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30. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s
Fast food restaurants have long been hesitant to make major changes, and had they not made some drastic improvements, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s would rank much higher on this list. After years of using tasteless, hypersexual commercials to promote their menu, these chains have toned it down for the better.
The commercials aren’t the only thing that’s changed. The food at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s still has its problems, but the chains’ food of today is much better than that of the past. With that being said, the improvement in quality over the years doesn’t match the massive increase in menu item prices.
29. Little Caesars
Most of the restaurant chains on this list leave a lot to be desired with regards to value, but Little Caesars is a rare exception. No one is going to argue that Little Caesars pizza is the best pizza in their town, or even good pizza at that. However, there aren’t many places where you can buy a large pizza for just $5.
Little Caesars pizza isn’t great, but it’s certainly edible. And in a world where fast food restaurant prices constantly increase, it’s refreshing to see a restaurant chain with a mediocre menu offer fair prices, at the very least. That’s more than can be said for many of their competitors.
Pricing and value is a common theme on this list, and Quiznos is no exception. The fast food chain has had major financial woes over the years. The chain has had to close 94% of its restaurants over the last 15 years. The biggest problem? Pricing. Customers don’t see the value in shelling out a ton of money for a mediocre sandwich.
Quiznos sandwiches are pretty average when it comes to the taste department. They’re not terrible sandwiches, but they’re not great by any means. And with prices nearly double those of their competitors, Quiznos is having a tough time getting people in the door. Something’s got to change.
At its 2007 peak, the sandwich chain was generating $1.9 billion annually. In 2020, it pulled in less than $100 million.
Though the fast food chain is very popular on social media, Wendy’s is still falling behind when it comes to serving high-quality, fairly priced fast food. The restaurant’s square-shaped patties have lost their luster, as customers have lined up to complain about mediocre food and high prices. And the complaints don’t stop there.
A video surfaced in 2018 in which a live mouse was seen crawling around in a bag of Wendy’s hamburger buns. The video went viral, spooking millions of potential customers. No amount of PR or social media personality can make the internet forget about the shocking incident.
However, the curtains haven’t fully closed. The chain recently announced it would be expanding its operations abroad, and had a decent uptick in revenue in 2021. Whether it’s enough to turn the tide remains to be seen.
When people think of fast food, they traditionally imagine hamburgers, french fries, and maybe pizza. Cinnabon is atypical for the industry, as the restaurant chain primarily sells cinnamon rolls. Seeing as it’s a niche product, Cinnabon has a tough time getting customers to return for a second visit.
In an effort to optimize costs, the store has recently been focusing on new distribution channels, including a contract with WalMart that helped the chain report double digit growth in 2020. Cinnabon might endure, but there will probably be fewer of them at your local mall food court and more of them on the shelves of your local grocery store.
Beginning in 2017, fresh Mex chain Rubio’s saw a decline in sales. Then they were forced into mass layoffs due to a an IRS rule that was implemented requiring valid Social Secuirty Numbers for employees. The laid off workers had almost a decade of experience average between them.
The shutdowns of 2020 delivered a crippling blow to the struggling chain, who filed for bankruptcy in late 2020. The San Diego-based chain was forced to shut down 27 stores – including every location they in the states of Florida and Colorado.
24. Dunkin’ Donuts
As with many other fast food chains on this list, Dunkin’ Donuts has increased its prices throughout the years while making few positive improvements to the quality of its menu items. A national fast food chain that primarily serves donuts is a niche concept, and with so many local donut shops, Dunkin’ rarely stands out from its competition.
In recent years, the fast food restaurant has tried to rebrand to “Dunkin’,” as opposed to the “Dunkin’ Donuts” title that’s widely recognized across the United States. It’s unclear whether the change in name and emphasis on breakfast rather than just donuts will be a positive one. As of now, the restaurant remains a mediocre and overpriced option.
In 2020, the chain announced they would be closing over 800 locations nationwide.
23. Dairy Queen
If Dairy Queen didn’t have a reputation for its delicious dessert options, the restaurant probably wouldn’t be on this list — because it probably would not exist today. Blizzards and ice cream are great, but the non-dessert items at the fast food chain are pretty abysmal.
Guests frequently complain about Dairy Queen’s hot dogs and hamburgers. It seems as though the restaurant’s cooks haven’t been able to find consistency in how they cook burgers and hot dogs, as there have been complaints about food being overcooked and undercooked. Dairy Queen’s desserts are great, but the rest of the menu leaves a lot to be desired.
The food might not be great, but there’s a reason McDonald’s is the most popular fast food restaurant in the world. Hamburgers and other menu items barely meet the minimum health and safety requirements, but the food is priced accordingly. At least when your burger is bad, you have the satisfaction of knowing you only spent a dollar on it!
That’s not to say McDonald’s doesn’t have its problems. The restaurant has kept its prices low for years, but they finally seem to be creeping back up to the rest of the pack. If that continues to be the case, McDonald’s will climb back up the list. It closed over 200 locations in 2020.
However, taking a page from Domino’s book, the iconic chain has recently invested in its tech, and expanded menu selections and A/B tested localized offerings. The chain recently made headlines for its sign-on bonus for new employees due to a nationwide labor shortage, so there are still more challenges ahead. Additionally, the chain will be closing a number of its locations within WalMart stores.
Known for their world-famous root beer, A&W is a staple of American fast food. The restaurant has been around since 1919, serving draft beer, hamburgers, and root beer floats. A&W’s root beer floats are incredible, but unfortunately, the rest of the menu doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
Guests have complained about the restaurant’s french fries being too greasy, they claim most of the restaurants are dirty and unsanitary, and they also mention that service times are subpar for a fast food chain. A&W appears to be headed in a negative direction, and it seems to be destined to climb the rankings of this list until something changes.
20. Jack in the Box
Famous for their iconic mascot and hilarious television commercials, Jack in the Box has grown to become one of the largest fast food restaurants in the United States. On the surface, it appears like the chain is doing great. The menu has a ton of variety, and prices are fairly reasonable. But below the surface, there’s a different story.
Perhaps having variety on the menu is a strength. But Jack in the Box has yet to discover a go-to menu option like the McDonald’s Big Mac, Burger King’s Whopper, or In-N-Out’s Double-Double. And though some customers have enjoyed the menu experimentation, others have complained about the subpar quality of new menu items.
The store announced the closure of 19 stores in the first quarters of 2021, an uptick from the year before.
19. El Pollo Loco
One of America’s most popular Mexican-style fast food restaurants, El Pollo Loco isn’t held in very high regard by customers. The restaurant hits the trifecta when it comes to bland food, ridiculous prices, and poor atmosphere. El Pollo Loco’s food is just good enough to not be terrible, which keeps it from being any higher on the list.
Customers have complained about rude staff, dry food, prices that are too high, and much more. There have even been occasions where a restaurant will run out of chicken. Perhaps the restaurant’s lack of locations across the U.S. has saved it from being higher on the list. If more people were talking about El Pollo Loco, more people would notice how bad the food is.
18. Raising Cane’s
It’s not too often you come across a fast food restaurant that exclusively sells chicken strips. Raising Cane’s has become one of the fastest-growing chains, thanks to the restaurant’s awesome chicken. However, a couple of major problems with the restaurant’s food and service have upset frequent customers.
For the most part, the food at Raising Cane’s is pretty good. But one major problem with the chicken is that several restaurant locations haven’t been able to find a consistent way to prepare it. Customers often complain that the chicken is soggy or overcooked. Still, Raising Cane’s looks like it’s headed in the right direction.
17. Pizza Hut
One of America’s largest fast food pizza restaurants, Pizza Hut has become a staple in the business of selling low-quality pizza at a reasonable price. The worldwide brand boasts thousands of restaurants in the United States alone and has been in business since 1958. But after decades as the top fast food pizza brand in America, it appears as though things are changing.
Like many other fast food chains on this list, Pizza Hut has raised prices throughout the years. And when the quality of food doesn’t increase with the prices, customers are bound to be unhappy.
In the summer for 2020, the chain filed for bankruptcy, closing over 300 locations.
16. Papa John’s
While many restaurants on this list can boast a few redeeming qualities, like a stellar entree or reasonable pricing, Papa John’s cannot. The food is not only mediocre in quality, but it is also very expensive for a fast food pizza chain. That’s a recipe for disaster in the fast food business!
Papa John’s is one of the most expensive fast food pizzas, and it isn’t much better than any of its competitors. Perhaps the reason the company spends so much money on sports advertisements is because it knows sports fans are too lazy to look up which pizza is cheapest when they’re making an order!
The pizza business as a whole is at a cross roads. The trailblazers in delivery, pizza chains are increasingly pressed to invest in technology apps as customers become more resistant to picking up in store. Papa John’s was slow on this pivot and is just now changing gears.
15. Sonic Drive-In
One of the more unique nationwide fast food restaurants, Sonic boasts happy hours, carnival-style food, and servers who bring food out on roller skates. However, the novelty seems to have worn off over the decades. In fact, customers have had a growing list of complaints in recent years, from food quality to dining and service.
Sonic patrons often point out that the food isn’t quite as fresh as the food of its competitors. Others mention the service doesn’t meet their expectations. Ultimately, Sonic is a restaurant stuck decades in the past, hoping its novelty will capture the attention of those looking for nostalgia.
Known for its chicken, Popeyes is a rare fast food chain that focuses its efforts on being the primary destination for fried chicken. But with Chick-fil-A’s emergence, Popeyes has struggled to get customers back in the door. In 2019, the restaurant decided to do something crazy to compete, by offering a menu item that would be brand new to the menu.
The new menu item? A chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A’s primary menu item. The release went viral, with millions of customers eager to try it. But there were two major problems: The chicken sandwiches weren’t as good as Chick-fil-A’s, and Popeyes actually ran out of chicken sandwiches!
The fried chicken market got more competitive in recent years with other fast food chains adding options to theirmenus.
In the summer of 2020, company leadership announced it would be closing ‘hundreds’ of ‘underperforming, unprofitable restaurants that it makes sense to close.’
13. Del Taco
Another Mexican-style fast food chain to make the list, Del Taco serves food that most customers would describe as bland. Guests have had complaints about several things, from service and wait times to how much rice is used in burritos and the ingredients used in menu items.
As of recently, Del Taco has had some success with its meatless tacos, with customers leaving some positive reviews. But as of now, it’s too early to tell whether that momentum will carry or fade. Del Taco certainly doesn’t have the best reputation, so it wouldn’t be shocking for this to be a blip on the radar.
12. Tim Hortons
Some people might not like the comparison, but for simplicity sake, let’s just say there are some similarities between Dunkin’ Donuts and Canadian coffee-and-donut chain Tim Hortons. The company has been exploring new business models in recent years such as self-serve kiosks instead of full-on locations.
2020 was a rough year for Tim Horton’s as it was for many restaurants. Several locations were ordered to close by the Health Inspector in response to lockdown requirements last year and outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees. Tim Hortons and Popeye’s are owned by the same corporation, so the ‘hundreds’ of closures announced will be divided between them.
11. Jimmy John’s
Seemingly always at the center of controversy, Jimmy John’s simply isn’t as good of a fast food restaurant as management seems to think it is. In 2016, employees were forced to sign a notorious noncompete clause, prohibiting them from working at other delis until two years after their employment with Jimmy John’s.
The ordeal led to several states taking Jimmy John’s to court, and the restaurant ultimately removing the clause from contracts. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the restaurant has seen at least five E. Coli outbreaks in the past decade or so. The real crime is the fact that Jimmy John’s hasn’t been sued for its bad food!
10. White Castle
The food at White Castle is fine, but that’s not the problem. What’s the point in going to a fast food restaurant (and paying fast food prices) to order some White Castle sliders you could just as easily buy them at the store and reheat at a lesser price? The in-restaurant experience at White Castle has lost its luster.
If there is a problem with the food at White Castle, it’s the fact that the burgers are no different than the burgers one might buy frozen at a grocery store and heat up. There are occasionally problems with the buns, and the patties can be thin and bland. Something needs to change.
9. Auntie Anne’s
The fact that the majority of Auntie Anne’s locations are set up inside of shopping malls is red flag number one. Pretzel shops aren’t largely successful because of the fact that pretzels are a novelty item. And at Auntie Anne’s, they’re both overpriced and underwhelming. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Customers have made a lot of complaints about food and poor customer service, with the biggest being that pretzels can occasionally come out stale or even burnt. These complaints, added to the fact that malls across the United States are closing down, paint a gloomy picture of what the future might look like for Auntie Anne’s.
However, the company recently opened it’s first drive thru kiosk – a departure from it’s traditional brick-and-mortar operations. Time will tell if it will be enough to offset the losses in sales from mall closures that were exacerbated by the 2020 lockdowns.
Subway made headlines when it overtook McDonald’s in U.S. location count in 2011. But in the decade since, it’s trajectory seems to have drastically changed course. The sandwich chain closed about 10% of it’s total locations – in addition to the 1,000+ locations also shuttered between 2018-2019.
Part of it’s turnaround strategy includes upping franchising fees and more comfortable chairs for customers. Umm….we don’t know if that should be the priority, but only time will tell.
The roast beef sandwich is the most popular item at Arby’s and, well, it’s far from great. Some customers have referred to it as overpriced garbage. Seriously, the food at Arby’s is ridiculously overpriced given the ingredients and preparation involved. And as if that isn’t bad enough, it gets a lot worse.
Countless rumors have circled about the fast food chain, but the rumors might not even be as bad as reality. In 2012, a customer received a human finger in their order. You read that right, somehow the fast food chain is still in business, despite serving a human finger!
To make matters worse, the chain was caught in some bad publicity after a norovirus outbreak sickened 90 people in Springfield, Illinois.
6. Boston Market
The original concept of Boston Market simply doesn’t play today. The fast food chain made its primary focus to make rotisserie chicken more convenient for customers. In the 1980s, that may have been what consumers wanted, but in today’s day and age, that is simply not a need of fast food customers.
The food at Boston Market isn’t great, and it isn’t terrible. But the biggest problem is that when people elect to eat fast food, they don’t want to eat home-style food. If they want home cooking, they can cook at home. It seems pretty counterintuitive, but the concept is something Boston Market still struggles with today.
Between 2019–2020, the homestyle-cooking chain closed 50 locations, which represented
In a sea of fast food restaurants that serve hamburgers, french fries, and soda, Checkers blends into the pack. The chain doesn’t have a moneymaker entree like a Big Mac or Whopper. Instead, it has a variety of forgettable, low-quality food. Not only does the food have preparation problems, but it’s also extremely unhealthy.
It’s estimated that more than three-fourths of the meals on the Checkers menu have higher levels of saturated fat than the majority of its fast food competitors. The food might be reasonably priced, but that pricing doesn’t take into consideration the increased risk of heart disease!
Sales had been on the decline for several years, and the pandemic made things worse. The chain’s bonds were downgraded and it could be facing a bankruptcy in coming years.
4. Long John Silver’s
When it comes to menu items that customers might not trust being prepared by a minimum-wage fast food chef, fish seems like it would rank pretty high on the list. So it’s a major shock that a fast food chain like Long John Silver’s has been in business for as long as it has.
But while it’s impressive Long John Silver’s has managed to stay in business, the praise ends there. No one wants to eat fast food fried fish. There are just too many risk factors: It could be stale, too dry, too salty, too greasy, or too battery — and usually, it’s at least one of these things.
The restaurant has closed over 300 locations in the last five years, 60 of those being in 2020. However, the chain is looking reduce operational expenses by transitioning into dine-in and delivery focus.
When people think New York pizza, they think of a lot of things. Summed up, they think of good pizza. Sbarro is not that. Sbarro serves pizza that feels low quality and doesn’t feel fresh. Often located in the food courts of malls that appear on the verge of going out of business, Sbarro doesn’t have many redeeming qualities.
With plenty of competition even in the realm of fast food pizza, Sbarro simply does not meet expectations. And those expectations were low to begin with. It’s not reasonably priced, the ingredients aren’t known for being super fresh, and ultimately, the experience is either poor or forgettable.
As a mall food court staple, the pizza chain was hit hard by long shutdowns of 2020. However, leadership is confident in the recovery of the retail economy and plans to continue it’s ‘impulse pizza’ strategy.
2. Burger King
The “Worst Fast Food Burger in America” title belongs to none other than Burger King. It’s surprising the fast food chain even has a recognizable entree like the Whopper, considering hardly anyone seems to go there and virtually nobody is an avid fan of the restaurant.
Though Burger King is easily the worst fast food burger chain in the United States, there is hope (at least for restaurant management). That’s because the chain is heading in a new direction, introducing vegan burgers and tacos. Burger King deserves its shame for being awful, but at least there could be encouraging news on the horizon.
As America reopens, numerous fast food chains reported upticks in sales that showed promising signs of recovery. While Burger King reported an almost 6% uptick, it lagged behind that of it’s competitors who posted double digits.
1. Taco Bell
With Taco Bell, the question isn’t how bad it is, but rather where to start. Portions are small, ingredients are bad, and digestive problems are imminent. In fact, Taco Bell is known for causing stomach pains and diarrhea, yet that doesn’t stop the restaurant’s loyal fans from buying food anyway. What’s funny is those same fans have observed that the food isn’t even very filling!
Taco Bell may have some loyal fans, but that shouldn’t save the fast food chain from being ranked as the worst fast food restaurant in America. When the majority of consumers’ bodies reject the food for essentially not being edible, there’s no choice but to point out that Taco Bell isn’t all that great.
The Comeback Kids: Wienerschnitzel
There are plenty of edible fast food options that aren’t Wienerschnitzel. Sure, food might be cheap there, but it’s cheap for a reason. The world’s largest hot dog. change began offering new styles of hot dogs, and thanks to drive thru being a core component of its strategy, it didn’t have to take measures to adapt to social distancing.
The dial up in business started about two weeks after the initial wave of major shut downs in March of 2020 and managed to sustain the momentum since. Leadership said they they plan to expand operations and that they believe the pandemic brought in new customers who will likely continue to patron the A-frame locations in the future.
The Comeback Kid: KFC
The past few years have not been too kind to KFC. What was once one of America’s favorite fast food restaurants had slowly transformed into a mediocre, run-of-the-mill chain that people largely ignore. That’s mainly due to KFC’s specialty: its chicken.
KFC chicken has been at the center of some crazy rumors. One of those rumors alleges that the restaurant injects its chickens with steroids to make them larger in size. Though KFC has denied these claims, many customers no longer trust the restaurant. The chicken preparation has also been a problem, with chicken coming out soggy, dry, or burnt far too often.
But KFC did make some major changes that seem to be paying off. The chain introduced a better selection of chicken sandwichs that saw a quick rise in popularity, as well as experimented with Beyond Meat options. Sales surged. In addition, they expanded into new, foreign markets such as China.
The chain reportedly not only returned to its pre-pandemic levels, but actually topped their 2019 revenue in 2021.
The Comeback Kid: Domino’s
Before recent changes, Domino’s was easily one of the worst fast food restaurants in the world. The fast food chain had a reputation for serving pizza that tasted like cardboard, and customers weren’t happy. The tomato sauce was said to taste like ketchup, toppings weren’t fresh, and the customer experience was poor.
It launched a marketing campaign owning up to its shortcomings and promising to do better. The strategy worked.
Fortunately, Domino’s has changed course and is now headed in the right direction. The fast food chain has made all sorts of improvements, from improving ingredients and quality to finding ways to make the restaurant experience as accessible as possible.
Thanks to it’s user friendly app that allows customers to customize an animated pizza (toppings drop on as the customer adds them) as well as it’s production line updates, the chain’s turnaround story will likely be taught in business schools as a success story.
Today, Domino’s in the biggest pizza franchisee in the world, with almost 14,000 locations that not only stayed in business throughout the pandemic, but actually grew revenue.