Fast-food chains have grown to become a polarizing topic: What some love, others don't. Consumer Report did a study to see what these fast-food lovers really thought. And from bland burgers to grub that crumbles in your hands, here's what they found.
Branded with the phrase, "we have the meats," Arby's lives to serve the meat-lovers of America. Despite their success, they've fallen victim to the gossip mill: Apparently there might be an unexpected additive in their roast beef sandwiches.
Curious? Here's a clue: Theories point to gel, paste, or similar unexpected ingredients. Not to mention the customer's claim from back in 2004: The diner apparently discovered a morsel of human skin found in their dish. Possibly due to the bad press, Consumer Reports found that only 44% of customers planned to return.
It doesn't feel like that long ago that Popeyes' chicken sandwiches were making major buzz around the U.S. But, according to public opinion, their flame was rather short-lived. Nearly 700 diners took to Trustpilot to share how they felt, which culminated an overall ranking of 1.5 stars. But what was their reasoning?
Well, as far as one customer was concerned, eating their well-known chicken sandwich "wasn't only a disappointment, it was dangerous." Yikes! "The chicken was spoiled, burnt, and smelled horrible," the consumer continued. But it seems that the 690 customer reviews haven't phased the nearly 50-year-old chain… That much.
33. Boston Market
This next item will take some on a walk down memory lane. The American chain was a suburban staple back in the 1990s, with 1,000 Boston Markets across the country. But, it looks like the good times came to an end. These days the casual restaurant business has dropped to under 350 locations.
And with Consumer Reports stating that only 43% of diners would plan to return, it's no surprise there's been such a drop. One customer pointed to the menu as the problem. "Is it too much to ask to make your rotisserie chicken, the menu item that is synonymous with Boston Market, taste at least average?" they wrote on Yelp.
Seems like something might have gotten lost in translation with this fast-food franchise. Their motto, "the world's largest hot dog chain," left many customers disappointed after giving the popular joint a chance. Consumer Reports pinned the retaining rate at a mere 41%, but what was to blame?
According to the stats, it's as simple as this: The quality of meat just ain't what it should be. One Yelp reviewer explained that, "There were more pieces of bone in the patty than there was 'beef.'" Looks like the good deals might not be all that they seem. But at least you'll save a buck.
A walk down your local grocery store's soda aisle will introduce you to our next chain. Their well-known root beer label has been a staple in American fridges for over 100 years! However, according to some customers, the A&W menu is seen as less of a success.
Consumer Reports gathered that only 35% of diners would consider eating again at the establishment. From greasy fries to even greasier restaurant tables, customers have published their fair share of complaints against the fast-food chain over the years.
30. Dunkin' Donuts
This next chain sure went big with their slogan, "America runs on Dunkin." But was it too much, too soon? Though few can deny the deliciousness of their coffee options, when it comes to actual food? We're not so sure that many customers feel the same way.
As enticing as the donut display may be, many customers claim the product lacks that straight-out-of-the-oven taste. "I have never had a fresh donut here," one Yelp reviewer commented. Interpret that as you may, but it looks like their catchy phrase might have been a slight overshoot.
29. Dairy Queen
From ice cream cakes for every occasion to gravity-defying blizzards, Dairy Queen truly has ruled the dairy kingdom since first opening its doors back in 1940. But ice cream aside, some customers were less than enthralled by items offered from the grill. Especially their hamburgers and hot dogs.
And the bad press made it all the way to the newsstands! Chicago Tribune wrote that the burgers are "as poorly made as a fast-food burger can be… the gray and limpid patty was dry and flavorless." Harsh! And the sentiment is shared by other customers as well. When asked by Consumer Reports, only 43% of diners said they'd return.
28. El Pollo Loco
El Pollo Loco ("The Crazy Chicken" in Spanish) first made its debut in Mexico back in 1975, but later expanded to Los Angeles in 1980. While the brand is still standing all these years later, according to Consumer Reports' survey, just 43% of eaters plan to dine at the chain again.
Nearly 50%, that's not that bad, right? The stats have to do with the supposedly sub-par menu in addition to the dining experience. And most surprisingly, some diners claim that, considering the supposed absence of flavor, the items are way too overpriced.
27. Taco Bell
Love them or hate them, Taco Bell and America go way back. In fact, in 2018, it was voted the country's favorite pick for Mexican food! With items ranging in spiciness like burritos and their firey Diablo sauce, Taco Bell makes an effort to offer something for everyone.
And despite their efforts, the large menu can't hide the fact that some customers claim the food causes upset stomachs. Some have also criticized the small portion sizes. All that's to say, it might be a shock to some that Customer Reports found that roughly 57% of customers would be taking their money elsewhere.
Chances are that Bojangles has popped into the minds of diners looking to get their Southern cuisine fix. But, if by chance you're a stranger to the brand, it's because they're only in 14 out of 50 states. A group of writers from the Washington Post made the trip down to taste the goods… And what they found didn't wow them.
"So many carbs, so little flavor," one wrote after trying one of the biscuits. However, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis defended the chain. "Bojangles makes the best 'fast food' biscuits, period," he said. We'll leave you to be the judge. But with Consumer Reports pinning only 43% of diners opting to dine again, it's a 50/50 gamble.
Here's another chain which, according to customers, didn't live up to its slogan. Subway's "eat fresh" motto got them some flack after complaints spread about the quality. Could it be that they've got too many locations on the go? Business Insider ranked them with the highest number of any chain in the world back in October 2020.
It appears that their bang-for-your-buck subs aren't always enough. Thousands of locations have shut their doors in the past few years. And public opinion has declined concerning restaurant cleanliness. But when it comes to quality, a mere 42% of footlong lovers said they'd give Subway another go, according to Consumer Reports.
Due to their similar square-sized burgers, our next brand has often been likened to its competitor, White Castle. But lucky for Krystal, they scored slightly better on customer feedback. Diners, however, have voiced their frustrations regarding the bun-to-meat proportion and mildly bland flavor.
But compared to other restaurants coming up on the list, Krystal hasn't received nearly as much negativity for their food. Diners simply left feeling that it was nothing special, with Consumer Reports saying that only 69% of diners would return. But hey, that's definitely not as bad as it comes in the world of customer reviews.
What not many know is that this chain went through a rebirth in the past decade. Around 10 years ago, a slew of pizza-lovers likened Domino's dough to "cardboard" and complained that the operation was too "mass-produced." This caused the chain to hit the drawing board and re-invent their recipe in hopes to save the business.
Alas, their efforts in the kitchen didn't impress everyone. Consumer Reports pinned customer retention rate at only 41%. Many believe that the quality still isn't where it should be, but for high-value items, some still sacrifice quantity for quality. We'll let you be the judge.
22. Long John Silver's
Pay attention fish and chips lovers! This next chain just might be up your alley… Depending on how much you care about quality… The way some customers saw it, the deep-fried menu items were far too greasy for their liking. And with that, Consumer Reports' research suggests that only 41% of diners were looking to visit again.
"Never again will I ever get the baja shrimp tacos or the fish tacos, they were so nasty," shared one dissatisfied diner. "I don't recommend either of them." In addition, some consumers have critiqued the less-than-nutritious ingredient list, complaining that it was far from healthy.
21. Taco John's
Before even getting to the quality of the food, many Taco John's consumers said that the restaurant fudged their order. But that's not the end of it. The burritos have also received some flack for the ingredient ratio: "I honestly got a tortilla with maybe a tablespoon of beans, a sprinkle of cheese, and a little sauce," one diner said.
"Unreal. Never seen anything this bad," another comment read. The sentiment was shared by customers that wrote similar remarks, thus culminating in this not-so-hot review: Consumer Reports concluded that only 41% of taco-lovers would return to Taco John's again. While the potato olés received some praise, it just wasn't enough.
With roughly 1,000 locations closing over the past years, it comes as a surprise that KFC has seen better days. The brand has taken some financial blows but, is still standing, despite some bad press. The fast-food chain got some heat after a rumor surfaced that their menu items came from "mutant chickens."
But just what has KFC got to offer? Well, for $20, diners get bang for their buck. From buckets of chicken to sides, the dollar value is there. However, some said that "the chicken went from tasty to very disgusting in the past two years!" According to Consumer Reports, 60% of customers agree, and said they wouldn't come back!
Chances are that you've fallen victim to the enticing smell of Cinnabon while out and about shopping. But how does the actual taste compare to the heavenly aroma? This is where many disagree. Claims from unhappy customers stated that they received stale goods that had been reheated.
In addition to the old cinnamon buns, customers also mentioned that the staff impacted their experience, from start to finish. While many lovers of the delicious pastry continue to support the franchise, 60% of customers declared that they wouldn't be returning.
18. Del Taco
This list is no stranger to Mexican fast-food options, but it looks like Del Taco didn't rank highly. One disappointed first-time diner went as far as to comment "my first and last trip to Del Taco!" The consumer continued, "I understand it's fast food, but this made its competitors seem like a Michelin star-rated restaurant."
But with such reasonable costs, many felt that they got their moneys worth with Del Taco's meals. It looks like it's split 40/60 here, with only 40% diners eager to return for round two, according to Consumer Reports. But hey, that's nothing compared to some of these other reviews on the list.
17. Einstein Bros. Bagels
Their brand may be linked to a scientific genius, but according to some customers, there's nothing brilliant about Einstein Bros. Bagels' menu. According to Consumer Reports' survey findings, a mere 40% of bagel lovers would consider returning to the franchise.
"I can tell you that Einstein Bagels are not the real thing," one disappointed diner shared. Complaints have ranged from undercooked dough to bland flavor. The beverages have also come under fire, with many saying the coffee's not remarkable. One thing's for sure, some of the chains lower on the list would happily swap reviews.
16. White Castle
White Castle made a name for itself from its uniquely petite, square patties. But their trademark size has also brought some criticism, with many diners left hungry after the small portions. Major buzz also came for the century-old establishment from its appearance in the early 2000sfilm, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.
Many fans of the movie didn't get why White Castle would be the go-to burger choice, with such a variety of other choices. Consumer Reports got the final stats, stating that 61% of diners wouldn't return. But the chain is still on its feet, thanks to their successful brand of freezer-ready patties.
15. Panda Express
With over 2,200 locations worldwide reported in 2019, Panda Express is going strong numbers-wise. But public opinion? That's another story. Some diners see the chain as an unappealing knock-off. "Do I gnaw on my own thumb, or do I get orange chicken?" Restauranteur David Chang asked ironically.
But if you prioritize cleanliness over quality, this joint may be up your alley! Reports show the chain passed all hygiene checks and are spotless, floor to ceiling. But for many, that didn't cut it. According to Consumer Reports, only 39% of diners would return.
Sure, Wendy's may be irresistible to some, but these scandals may have you thinking twice before you place for next order. Remember the "finger in chili crisis" from '05? And the wild rodent living inside a sack of ingredients in 2018? But did the PR messes turn away business for good?
Well, customers are still visiting the nearly 6,000 locations around the States. However, some complain that the food lacks flavor. According to one diner, the "hamburger was tasteless and dry, did not taste like a burger." Consumer Reports ranked this joint with a 38% retention rate.
13. Little Caesars
While Little Caesars may be the go-to for folks with a $5 bill to spare, many are asking if their cost-friendly slices event warrant the expense. Consumer Reports hit the ground to gather public opinion, and only 37% of pizza-lovers would consider going back for another serving.
"The absolute worst in terms of everything," one dissatisfied diner shared. However, with such affordable options, some consumers say "you get what you pay for." And looks like $5 doesn't guarantee a world-class slice. What do you have to say about one of the top three pizza chains in America?
Next up is a chain that has received major flack for poor customer experience. From uninviting staff to long wait times, many diners are perturbed with the fast-food restaurant. But do the wide variety of menu items save their reputation? Let's find out.
Well, with diners vexed by the wait, the stakes were high. And according to one customer, it just wasn't worth the hassle: "The food was made so bad that it fell apart before I can even take my first bite," the review read. Yikes! The people have spoken, and Consumer Reports found that 64% of diners wouldn't return.
11. Sonic Drive-In
Thanks to their convenient curbside pickup options and inviting design, it's no surprise that Sonic Drive-In has enticed many hungry road trippers over the years. But do the advantages match up in quality as well? Many diners were disappointed with their burgers and found the pros did not outweigh the cons.
The Chicago Tribune even wrote that "the oversized bun deserves the most scorn, though the pallid-looking patty deserves to be covered up with something." Well, there you have it: If you're still in the mood for Sonic, be sure to go heavy with the condiments. But according to Consumer Reports, just 36% of diners are down.
10. Auntie Anne's
From humble beginnings in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to a cross-country franchise, Auntie Anne's has had quite the come-up story. But since found predominantly in commercial centers, the chain has received some tough blows as malls are losing business.
While the odd craving for Auntie Anne's may still come, some claim that the goods either lack freshness or are overdone. The chain has added hot items to its menu in attempts to roll with the punches. But according to Consumer Reports, only 35% of customers say it's cutting it.
This next fast-food joint has been on the decline for a number of years now. And with under 1,000 of the sandwich shops left standing, many are left asking what's to blame. Some diners point to the quality of the food, while others blame the costs.
Well, the people spoke, and Consumer Reports listened. According to their survey, 65% of consumers wouldn't be returning for another sandwich. And with Subway's as a contender, we can't blame them. Many consumers say the taste just isn't what it should be, given the cost.
Unless you're in the South, you're possibly unacquainted with this next fast-food joint. Hardee's is well-known for its 6-sided hamburgers. But according to public opinion, its distinctive form doesn't cut it, as many commented that the menu lacks in quality and flavor.
The Chicago Tribune didn't hold back with their review of Hardee's hamburger: "toppings lack flavor, and, worst of all, the meat has a spongy texture without any recognizable beef flavor." The sentiment was echoed in Consumer Reports' findings. According to them, only 34% of diners would opt for another round.
7. Jimmy John's
This next sandwich shop sure knows how to catch the attention of passersby. In the window of most Jimmy John's hangs the neon display: "Free smells." But, by the looks of their 2019 publicity stunt, the chain was struggling to turn foot traffic into loyal supporters.
It worked like this: Jimmy John's promised that anyone who could show proof of address outside the delivery area would be entered in a draw. The prize? A whopping $250,000 check for a house situated in their drop-off zone. But even with all the cash, Consumer Reports found that only 34% of customers wanted another bite.
Whether it's stuck waiting for a flight or overcome by munchies at the cinema, many have turned to Sbarro out of convenience or necessity. And while a number of diners declare it's not their ideal choice for a slice, the pizza joint options are just fine.
"You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food," one journalist said from The New York Times. And from the looks of the Consumer Reports survey, many agree: Only 34% of customers craved another slice!
5. Burger King
This next fast-food chain really aims to provide an option for everyone. From their world-famous whopper to newer vegan options, Burger King has tried keeping the menu fresh. But the eager-to-please chain clearly isn't in everyone's good books. Only 33% of them, according to Consumer Reports.
As one diner said of the crispy chicken sandwich, "it was the most disgusting thing I've ever had. I took one bite and spit it out. I don't think it was chicken." Despite the bad press, Burger King is still standing, partially thanks to their affordable items.
4. Carl's Jr.
Talk about the little train that could! This next chain started back in 1941 when Carl Karcher emptied his pockets into a small food stand. Eighty years later and Carl's Jr. is now an established chain run by CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc. The restaurant tries to spice things up with novelty items, including CBD-infused food!
But due to its rank, you can expect some bad news. Past CEO Andy Pudzer got major heat for his comment, saying, "we believe in putting hot models in our commercials because ugly ones don't sell burgers." Whether due to food quality of the PR scandal, according to Consumer Reports, just 33% of diners wanted to visit again.
3. Jack in the Box
Next up is the west coast staple, Jack in the Box. And while offering convenient options, many stay away from the chain. Diners have claimed that the food was "tough and tasteless." Some dissatisfied customers went as far as to say it was "so gross and cold we threw it away and left."
However, if the criticisms don't faze you, then a world of all-day breakfast and burgers awaits. Especially if deep-friend tacos are a must-have on your list. However, only 33% of diners are aboard the Jack in the Box train, according to Consumer Reports.
2. Cici's Pizza
One thing's for sure: Cici's Pizza offers bang for your buck. Starting at just $5.99, diners are treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked with pizza, wings, and more. But with some customers complaining about the taste, just how much of a steal is it?
One customer felt that Cici's was the "Dollar Tree of food establishments." Another shared that the food was "actually seriously terrible." Yikes! And it looks like the sentiment is widespread. According to Consumer Reports, 78% of diners said they'd never come back for another round. But at least the service got a shining review!
It would take some pretty bad press to make customers turn on this institution. But McDonald's has received criticism, especially following the 2004 documentary Super Size Me. And if you've seen the exposé, chances are you're still haunted by the pink slime.
Ever since Morgan Spurlock used his directorial skills to uncover McDonald's ingredient list, many customers chose not to return. Especially as viewers learned of the surprising side-effects. According to Consumer Reports' findings, only 28% of fast-food lovers are still "lovin it."