One big Subway challenge: Its online reputation

The sandwich giant finished last in an analysis of fast-food chains’ online reputation. At the top: Chick-fil-A.
Subway reputation
Subway's reputation score was 267% lower than top performing Chick-fil-A. | Photo: Shutterstock.

One issue that Subway’s new owner may want to try fixing: Its online reputation.

The sandwich giant had the worst online reputation among fast-food chains, according to marketing technology company SOCi Inc.

Subway finished with a score of 18 out of 100 possible points in the index, which analyzes online reviews of restaurant chains. That 18 was less than half the average score of 45.

It was also 267% lower than the highest performing chain, Chick-fil-A, which had a score of 66.

The reputation score is calculated using five key parameters while evaluating restaurants based on their reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook. It looks at the rate of new reviews, the volume of reviews per location, the mix of positive and negative, how quickly companies respond and their average rating.

One of the biggest differentiators SOCi found was the concept of “ghosting,” which costs restaurants $14 billion a year in lost value. Ghosting is where companies ignore online feedback, reviews and questions. And it’s a bigger problem among the worst-performing chains.

A few other notes about the survey:

McDonald’s did well. Arguably the biggest surprise from the data provided by SOCi is McDonald’s, which had a reputation score of 49, above average and higher than Arby’s (48), Wendy’s (39) and Burger King (38). Generally speaking, fast-food burger chains did reasonably well with an average score of 43.5, and both Five Guys (57) and Sonic (54) occupying three of the top five spots.

Pizza? Not so much. The top-performing pizza chain was Pizza Hut, with a score of 46. But on average, that sector scored 37 on SOCi’s rankings, and two pizza chains, Little Caesars (33) and Domino’s (32) were near the bottom.

Chick-fil-A broke the curve. Fast-food chicken chains had an average score of 49, according to SOCi, but Chick-fil-A’s score of 66 had a lot to do with it. Popeyes had a score of 42, and KFC 39, both of which were under average.

Online reputation is increasingly important for restaurant chains as more consumers order their meals through digital channels. Proper online engagement with consumers can make a big difference for brands.

Chick-fil-A has long finished at or near the top among restaurant chains in consumer surveys and other ratings. The Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain has long been heralded for its customer service and the quality of its food, giving it a loyalty that has helped it generate some of the strongest sales per location in the industry.

For Subway, however, the reputation is indicative of the challenges facing the chain as it works on a comeback. The company has closed more than 6,000 domestic restaurants since 2015. It is working to improve same-store sales thanks to a series of menu changes and marketing efforts.

In a statement, Subway said it is not familiar with the marketing firm or its methodology and said that it and its franchisees “take every guest comment very seriously” and that it works “closely with our franchisees to ensure they are providing guests with a positive experience and have the resources they need to address issues that may arise.”

The company is currently finishing a sale. Roark Capital has emerged as the lead bidder for the chain with a potential sale price of $9.6 billion. But a source has described those talks as “fluid” and other buyers are apparently still in the mix.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Red Lobster needs a buyer. How does Darden sound?

Reality Check: The casual dining giant sold Red Lobster in a cloud of controversy a decade ago. Here's why a return to the fold may not be as crazy as it sounds.


KFC goes portable and poppable to grab the snacking generation

Behind the Menu: Bite-size Apple Pie Poppers, created to target customers' sweet spot, lend themselves to line extensions to expand the chain’s snack selections.

Emerging Brands

5 pre-emerging restaurant brands ready for takeoff

These small concepts are still proving out their ideas, but each shows promise as a potential candidate for the next generation of emerging chains.


More from our partners