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    Fast Food Not Faring Well in Customer Satisfaction

    New data shows overall gratification has fallen 3.8 percent.

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As customers’ discretionary income improves and their preferences shift in favor of quality over price, they are becoming less satisfied with fast food, according to new data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

    ACSI measures company and industry customer satisfaction scores, as well as critical elements of the dining experience that affect patron satisfaction. The customer experience benchmarks include: quality and variety of food and beverages; restaurant layout and cleanliness; and service elements such as staff courtesy, food order accuracy and speed of food delivery to the customer.

    The 2015 ACSI report, which is based on 5,023 customer surveys collected in the first quarter of the year, shows that while customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants holds steady at 82 on ACSI’s 100-point scale, their satisfaction with fast-food restaurants has fallen 3.8 percent to 77, the lowest score in five years. ACSI noted that the gap between fast-food and full-service restaurants is the largest since 2010.

    “The job market is the strongest it has been in years, which is having an interesting effect on supply and demand,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. “On the demand side, consumers with greater discretionary income seem to put quality ahead of price in their decision-making. On the supply side, restaurants are finding it harder to hire and retain qualified and motivated workers, which can have an adverse impact on service quality.”

    At the top of fast-food restaurants, Chick-fil-A and Chipotle Mexican Grill debuted as new entrants, with Chick-fil-A boasting a score of 86 — the highest company score to date in the category.

    Fast-casual restaurants, which typically offer better ingredients, freshness and more developed décor, make a strong showing as Chipotle takes second place in its first ACSI appearance with a score of 83. Panera Bread rounded out the top three companies with a first-time score of 80.

    The total of small fast-food restaurants, although still near the top of the industry, fell 4 percent to a score of 81, which pulls the industry’s overall ACSI score down.

    “The fast-casual segment of quick-service restaurants is nicely situated for the confluence of changing consumer tastes and a rebounding economy,” said ACSI Director David VanAmburg. “Consumers have a bit more money in their pockets, but are still pressed for time. Fast-casual outlets offer higher-quality ingredients, freshness and fast service — all at a reasonable price.”

    Pizza Chains See Domino Effect

    Over the past several years, pizza chains have increased their competition on price, which has sometimes come at the expense of quality ingredients, which now shows a negative effect on customer satisfaction.

    The four major pizza retailers that have endured large customer satisfaction losses include: Papa Johns (fell 5 percent to a score of 78), Pizza Hut (fell 5 percent to 78), Dominos (fell 6 percent to 75) and Little Caesars (boasted the biggest loss by 8 percent to a score of 74).

    Established Fast-Food Entities

    Established fast-food entities including Burger King (down 5 percent to 72), KFC (down 1 percent to 73), Wendy’s (down 6 percent to 73), Arby’s (debuted at 74) and Taco Bell (unchanged at 72) remain at the bottom of the industry. McDonald’s, the largest fast-food company in the United States, remains at the bottom of this list, as it trended down 6 percent to a score of 67.

    Weak customer satisfaction puts downward pressure on the overall industry score, reported ACSI. McDonald's company revenue has dropped for six consecutive quarters. As the economy improves, the fast-food giant needs higher levels of customer satisfaction to reverse the revenue trend.

    Must Be the Caffeine

    Dunkin’ Donuts is the only fast-food chain to improve customer satisfaction in 2015, according to ACSI. The company’s score rose 4 percent to 78, pulling ahead of Starbucks, whose score dropped 3 percent to 74. In 2014, Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out its Dunkin’ Rewards beverage program tied to its mobile app, which has since seen seemingly positive results, the report found.

    The beverage chain is extending its U.S. presence beyond its Northeast stronghold to the West, hoping to gain traction against not only premium chains like Starbucks, but also McDonald’s, which offers lower-priced quality coffee.

    The full ACSI report can be accessed here.

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