Well-established restaurant brands including McDonald’s, KFC and Sbarro came up short in a fast-food survey by Consumer Reports, released Wednesday.

The Yonkers, N.Y.-based non-profit organization, which compiled responses from 32,405 subscribers, with an aggregate 96,208 dining experiences, ranked fast food by taste on a one-to-100 scale.

The leaders by category in the survey were: burgers by Irvine, Calif.-based In-N-Out Burger; pizza by Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza; chicken by Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A; Mexican by Carlsbad, Calif.-based Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill; Asian (a tie) by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Pei Wei Asian Diner and Denver-based Noodles & Company; and sandwiches by Chicago-based Portillo’s Hot Dogs.

Portillo’s, a 38-unit chain, said Tuesday it had accepted an investment from private equity firm Berkshire Partners.

“More and more, food quality ― not just low price ― is emerging as a deciding factor for many Americans when choosing where to spend their dining dollars,” said Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports, in a statement.

Consumer Reports fast-food survey, which is featured in its August 2014 issue, ranked 65 chains.

Coming in at the bottom of the six categories were: burgers, Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s; pizza, Melville, N.Y.-based Sbarro; sandwiches, Boston-based Au Bon Pain; chicken, Louisville, Ky.-based KFC; Mexican, Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell; and Asian, Rosemead, Calif.-based Panda Express.

“Strong regional players and slightly more upscale fast-casual chains like Chipotle are giving the heavy-hitters in the fast-food business a wake-up call,” Marks said. “And our survey clearly shows the big guys need to respond.”

Consumer Reports said Chick-fil-A garnered top marks for taste, and also stood out for cleanliness of the dining area and polite and speedy service, Consumer Reports said.

“National chains such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Smashburger and Fuddruckers received high scores for the tastiness of their burgers,” Consumer Reports said.

Consumer Reports also noted that the study indicated cheap food isn’t necessarily a bargain.  

“Only around one of five respondents thought their meal offered excellent value,” the organization said. “Del Taco, Little Caesars and Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza were at the top of the list at delivering bang for the buck, while Burger King, Church’s, KFC, Panda Express and Sbarro landed at the bottom.”

Rankings of menu healthfulness varied in the survey as well.

The Consumer Reports’ survey indicated most fast-food diners aren’t concerned about dieting when they eat out.

“Only 20 percent of respondents said they consider the availability of healthful menu options when choosing a restaurant; just 19 percent said they ordered healthful fare during their most recent restaurant visit,” the survey found.

“Nearly all of Subway’s and Jason’s Deli’s diners said those restaurants offered plenty of healthy menu options, while far fewer Little Caesars and White Castle diners felt the same,” the organization reported.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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