Americans don’t want just speed and convenience at their favorite fast-food restaurants. Increasingly, they are demanding some of the same features associated with more elegant dining options, including higher food quality and menu variety.
Some fast-food chains are meeting these demands better than others, according to an annual ranking from industry analyst Nation’s Restaurant News. The magazine surveyed 37,339 fast-food customers and ranked the chains on ten qualities: atmosphere, cleanliness, craveability, food quality, likely to recommend, likely to return, menu variety, reputation, service and value.
Among the highlights is Smashburger, which moved up 40 places this year from 2015 and was the second-highest-ranking burger joint after the longstanding favorite In-N-Out Burger. Part of Smashburger’s success comes from its increased marketing to Millennials using Instagram and Snapchat. The chain also runs popular promotional menu items such as the Sin City Burger, which features bacon, cheese, onions and a fried egg. (The company slyly suggests the burger can cure anything, even a hangover.)
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In the last year, California-based Rubio’s has been remaking its image, moving away from its Mexican roots and focusing more on seafood. The chain is transitioning its name from Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill to Rubio’s Coastal Grill and rolling out a new restaurant design. It is also promoting a more health-conscious menu featuring all-natural chicken with no antibiotics and bacon with no nitrites or nitrates. The moves have helped the chain improve ranking this year.
The same can’t be said for Chipotle Mexican Grill, which endured a PR nightmare after two E. coli outbreaks infected dozens of diners across the country. The CDC announced in February that the outbreak is over, but the damage to the chain’s reputation had been done. Same-store sales at the restaurant company plunged 36.4 percent in January. Its ranking among fast-food chains plummeted 38 spots from last year.
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Click here to find the best fast-food restaurants this year – and the worst.