Zagat today revealed the results of its latest Fast Food Survey, based on 6,107 respondents who weighed in on 103 chains nationwide. With palates refined by the likes of burgers, fries, shakes, burritos and pizza, the typical surveyor, on average eats at a chain restaurant 11 times per month.
The survey divided fast-food venues into four categories: Large Chains (up to 5,000 U.S. outlets), Mega-Chains (over 5,000), Full-Service Chains (with table service), and Quick-Refreshment Chains (focusing on beverages, frozen treats and the like). Surveyors separately rated each chain's Food, Facilities, and Service, on Zagat's signature 30-point scale.
“These chains offer a lot of value to diners, and in the current economic times that's more important than ever,” said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. “Given the large number of such chains, even the most avid fast food aficionado may need help in figuring out what's best.”
And the Winners Are: Living up to its claim that it is “waaaaaay better than fast food”, Wendy's remained the reigning champion for its food in the Mega-Chain category, while In-N-Out Burger, the west coast burger chain with locations in just four states (California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona), received the highest food rating among Large Chains with less than 5,000 outlets. In the Quick Refreshment category, Ben & Jerry's prevailed even if its food is sold cold. As for Full-Service Chains, the Asian-inspired Bistro P.F. Chang's comes out on top for food.
Most Popular: When asked to name their overall favorites, surveyors responded with Panera Bread – Large Chains; Subway – Mega-Chains; and P.F. Chang's – Full-Service Chains.
Refreshing Debut: Among the 28 national brands included in the Quick Refreshment category, such as Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerry's, and Cold Stone, Starbucks Coffee is surveyors' favorite, taking home the Most Popular title. This Seattle-based coffee bean behemoth also wins the hotly contested title of “Best Coffee”, edging out Dunkin' Donuts.
Value: Value-oriented restaurants offering hearty food just like mom's (maybe even better), offer a chic and cheap alternative to home – especially during trying economic times. Among Full Service Chains, the winners in order are Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel. Cheesecake Factory also scores for top Salads, Appetizers, and Desserts. Fast Food winners for Best Value are (1) McDonald's, (2) Wendy's and (3) In-N-Out Burger.
Better Burger: Regional burger chain In-N-Out Burger takes the cake for Best Burger. Wendy's ranks no. 2, but still outshines Mega-Chain competitors (and rivals) Burger King and McDonald's (numbers 3 and 4 respectively).
Talking About McDonald's: Helping explain its status as the world's most prolific chain (Over 30,000 total outlets), McDonald's has once again won the classic battle of Best French Fries, as well as crowns for Best Breakfast Sandwiches, Most Child-Friendly, Best Drive-Thru, and most importantly, these days, Best Value among fast-fooders.
As for Healthy Options: This years' surveyors award top laurels to Panera Bread (Large Chain), Subway (Mega-Chain), Jamba Juice (Quick Refreshment) and California Pizza Kitchen (Full-Service).
Best Fried Chicken: Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Best Grilled Chicken: Chick-fil-A
Best Fish: Long John Silver's
Best Coffee: Starbucks
Best Shakes: Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops
Best Salads: Panera Bread Co.
Best Steak: Outback Steakhouse
Best Pasta: Olive Garden
Best Breakfast: International House of Pancakes (IHOP)
Best Seafood: Red Lobster
Most Child-Friendly: Chuck E. Cheese's