The health of the U.S. economy may officially be measured in GDP, exports and employment stats, but on the ground one of the most telling economic indicators is the ratio of dining out to eating in. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), consumers dined out 60% more often in 2013 than they did during the recession.
Consumer confidence has rebounded in a big way, and the ASCI’s recent survey of dining habits suggests this upward trend has a lot to do with economic optimism. Customer satisfaction, though, could be the deciding factor in where that money is spent – and for brands like McDonald’s and KFC, that’s not a good thing.
Overall satisfaction with the restaurant industry remains high, but customer allegiances are shifting
Following this survey of customer satisfaction levels at full-service and limited-service restaurants in the U.S., the picture remains relatively unchanged between 2013 and the first part of 2014. That is, consumers are generally happy with order accuracy, food and beverage quality, menu variety, restaurant cleanliness and service. For full-service restaurants such as Red Lobster, Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse, the overall customer satisfaction level rose by 1.2% since 2013 (although Red Lobster itself saw a 6% decline).
For limited-service restaurants, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Pizza Hut, the needle didn’t move at all: customer satisfaction was unchanged across the category as a whole, slightly below full-service restaurants.
But the biggest story to come out of the survey was the poor showing of McDonald’s, which declined 3%, giving it the lowest score of all, and KFC, which experienced the biggest drop in customer satisfaction, 9%. Subway also felt the sting, receiving a 6% drop in approval from its customers.
Big is not necessarily a recipe for success
What does it mean? According to the ASCI’s analysis, consumers continue to be attracted to the speed and low prices of fast-food restaurants. Moreover, they are responding to increasingly diverse menu options and a general rise in quality. But while some of the largest brands fell significantly in the customer satisfaction department, their smaller competitors enjoyed enough of a boost to keep the limited-service category steady at a score of 80.
The full report is available on the ASCI website.