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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Fast food restaurants tied with sit-down chain restaurants on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for the first time ever this year. Sit-down restaurants fell 2.4 percent while fast food climbed 1.3 percent to an all-time high of 80.
The ACSI added Applebee's to its roster in the full-service category, and Subway and Dunkin' Donuts in the fast food category.
"The opposing customer satisfaction trends for full-service outlets vs. fast food are all the more troubling for sit-down restaurant operators given the current weak economy," said ACSI founder Claes Fornell. "The juxtaposition of low prices with newly improved quality makes fast food an attractive option for budget-conscious diners. It's a safe bet that fast food will make further inroads into the traditional restaurant business."
Subway scored a strong 81 in its ACSI debut, and Dunkin' Donuts scored 79, ahead of coffee rival Starbucks, which fell 5 percent to 76. Pizza also scored well in this year's index, with Papa John's rising 5 percent to 83 and Little Caesar 2 percent to 82. Pizza Hut dropped 4 percent to 78 but still ties or beats out burger chains. Domino's, the lowest pizza chain, stayed at 77 for the fourth year in a row.
Wendy's is the top burger chain, rising 1 percent to 78. Taco Bell rose 1 percent to 77, while Burger King and KFC stayed flat at 75. McDonald's rose 1 percent to 73, an all-time high in customer satisfaction and a sharp increase from 2000, when its score was 59.
Applebee's premiered in the sit-down category with a score of 77, while Chili's fell 4 percent to 76. Red Lobster rose 1 percent to lead the category at 83; Olive Garden fell 2 percent to 80; and Outback Steakhouse remained at 81.