American fast food restaurants are like the popular kids in high school. Just because they're popular doesn't mean people actually like them. That's the thing that struck me the most about the results of a survey of 11,000 people from Market Force Information. Smaller chains were often ranked as the best of the best, even though their unfavorably rated competitors continue to do huge business.
I guess we can't always get what we want, and sometimes settle for lower quality if it's more convenient. Wait, am I writing the opening monologue of a Sex and the City episode? Romantic partners are like burgers. We're not always willing to go the literal extra mile for some In-N-Out, so we settle for a nearby Carl's Jr. Um, OK, internal Carrie, whatever you say. Moving on to the results of the survey.
Favorite burger chain: In-N-Out. Even though In-N-Out is a West Coast chain, it still ranked the highest in the survey (probably because the folk working there are just so darn nice). It was followed by more fast-casual chains Five Guys and Smashburger (probably because their food is actually good), while traditional chains like McDonald's, Carl's Jr. and Burger King came in last.
Favorite sandwich chain: I must say, my beloved Panera Bread got the shaft on this one. It lost out to Firehouse Subs (which, TBH, I've never heard of), primarily based on the fact that while Panera has great food and healthy options, it was ranked as having the worst value. Yes, they're expensive, but the bread! It's so good! Sorry, Panera. I guess I feel obligated to give Firehouse Subs a try now.
Favorite pizza chain: Anyone who's had Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and CiCi's pizza will not be shocked to learn that they were ranked at the bottom of the list. But the winners are all unfamiliar to me: Marco's Pizza, Papa Murphy's and Pizza Ranch. I've lived on both coasts and traveled the country, so I'm scratching my head over what these other pizza chains are. Maybe it's time to take a pizza-centered road trip?
Favorite chicken chain: Chick-fil-A was the top-ranked chicken chain for the fourth year in a row. IDK guys, I boycotted them long ago after their CEO was found to have anti-LGBTQ sentiments, but they allegedly had a slight ideological turn around, and I guess all moral bets are off when it comes to fried chicken sandwiches.
Favorite Mexican chain: I'm pretty proud of Chipotle for winning this one. It's been a rough few years for the fast-casual burrito chain, which has been great for me personally (the line at lunchtime is a fraction of what it used to be), but bad for business, and I was getting worried. Luckily, it seems that time heals all wounds, and Chipotle is back on top. At the bottom? Taco Bell — it was ranked poorly for food quality, cleanliness and healthy options (despite the fact that they actually have a pretty healthy Fresco Style and Cantina Power menu and tons of vegan options too).
So, there you have it. McDonald's may have served literally billions of customers, but it's the small-town vibe you get at places like In-N-Out in busy cities that keeps people coming back for more.