New Study from Market Force Information Reveals America’s Favorite Quick-Service Restaurants

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In-N-Out is favorite for burgers, Chipotle for Mexican food

Graph 1: Favorite QSR Burger Chains

“We are seeing strong year-over-year trends indicating that the adoption of consumer technology in the QSR industry is increasing dramatically,” said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force Information.

A new large-scale consumer study conducted by Market Force Information (Market Force) reveals America’s favorite quick-service restaurant (QSRs) chains in five popular food categories: burgers, Mexican, pizza, chicken and sandwiches. In-N-Out is America’s favorite burger chain, Chipotle ranked first for Mexican food, Marco’s for pizza, Chick-fil-A for chicken and Firehouse Subs for sandwiches.
More than 11,000 consumers were polled for the study, which also reveals consumers’ QSR dining habits, brand preferences and in-restaurant technology use. 
Burgers: In-N-Out is Favorite, McDonald’s Lands at Bottom
In-N-Out fans are known for their fierce loyalty and – in many cases – their pleas for this regional burger chain to bring a location to their town. The noted California-based chain ranked No. 1 in Market Force’s 2017 QSR study, followed by Culver’s and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. On the flip side, Carl’s Jr., Burger King and McDonald’s received the lowest scores among the 13 chains studied. [See Graph 1].

In-N-Out Dominates All Customer Experience Categories
In-N-Out was not only the favorite QSR burger brand overall, but also took the top spot in all eight customer experience categories, including value, food quality, service speed, staff friendliness, cleanliness, atmosphere, healthy options and curb appeal. Five Guys also performed consistently well, ranking second for food quality, service speed, cleanliness and atmosphere. Culver’s similarly landed in the top three in nearly every attribute. Results were based on the study participants’ most recent visit to a given restaurant. [See Graph 2.]

Other Burger Category Highlights:

  • 45% visited a burger fast-food or fast-casual restaurant at least 5 times in the previous 90 days
  • 42% used the drive-thru during their most recent visit, and 42% dined in
  • 17% brought children on their most recent visit
  • Steak n’ Shake has the highest awareness for its loyalty program at 20%
  • McDonald’s has the highest mobile app awareness (47%)

Mexican: Chipotle Makes a Comeback, Taco Bueno Slips
After a rough couple of years that included an e.coli outbreak and a hit to its stock price, Denver-based Chipotle once again leads the Mexican food category, a position it shared with Qdoba in the 2015 study before landing second behind lesser-known Taco Bueno in 2016. Moe’s Southwest Grill took second place this year, while El Pollo Loco ranked third, Qdoba fourth and Taco Cabana fifth. [See Graph 3.]

Chipotle Leads in Food, Moe’s in Service
Chipotle’s effort to improve its customer experience over the past 18 months is clearly paying off as it managed to earn a top-three rating in every category except value, including taking first place for food quality, cleanliness and curb appeal, and tying for first with Qdoba and Moe’s for service speed, and with El Pollo Loco for healthy options. The study also found Moe’s has the friendliest service and best atmosphere, and Del Taco is the value leader. Taco Bell and Taco John’s lagged across the board. [See Graph 4.]

Other Mexican Category Highlights:

  • 37% of visited a Mexican QSR chain at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • 31% used the drive-thru during their most recent visit, and 43% dined inside
  • 22% brought children on their most recent visit
  • Qdoba has the highest awareness for its loyalty program with 59%
  • Moe’s edged out Chipotle for awareness of its mobile app with 46% and 41%, respectively

Pizza: Marco’s Get Largest Slice of Votes
In the immensely competitive $44 billion pizza industry, Marco’s Pizza edged out Papa Murphy’s – consumers’ favorite over the past three years – to take the top spot for the first time. Second place went to Papa Murphy’s, third to Pizza Ranch, fourth to Jet’s Pizza and fifth to Papa John’s. [See Graph 5]. Marco’s, a fast-growth chain that is averaging at least one opening every three days, improved 13 percentage points over 2016 to move up two spots in the rankings.

Papa Murphy’s is Healthiest and Tastiest, Pizza Ranch is Most Welcoming
Papa Murphy’s and Pizza Ranch took first and second in every customer experience category. Papa Murphy’s was head and shoulders above the competition for offering healthy options, and ranked highest for value, service speed, food quality and cleanliness. Pizza Ranch was found to have the best atmosphere and curb appeal, as well as the friendliness staff. Marco’s made large gains this year in service and value. [See Graph 6].

Other Pizza Category Highlights:

  • 28% visited a pizza chain at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • Take out (54%) is the most popular way to dine for pizza chain customers
  • 20% of pizza chain customers were dining with children on their most recent visit
  • Pizza Ranch led in loyalty card awareness – 93% of customers know they offer one
  • Domino’s has the greatest awareness for its mobile app – 64% are familiar with it

Chicken: Chick-fil-A Rules Roost for Third Consecutive Year
Chicken is one of the fastest-growing segments in the QSR space, with food that appeals to kids and adults alike. Chick-fil-A was named the chicken chain favorite for the third year straight with a 78% score, while Raising Cane’s ranked second with 70%, and Zaxby’s was a distant third with 61%. El Pollo Loco and Wingstop rounded out the top five, while Bojangles slipped two places from last year to sixth. [See Graph 7].

Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s Neck in Neck in Key Attributes
Category-leader Chick-fil-A received the highest scores in every category except healthy options, a top ranking that went to El Pollo Loco for the second year in a row. Raising Cane’s and Zaxby’s had strong scores, ranking second and third in most attributes. KFC tallied the lowest scores for food and atmosphere of the chains studied, as did Wingstop for value and speed. [See Graph 8]. 

Other Chicken Category Highlights

  • 30% visited a chicken chain at least five times in the previous 90 days
  • The majority of customers opted for the drive-thru (38%), followed closely by those who chose to dine in the restaurant (37%)
  • 20% dined with children on their most recent visit
  • Raising Cane’s again led in loyalty card awareness – 29% know they offer one, followed by Chick-fil-A at 18% and Buffalo Wild Wings at 17%
  • Chick-fil-A by far has the highest mobile app awarewess with 46%, followed by Wingstop at 37%

Sandwiches: Firehouse Subs Snags No. 1 Spot, McAllister’s Slips Three Places
Firehouse Subs rose to the top of the heap to be named favorite sandwich chain this year, after placing second in 2016. Jersey Mike’s and Jason’s Deli ranked second and third. McAllister’s, which was the 2016 favorite, came in fourth this year, followed by Wawa and Panera Bread. [See Graph 9].

Jimmy John’s Has Fastest Service, Jason’ Deli Has Healthiest Fare
While Firehouse Subs took the top spot in four of the eight customer experience categories, including food quality, cleanliness, friendliness and atmosphere, other brands emerged as winners in the remaining categories. Jason’s Deli ranked highest for healthy options, Jimmy’s John’s for service speed, Wawa for value and McAlister’s Deli for curb appeal. Jersey Mike’s placed behind Firehouse Subs for food quality and, while Panera also fared well in the food-related categories, it was last for value. [See Graph 10]. 

Other Sandwich Category Highlights

  • 33% visited a sandwich chain at least five times in the previous 90 days, a drop of 6 percentage points from last year
  • Customers more often choose take-out in the sandwich category – 48%
  • Only 12% of customers brought children on their most recent visit to a sandwich QSR chain
  • Panera led in loyalty card awareness – 78% know they offer one, up four percentage points from last year
  • Convenience store sandwich chain Wawa has the highest mobile app awareness with 48%, an honor that went to Panera Bread last year

Ordering Up on Tablets is Up
QSR guests are increasingly using technology to place orders at QSRs, with 55% using a smartphone app or tablet at table to do so over the past 90 days, a 39% jump from 2015. Just under half said they prefer to order the old-fashioned way from someone at the counter, a more than 20% decrease from the 70% who reported that they prefer to do so in 2015. [See Graph 11]. 

In addition, 31% of customers recently used a mobile app or a digital wallet to pay for their QSR meal, up from 23% in 2016 and 19% in 2015.

“We are seeing strong year-over-year trends indicating that the adoption of consumer technology in the QSR industry is increasing dramatically,” said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force Information. “Recent announcements of QSRs rolling out more kiosks, apps and delivery services should accelerate that adoption even further and have a huge impact on the future of dining out.”

For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent QSR experience, and their likelihood to refer that restaurant to others. The results were averaged to attain a Composite Loyalty Index score. Only chains that received at least 100 votes and representing 2% or more of votes were analyzed. 

The survey was conducted online in January 2017 across the United States. The pool of 11,319 respondents represented a cross-section of the four U.S. census regions. Forty-one percent reported household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 73% were women and 27% were men. 
For more information on Market Force’s services for the restaurant industry, visit

About Market Force Information
Market Force Information® provides location-level measurement solutions that help businesses protect their brand reputation, delight customers and make more money. Solutions include customer experience surveys, mystery shopping and contact center data integrated on one technology and analytics platform. Founded in 2005, Market Force has a growing global presence, with offices in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Spain. It serves over 350 clients that operate multi-location businesses, including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions and entertainment. More information can be found at


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