July 2nd, 2014
12:15 PM ET
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Americans want food their way, and a new survey shows that "their way" calls for a higher quality, more varied meal than they're getting at the top burger, burrito, sandwich and chicken chains.

Consumer Reports asked subscribers to answer one straightforward question: "On a scale of  1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste?"

96,208 meals and 65 chains later, some trends emerged: readers expressed an increased interest in the quality of the food, and less of a focus on convenience than they had in the group's 2011 report. One industry expert, Darren Tristano of Technomic, a food-service research and consulting firm, told Consumer Reports that he believes the shift has a lot to do with the increasing role food plays in millennials' social lives.

He also noted that chains like Chipotle and Panera emphasize the origin and quality of their ingredients, unlike major chains like McDonald's, which serves flash-frozen patties touted as "free from preservatives, fillers, extenders, and so-called pink slime.”

"More and more, food quality ― not just low price ― is emerging as a deciding-factor for many Americans when choosing where to spend their dining dollars," said Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports in a press release about the survey.

He continued, “Strong regional players and slightly more upscale fast-casual chains like Chipotle are giving the heavy-hitters in the fast-food business a wake-up call. And our survey clearly shows the big guys need to respond.”

But let's serve up the data:

In the burger business, The Habit Burger Grill took top honors, earning an 8.1 out of 10 points from readers, followed closely by cult favorite In-N-Out Burger with an 8.0 rating. Five Guys Burgers and Fries tied with Smashburger at 7.9 and Fuddrucker's finished out the top five at 7.8.

McDonald's fared worst of all by a pretty beefy margin, earning a 5.8 rating. Burger King, Krystal and Jack In the Box shared the second-to-the-bottom berth with a score of 6.6.

In the chicken category, Chick-fil-A ruled the roost. The headline-grabbing chain earned an 8.1, just above second-place finisher El Pollo Loco, which earned a 7.7 satisfaction score. KFC fowl-ed out with a last-place 7.1.

Wiener chain Portillo's Hot Dogs was the big winner in the sandwiches and subs group, earning an 8.5 from fans, making it the top-ranked chain of the whole survey. The world's largest restaurant chain, Subway - which has recently sought to revamp its image after consumers lobbied for "yoga mat" chemical azodicarbonamide to be removed from its bread, and reports of worker underpayment emerged - finished second to last with a 7.2, just two-tenths of a point above Au Bon Pain.

And the burrito category was a wrap for "farm-to-face" favorite Chipotle. The chain edged out second place finisher Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, 7.8 to 7.7. Taco Bell bottomed out the rankings with a 6.3.

The survey also revealed that most fast-food diners aren’t concerned about their diets when they dine out. Only one-fifth worry about the availability of healthier menu options when they're deciding where to eat. Once they're in the restaurant, only 19% opt to order them.

The full report is available to subscribers at ConsumerReports.org and in the August issue of the magazine.

Top 10 burgers in the U.S.
Top 10 non-traditional burgers in America
America's Best Cheeseburger (according to Food Network)
World's Best Bacon Cheeseburger (according to the London Observer)

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Filed under: Burger King • Chick-fil-A • Chipotle • Fast Food • In-N-Out • KFC • McDonald's • Subway • Taco Bell

soundoff (226 Responses)
  1. tim

    I just want food that won't make me sick when I eat it. I have GERD. all fast food makes me sick, its just too greasy, the food is an awful mess of thrown together discount meat. Everything is mass produced and just utterly shitty. The price of the ingredients, I know for a fact, are marked up so they can sell their awful food and make a profit off it that none of the employees will see. Like how I can buy a big mac for 5 dollars, or 2 big kings from burger king. The commercials are always stupid, no one is happy when eating a McDonald's sandwich. They pay their employees 7.25 an hour, yet could easily stay afloat if they payed them $15 an hour, but they won't because their bottom line is more important than the people they are using as waged slaves or the customers they infect with their tainted food

    July 6, 2014 at 3:09 am |
    • Carn E. Vore

      They get paid so little because it is utterly unskilled labor. If they want to earn more then the onus is on them to do something about it.

      July 7, 2014 at 12:55 am |
  2. Bill

    Price/value does not make any sense. The priciest item with the least value will yield a higher price/value. I think you intended on flipping the ratio.

    July 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
    • timon

      why not just say low Price/Value? The questions was: "What is important?", not "What should be high?". It is unusual like this but totally fine.

      July 6, 2014 at 11:20 am |
  3. Joanne Havran

    The most important quality for me is social responsibility. In Oregon, we have a regional fast food chain, Burgerville, that is committed to locally sourced food, and sustainable practices. They also pay well and provide good benefits to their employees. I am willing to pay more for these things. Plus, I do like their food, especially their seasonal, local specials.

    July 5, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
    • Lucy Birmingham

      Most the time when I do go out & eat the place needs to have great food,customer service,& great sitting areas.My favorite sub place is Jersey Mike's.The sitting is not so good so I take my food home or to the park.My family favorite which is alot of pizza so we end up having this at home is Cal's.Their loaded Cazilla is off the charts.We always get ours with everything & anchovies too,yum :)

      July 5, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
  4. woodie

    I find it difficult to trust fast food employees.

    July 4, 2014 at 9:08 am |
    • Jan

      I find it difficult to trust fast food consumers that look down upon those they depend on.

      July 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm |
  5. Giggity

    Americans want a better quality food such as sketti with butter and ketchup

    July 4, 2014 at 8:02 am |
  6. William Rassmussen

    ...better quality fast food. Quality fast food? What a misnomer!!!

    July 4, 2014 at 8:00 am |
    • Thinking things through

      Do we? Do you have some stats? (I do, but I am sure I am not in the majority.)

      July 4, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
  7. Shuffler

    Several I have never heard of on this list. The absolute worst I have experienced in my lifetime is Burger King. You want some soggy flat something that looks nothing like the menu.... That is your place.

    July 4, 2014 at 6:07 am |
  8. BorisTheButcher

    I ate a chicken sandwich from Burger King and since then have more friends than Justin Beeber. My swag got more swaggy, my cloths got more smoove, and when I go to the bathroom, it is just miraculous! I had a plugged up artery before my fast food attack and was bald, but one Big Mac later and I can outrun a Nigerian trackstar in a sprint and have a mullet that you'd all be jealous of!

    July 4, 2014 at 3:14 am |
    • japangal

      Too funny

      July 4, 2014 at 3:37 am |
  9. John

    I don't get 5 Guys. Never liked their burgers.

    July 4, 2014 at 1:41 am |
    • Jan

      What's wrong with enough sodium to send you into a coma? I think its fantastic population control.

      July 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
  10. Jared

    I agree Mcdonalds burgers are terrible. They taste like use saw dust as filler in the patty. Whataburger has some good burgers I am surprised they are not mentioned. In N Out is ok I never understood why people go so crazy for their burgers. Not to mention the have sub par fries. At least that my opinion.

    July 3, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
  11. Tim Thompson

    Usually, I too like to go against the grain and go after the "Giant" – but, while I love many other fast food chains as well, I definitely love McDonalds as well. The stuff I love isn't real good for you (duh!) but it's nearly always damn tasty!

    July 3, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
    • Thinking things through

      The only things I ever found tasty there back in the day was a couple of the breakfast meals and the (definitely unhealthy) MicRib thing. I haven't eaten there for ages, and the original reason was taste. Now, it is both taste and health. NEITHER past muster there.

      July 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
  12. pastafaria

    Am I the only one here who actually thought that the cheeseburger in the picture/link that lead to this article actually looked pretty damn tasty?

    July 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
    • Thinking things through

      I am assuming they changed the photo after you posted, and for that - sigh. Photo-relevance or not, I am always going to be picky about ground meat.

      July 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
  13. James

    It seems to me that this survey is more about "brand perception" than about the quality or taste of the actual product. I don't think it's a surprise that millenials express a preference for newer brands and reject older, legacy brands. No doubt, some of it has to do with the actual product and process, but I suspect it has more to do with marketing and that generations preference for newer brands with stories to tell.

    July 3, 2014 at 6:00 pm |
    • James

      To clarify, a "blind" test would have told us more about preferences by taste. Maybe not practical, but more reliable I think.

      July 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
  14. RichardHeads World Famous Chili Burgers & Dawgs

    So You ALL want Quality ?? Get off your lazy Butts,go to your local Meat Market–NOT the grocery store and pay less then 10 cents more per pound for Local Meat,NOT Tyson or Cargill. These people take Pride in the meats,sausages,and Hams they have personally raised themselves. Now here's the hard part…You got to cook it yourself. How Hard can that be ??

    July 3, 2014 at 2:45 pm |
    • Tom

      Less than 10c more a pound for local meat!? HAHA! That's the funniest thing I've heard all day. Thanks for the laugh.

      Happy 4th anyhow!

      July 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm |
      • RichardHead@Tom

        Perhaps you should move to Texas–a Right to Work State,Plenty of jobs,No State Income Tax and BEEF,the Best there is. Enjoy your 4th of July…Mine will be Delicious.

        July 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm |
        • americanjello

          I'm so tired of hearing 'no income tax' like you're not getting hosed on your property taxes for just as much, if not more.

          July 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm |
        • Fred Evil

          And all the minimum-wage jobs you can work.
          No thanks.

          July 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
        • kuzak

          Been to Texas and found it really overrated. Except by Texans.

          July 4, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jud

      Less than 10 cents more for local raised meat from my butcher! That is funny indeed. Try 3-7 dollars more per pound!

      July 3, 2014 at 3:47 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Try reading the article NumbNutz…I am referring to ground beef…'Ya know 80-20,90-10 or is this over your head ?? Jesus,You people are pathetic when it comes to trolling a Food Blog.

        July 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
        • Bob

          You said "local meat" in your comment. You did not say ground beef or anything similar. And you call someone else pathetic?

          July 3, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
        • Red

          We've already driven it to name-calling....the argument is lost. All hail Texas.

          July 3, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
        • Jim

          RichardHead, if you plan on posting any comments on a CNN blog, you'll just have to expect hearing totally stupid responses. Yes, they troll big-time on here, and the subject matter is not important. They hide behind their fake names and get their jollies by "trying" to make others feel like they have a problem.

          My advice is to just say what you want to say and sit back and watch the lunacy!

          July 3, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
        • RichardHead@Bob

          So how do YOU make 80-20,90-10,Bobby ?? You use leftover cuts,the same with sausage,and we use Feral Hogs for Ham. Pathetic…..another Obozo Drop out Democrat .

          July 3, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
        • pastafaria

          @RichardHead Please tell me that your username is a reference to a vintage Beavis & Butthead episode. Butthead referring to his cousin, if I remember correctly.

          July 3, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • tury694

      Ten cents for a pound of ground beef. I'll have what you're smoking.

      July 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm |
      • tury694

        Read your comment wrong. Sorry

        July 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
  15. Mobee

    I usually give CR a lot of respect for their research. However, after reading this I have to say they are wasting their time in this matter. True I have only eaten at Five Guys once, but it was horrible. Burnt dried out meat product. In n Out Burger is good for fast food, but still only fast food, Not exactly an 8 out of 10 although if you give mcdonald's a 5.6(a joke in itself) that may be part of the problem. So much of the results are skewed by the "trendy" names like Chipotle and five Guys. The only thing that works in research like this would be blind taste tests.

    July 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ryan

      You want to know why Five Guys & Chipotle names are trendy? They are actually good places to eat, and deserved their top spot..How else do you think they got there? By being crap? You don't get to the top by being crap.

      July 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
      • Fred

        Well, he DID eat there one time, so hes a bit of an expert.

        July 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm |
    • Matt

      I'd argue that this name recognition is what most harmed McDonald's and Taco Bell. For example, while a McDonalds burger isn't terrific, I'd pick it over a Burger King or Jack-in-the-Box burger 10 times out of 10. Taco Bell, too, has some really tasty burritos, but its reputation is largely damaged because of rumors about the meat quality.

      July 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
  16. Ally

    What does being vegan have to do with anything? There are vegan options at some fast food restaurants.

    July 3, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
    • Ally

      Grrr....sorry. This was supposed to be a reply to the vegan post below.

      July 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
  17. confessionsoftheprofessions

    After eating healthy for so long, I figured, what harm could happen? Someone went to McDonalds where I work, came back, realized he had an extra burger and offered it to me. I took it and ate it - without the bread. I was sick for days.. taste of sodium in my mouth, headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea. Took me 2 days to recover. I will never eat at McDonalds ever again.. among many others fast food restaurants I would never go to. Your body gets used to the food and you can eat it, but if you eat healthy for a month or two and then go back to eating garbage.. your body will know.

    July 3, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
    • Stentor

      Vegans are wussies who would be left far behind in the scope of evolution if that was what you had to eat. The truly robust specimens of humanity are those who can eat meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, or anything else, & thrive on it.

      July 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
      • Meat Prep 101

        And aspartame!

        July 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
      • confessionsoftheprofessions

        In response to confessionsoftheprofessions – who is me – posting from a different computer, Stentor, I am not a vegan or vegetarian at all. I do eat somewhat like one, with salad in the mix of my diet, but I eat and love steak, fish, and chicken. I have been making homemade meals for a very long time so I know what goes into my own food with no salt / sodium added. If I want I will go out to eat at sit-down restaurants once in a while, but fast food restaurants have made me sick, so I avoid them at all costs. And again – I tried that McDonalds hamburger after not having eaten one for so long, and well, too much garbage in it for my body to really understand.

        July 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm |
      • healthy

        They said they eat healthy, not vegan. Eating healthy doesnt mean no meat.

        July 3, 2014 at 6:56 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      " I was sick for days.."
      LOL, you're so full of it your eyes are brown.
      Or is it just that your immune system is so compromised?

      July 3, 2014 at 10:29 pm |
    • CynTx67

      I thought I was the only one...I am not a vegan...but I eat healthy, no deep fried foods etc. I haven't eaten at McDonalds for over 6 months, I go back ONE time for a double and ick....me and the daughter are sick for days...not throwin up...but definitely nauseous, crampy and gassy....Once you go healthy, just stay there...Don't worry about them knocking vegans...the only vegans I pick on are the ones that look down at the steak your eating and make gagging sounds...

      July 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm |
      • BorisTheButcher

        I ate healthy for a long time and then one day a friend of mine said "try this 5 layer burrito!" I started to feel sick, but realized it was because my wussy stomach had only had lettuce and other rabbit food for a few days. After the initial shock, my stomach felt fine and I developed the power to bend metal due to probably some of the extra ingredients they put in the food that I can't pronounce. Thank you fast food, I get all the chicks now and after a double cheeseburger have even developed the ability to fly!

        July 4, 2014 at 3:03 am |
  18. gwtars

    Chic-Fil-A? Blecch. Pickles and processed, injected and mechanically tenderized chicken, no thanks. The only thing going for them is their fries.

    I'm surprised that Wendy's isn't mentioned, either positive or negative. If I want a fast food burger cheaply and conveniently, that's where I go.

    July 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
    • mike

      As if you could tell the difference between processed and non-processed chicken. Don't lie. You'd have no idea if no one told you.

      July 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
      • Richard fil a

        processed chicken = chicken nuggets a well documented item that should have never made it out of the trash can.

        Chick fil a uses heavily processed foods. Look for yourself at the over 100 ingredients that go into a chick fil a sandwich and that does not include the ingredients of any sauces.

        July 4, 2014 at 1:39 am |
    • Mark

      They use a whole breast fillet. Sounds like you're talking out of your ass in an effort to legitimize your contrarian opinion on Chick-Fil-A's food.

      July 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm |
    • Matt

      Chik fil a is a great way to overpay for chicken. It's not like they have some magical chicken or breading technique... KFC's boneless chicken breasts taste the same way, and I'm not paying $6 for it

      July 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
  19. Diarrhea man

    I always get the squirts from Subway. Every single time.

    July 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bob

      Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

      July 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
  20. E. Reyes

    As for the frosty machine pic. consider the source – what do you expect from them...as for the rest trash or stupid...

    July 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
    • Babs

      "As for the frosty machine pic. consider the source – what do you expect from them...as for the rest trash or stupid..."

      Expect from whom? Blacks?

      July 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
    • Stentor

      Racist much? Because that's what you're projecting with that statement.

      July 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
  21. H8McDonalds

    Yes, Habit is #1, but after that it's all Carl's Jr. Day in and day out.

    July 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • CE

      Culver's is the best, all others pale in comparison.

      July 3, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
  22. Matrix

    Worst burgers I ever had - Krystal. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

    July 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm |
  23. Jerry

    In N Out now that is a quality burger

    July 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • H8McDonalds

      sorry, dudes, but there is NO redeeming quality to In and Out. Biggest sham and fake in the food business.

      July 3, 2014 at 12:47 pm |
      • mike

        You're just trying to be hip.

        July 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
      • Mark

        You're a hipster and nobody likes you.

        July 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
  24. Malcolm

    Other – Vegetarian options!

    July 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Good lord, WHY?!

      July 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm |
  25. Greg

    I cook at home, always.

    July 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
  26. doofus

    "Americans want food their way, and a new survey shows that "their way" calls for a higher quality, more varied meal than they're getting at the top burger, burrito, sandwich and chicken chains."

    Then fire up the BBQ and make a freakin' burger. It's not that hard!

    July 3, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  27. Andrew

    I want my food to look like their ads and pictures of it, otherwise in my opinion it's false advertising.

    July 3, 2014 at 11:59 am |
    • jackson

      Subway is the worst. Their subs NEVER look even remotely like their ads.

      July 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
    • Ally

      Many people don't know that ads and commercials are most often done with in-edible props created to mimic the food products by professional food modelers. The real thing isn't going to look that good. An example would be cereal commercials. If you see a bowl with milk in it and cereal on top...the milk is often glue. Used so the cereal sits on top instead of sinking into liquid. Ice cubes in soda commercials? Carved clear plastic so they don't water down the color of the drink.

      With burgers they glue on extra sesame seeds to the bun and put gloss and oils on the burgers to make them look juicy. Plastics for the cheese to make it vibrant... etc.

      July 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
    • Mark

      Well, good luck with that.

      July 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm |
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