Survey: Americans Really Do Want Higher Quality, More Variety in their Fast Food

Panera Bread Bowl with Clam Chowder

Americans may be spending more money than ever on dining out, but they’re looking for more than what’s being provided by mega-chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC. In results from a massive survey just published by Consumer Reports, readers indicated that, in the three years since Consumer Report’s last survey, food quality has grown in importance for them, while convenience has become less vital.

So while the market for dining out in America has ballooned to more than $680 billion annually, readers in the survey gave especially low grades to some of the highest-provile names in fast food. This was perhaps most starkly demonstrated in readers exceedingly low marks for the house specialties at the biggest mega-chains, including the burgers at McDonalds, the subs at Subway and the burritos at Taco Bell.

What brands did well in the survey? A wave of slightly more upscale chains that make up a relatively new “fast-casual” category. These chains emphasize the marketing of quality ingredients, menu variety, and meals that include either healthier choices or bolder flavor profiles. They also have higher menu prices and more of a ‘dine-in’ than ‘drive-through’ character to their businesses.

Perhaps the poster-child for this emerging fast-casual category is Chipotle Mexican Grill, with its “farm-to-face” marketing, meal-component variety and individualized approach to preparing customer orders. Other names that finished just under Chipotle but still at the top of the list for survey readers include Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs and Five Guys Burgers.

Chipotle Mexican Grill w Sign

One driver of the move to higher quality seems to be the emerging impact of the sensibilities and eating patterns of millennials. Fast casual dining better fits their dining requirements, because while the group expects higher quality ingredients, members of that demographic seem to want to spend less per meal so that they can dine out more often.

The survey is well worth a read for serious fast-foodies.

Consumer Reports Best and Worst Fast Foods in America


Check Out Some Recipes Inspired by Fast Casual Favorites:

Copycat Chipotle Mexican Grill Chicken Burritos

Copycat Potbelly Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie

Copycat On The Border Tortilla Soup

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