McDonald’s Is Failing on Customer Satisfaction, Report Finds

The fast-food juggernaut received the lowest customer satisfaction rating across all major American restaurants.

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Published: July 8, 2024

Rhys Fisher Fisher

A customer satisfaction report has found that burger behemoth McDonald’s is the poorest-performing major restaurant in the US.

Conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index organization (ACSI), McDonald’s received the lowest ACSI rating across all full-service and fast-food restaurants.

At the other end of the scale, Chick-fil-A claimed the top spot for the 10th consecutive year, strengthening its position as the King of fast-food customer satisfaction.

Elsewhere, steakhouse stalwarts Longhorn and Texas Roadhouse both experienced four percent bumps to earn themselves a share of first place in the full-service restaurant category, while Denny’s and Red Robin were ranked last.

Calculating ACSI Scores

The annual study is based on responses from almost 15,000 customers who were surveyed between April 2023 and March 2024.

The study surveyed customers about the American restaurants with the largest market share, with each given an ACSI score between 0 and 100.

In order to calculate a company’s ACSI, the organization considers several tenets of customer service and experience; including customer expectations, perceptions of quality, perceptions of value, customer complaints, and customer value.

In addition, the ACSI utilizes a series of CX benchmarks to explore year-on-year industry trends, as seen in the below graphic:

 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Restaurant and Food Delivery Study 2024
Source: American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Restaurant and Food Delivery Study 2024

So, let’s take a closer look at the findings of the report and see what they can teach us about the CX restaurant industry.

What Diners Want

As seen in the above graphic, while McDonald’s may be underperforming compared to its contemporaries, the overall levels of customer satisfaction within the full-service restaurant sector have improved since last year, with every benchmark increasing apart from the two relating to mobile apps.

For fast-food, there is a similar story. While the increases are less pronounced, the benchmarks have risen or remained the same in each metric.

Indeed, the overall fast-food ACSI score experienced a one percent year-on-year rise, while full-service improved by four percent, making it the best-performing across all sectors – finishing above the likes of breweries, soft drinks companies, and cell phone providers.

These figures are even more impressive given the rising restaurant prices brought about by inflation. So, how are these restaurants managing to improve customer satisfaction despite the economic turbulence?

First things first, value is key. The report details how lower income customers have reduced their restaurant spending and are increasingly viewing dining out as a special treat, not a regular occurrence – resulting in organizations having to focus more heavily on value/special offer options.

Indeed, the likes of Olive Garden and Chilli’s have seen significant year-on-year improvements, due, in part, to their cost-cutting/value-orientated approach. This is particularly true for the latter, with the report claiming that there has been “speculation about whether eating at Chili’s can be less expensive than some fast-food outlets.”

However, in spite of the successes of the likes of Olive Garden, Chilli’s, and IHOP, the overall restaurant consumer base has shifted towards higher earners and college graduates, as Forrest Morgeson – Associate Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and Director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI – explains:

“Both full-service and fast-food restaurant customers are skewing a bit more toward higher income levels and college graduates.

“Customers are being forced to make decisions between groceries and restaurants, with full-service restaurant inflation about two times that of groceries in the past year and fast food and fast casual restaurants prices up three times the rate of groceries.

With customers seemingly viewing dining out a luxury, restaurants that can differentiate themselves in terms of quality and value will have a competitive advantage.

Despite the similarities between fast-food and in-service, there were also some telling differences.

Perhaps most notable is the impact of technology.

As discussed above, mobile app orders were the only areas in which full-service saw a year-on-year drop. Fast-food, on the other hand, excelled with both mobile app quality (86) and reliability (85), as well as order accuracy (86) – suggesting that technological advancements have improved order fulfilment accuracy.

While McDonald’s will undoubtedly have preferred to have seen its name a little higher up on the list, the company still experienced a three percent year-on-year increase.

With economic instability making customers warier about visiting full-service restaurants, fast-food chains that can offer enhanced customer satisfaction through value and quality could be well-placed to capitalize on this restaurant trend.

More McNews

Last month, McDonald’s announced plans to end its AI drive-thru ordering experiment.

Since partnering with IBM in 2021, McDonald’s has implemented automated voice bots in over 100 U.S. restaurants to enhance efficiency. However, the company has now confirmed that the automated order-taking technology will be removed from all locations by July 26, 2024.

Despite highlighting the positives and claiming an 85% accuracy rate for its AOT program, McDonald’s AI-powered drive-thrus have faced scrutiny due to viral TikTok videos showcasing errors.

These errors included an order mistakenly adding over $250 worth of McNuggets and an AI agent confusing ice cream with ketchup and butter.

McDonald’s has not confirmed if these publicized issues influenced its decision to cancel the program, while IBM continues to defend the quality of its AOT technology.



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