As proof that sales don’t always equate to consumer preference, only one of the 10 largest chains by sales made this list: Chick-fil-A (No. 7 on the list of the country’s highest-grossing chains). While McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell and others bring in more dollars, it’s the chicken chain, along with regionally driven burger concepts Culver’s and In-N-Out Burger, that earned top marks from consumers, especially for their service and hospitality— showing that even for QSRs, where visits can last mere moments, service matters.
Overall Score: 62.9%
The chicken chain is rolling out more than a nontraditional business model. In 2018, the chain tested both a Frosted Key Lime drink and a mac and cheese side option. Yet even as it innovates, the chain prioritizes the experience, scoring top marks in the “service and hospitality” category with consumers. It’s little touches that win with guests, from catering to parents by setting the table inside with orders placed via the drive-thru, to having staffers grind pepper tableside for dine-in customers.
Part of that attention to detail at the store level may stem back to the chain’s nontraditional partnership model: It develops and owns all of its restaurants but brings in local operators to manage each unit.
It’s also the brand’s emphasis on the guest. The chain updated its loyalty program in August, switching to the Chick-fil-A One tiered membership program, in which customers earn points with every purchase for the opportunity to earn rewards. It may contribute to the fact that far more than half of consumers rate the chain’s value as “very good.”
4. In-N-Out Burger
Overall Score: 56.3%
Known for its cult following and tight radius for expansion, CEO Lynsi Snyder told Forbes in a rare interview that Texas is as far east as the chain will go while she’s in charge. “Draw a line up and just stick to the left,” she said.
5. Papa Murphy's Pizza
Overall Score: 56.2%
Despite positive marks from consumers, the take-and-bake pizza chain has been struggling for years, seeing declines in unit count, revenue and same-store sales. While it’s winning with convenience, it continues to face competition as more brands add delivery.
The Technomic Ignite: Consumer program is an ongoing study that tracks the performance of leading chains by measuring the consumer experience. This report includes the top chains in the U.S. by sales, plus 53 additional chains to round out categories or capture regional data. The data represents responses from over 100,000 consumers, collected from Q4 2017 to Q3 2018. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statements, on a scale of 1 to 5.