurants. As a result, the business has worked aggressively to claw its way out of failure with options like happy hour values and Brewhouse specials. Many locations are also focusing on takeout and delivery. Will BJ’s receive higher scores with these new services?

Consumer Score: 37%

14. Perkins

Only 37 percent of customers go back for the all-day breakfast and pastries at Perkins. Many guests are abandoning the restaurant because of its lack of convenience, but others are disappointed by the cold, horrible food and extremely slow service.

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The chain’s parent company filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and laid off thousands of workers but didn’t completely shut down. In 2019, the parent company filed for bankruptcy again. Ouch! Perkins fails to stay relevant with today’s customers and is definitely feeling some negative effects.

Consumer Score: 37%

13. Waffle House

The majority of Waffle House locations are in the South or along the East Coast. The chain has more than 2,000 locations and specializes in breakfast items, such as waffles, omelets, pancakes and hashbrowns. About 37 percent of guests love the chain’s basic menu, affordable prices and 24/7 hours of operation.

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However, customer complaints range from a noisy environment to terrible waitstaff. In fact, Waffle House has been sued several times by Asian, Hispanic and black customers who were subjected to rude or racist experiences. The company also faces criticism for its lack of cleanliness. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 22 percent of diners find the restaurant to be dirty.

Consumer Score: 37%

12. Chili’s Grill and Bar

Chili’s is famous for its ribs and accompanying jingle, "I Want My Baby Back Ribs." The chain has also been featured in the show The Office, but even those moments in the TV spotlight haven’t prevented the company from coming to a standstill. Quick service chains like Chipotle and Five Guys are kicking its butt.

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Customers give Chili’s poor ratings for trust and value. In 2018, the chain experienced a data breach that leaked debit and credit card information, and it has been hard for Chili’s to bounce back after getting hacked.

Guests are also losing interest in the business because its lagging in changing market trends. It took Chili’s until 2017 to simplify its complicated menu, while its rivals were ahead of the game.

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Consumer Score: 36%

11. California Pizza Kitchen

Only 36 percent of customers keep going back to California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) for its BBQ chicken pies. Leaving CPK for better pizza options, many customers say they won’t miss it when it closes. Some experts believe CPK reminds customers of mall food, which is barely surviving today.

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CPK tried to change its image to appeal to the changing market, and the menu now includes gluten-free options and cauliflower pizza crusts. The chain also modernized its interior to create a warm, homey atmosphere. Are you tempted to try a new hot pie from CPK?

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Consumer Score: 36%

10. Friendly’s

East Coast chain Friendly’s serves up 22 ice cream flavors along with sandwiches, burgers, salads and hot dogs. Friendly’s was founded in 1935 and quickly expanded. For many years, the business was on fire, but that fire began to die down in 2011.

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Guests became disappointed with the service and food quality. They called the restaurants "dirty," the servers "soddy and slow" and the burgers "carelessly made." Friendly’s locations continue to disappear since the company filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

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Consumer Score: 36%

9. IHOP

In June 2018, IHOP trolled the world by rebranding itself as IHOb (International House of Burgers). Some consumers thought it was funny, while others disapproved and told IHOP to "stick to pancakes" and "stay in your lane." In the end, it was all just a publicity stunt.

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Photo Courtesy: @IHOP/Twitter

The viral act increased the chain’s sale of burgers, but it didn’t do IHOP any favors. The chain’s number of visitors didn’t grow. IHOP also took too long to add online ordering and delivery to its business strategy, missing out on capturing modern-day customers who prefer take-out rather than dine-in.

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Consumer Score: 36%

8. On the Border

On the Border scores low for its mediocre Mexican dishes. Some reviewers complain that the quesadillas are served cold, or the guacamole has a black color to it. Sometimes, the food comes with the extra ingredient of human hair. Gross!

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Photo Courtesy: @ontheborder/Twitter

The chain also earned poor reviews for value and service. Based on the quality of the food and the poor service, the price isn’t worth it. Many customers note that On the Border’s servers are unfriendly and unprofessional, and it’s common for guests to wait a long time to receive their food.

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Consumer Score: 36%

7. Ruby Tuesday

Only 36 percent of customers crave Ruby Tuesday’s classic American menu of burgers, chicken, pasta and salad on a repeat basis. Guests call the "varied menu" dull, and the restaurant received terrible scores on its atmosphere. Why is it always dark inside? The dim lighting makes it difficult to read the menu and see the food. (Maybe that’s the point?)

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After years of declining sales, Ruby Tuesday has tried to win customers back and failed. The chain changed up its menu by adding burgers on pretzel buns and emphasizing wine over beer. However, these new tweaks didn’t impress diners.

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Consumer Score: 36%

6. Steak ‘n Shake

Steak ‘n Shake appears to be losing its way. It closed dozens of restaurants after losing $18.9 million in its first quarter in 2019 and $10.7 million in 2018. The company’s CEO hopes to save $1 million by removing cherries from its milkshakes, but will ditching cherries really save Steak ‘n Shake from extinction?

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The restaurant fails at being fast or friendly. As a result, it also fails customers. Steak ‘n Shake’s iconic milkshakes and steakburgers only keep 36 percent of customers returning for more. Unfortunately, that’s probably not enough when the chain is struggling to survive.

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Consumer Score: 36%

5. Denny’s

Denny’s is known for its menu deals, 24/7 hours of operation and serving all meals around the clock. And, of course, we haven’t forgotten about its famous "Grand Slam" plate. Many customers mention they only go to Denny’s after a long night of studying or drinking.

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After its restaurants began closing left and right, Denny’s knew it had to bounce back somehow. As "America’s diner," it often tries something bizarre and new to win back the nation’s heart. In the past, the chain has used gimmicks like the Hobbit Menu and "Baconalia." However, most guests still dislike their food.

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Consumer Score: 34%

4. Hooters

Famous for its chicken wings and breasts — unfortunately, not the ones found on chickens — Hooters is often associated with female servers wearing orange short shorts and white tank tops. However, this business strategy may not work anymore because Hooters receives a high number of complaints on the food and its value. As a result, the chain is losing its customers.

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Photo Courtesy: @Hooters/Twitter

Modern-day customers still love chicken wings. They just aren’t in love with the food at this American "breastaurant." Many bad reviews about Hooters include mentions of watered-down drinks, cold food and "lame," tiny chicken wings. However, there’s some good news. Customers compliment the service and atmosphere at Hooters.

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Consumer Score: 34%

3. TGI Fridays

Only 34 percent of customers go back to TGI Friday's for its traditional American bar food. Just like other casual dining joints, TGI Fridays is struggling to get guests through its doors. Many guests complain about the chain’s prices and atmosphere. In a world where people want high-quality food at bargain prices, TGI Friday’s continues to serve up overpriced, subpar bar food.

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Photo Courtesy: Mike Mozart/Flickr

Past customers used to appreciate the chain’s fun, homey decorations and atmosphere. However, TGI Friday’s lost its appeal after restaurants like Ruby Tuesday and Bennigan's copied its interior aesthetics. Many customers say they can’t even tell the difference between these casual diners.

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2. Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings gets mocked for its lack of cleanliness, lame menu variety and high prices. As a result, the company has faced a slump in sales. The chain even admits its flaws, saying that it no longer stands out from the competition.

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Photo Courtesy: Mike Mozart/Flickr

Over the years, Buffalo Wild Wings has barely updated its menu, and some customers have grown tired of its overpriced wings. Diners also think most restaurants take too long to get the orders to customers. Patrons prefer staying at home, saving money and getting food fast. The wing joint failed to deliver.

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Consumer Score: 33%

1. Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets is famous for its 1950s decorations, featuring red vinyl seats, jukebox stations and framed Air Force photos covering the walls. The chain is often located in malls, where there’s much less foot traffic these days, so its residence could be a big part of its demise. However, the food is also known to upset customers.

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Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called Johnny Rockets one of the worst meals he ever had. After trying the food, he claimed to be traumatized by the "soul-destroying" experience. Bourdain said he could never forget the cold hamburger and greasy fries. It looks like a lot of customers agree with Bourdain because only 31 percent of guests return to Johnny Rockets.

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Consumer Score: 31%

Casual restaurants aren’t the only ones in hot water. Check out the rankings for the worst fast food restaurants in America.