Five Guys Burgers and Fries, In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread topped the 2011 rankings of favorite quick-service chains in a poll conducted by Market Force Information.
Market Force, a consumer trends research firm based in Boulder, Colo., surveyed 4,500 consumers nationwide in August, asking which quick-service restaurants were their favorites and why.
According to Market Force methodology, consumers were shown a list of 55 top quick-service franchised restaurants and asked to select their single favorite. Chick-fil-A received the highest number of votes, with 10.4 percent of the total. Panera Bread came in second with 9.9 percent and Five Guys ranked third with 9.1 percent.
However, “[S]ince consumers are only likely to vote for restaurants they visit, Market Force indexed the results to account for the number of restaurant locations per chain to see which would dominate,” the firm said.
As a result, when Market Force indexed the results by dividing the number of an individual chain’s units into its total number of votes, Five Guys finished first, with 7.2 percent of the total.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News’ Top 100 Census of chains and companies in the foodservice industry, Five Guys grew its system to 736 locations in 2010.
In-N-Out Burger, the 250-unit West Coast chain, came in second with 5.9 percent of the indexed votes. Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread, with slightly more than 1,500 and 1,300 locations, respectively, tied for third place with 4.1 percent.
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Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer of Market Force, said one of the big surprises of this year’s survey was In-N-Out Burger vaulting to the top three of the survey, after not receiving enough votes to qualify last year.
When consumers were asked to rank restaurant chains based on individual attributes like food, service and atmosphere, the favorite brands consistently scored near the top, Eden-Harris said. In-N-Out scored highest in food quality and second highest in friendly service and value. Five Guys did not dominate any one category but performed near the top in all of them, she said.
“The striking thing about these results is that consumers have so much choice today, so it’s important for restaurants to make every one of my visits great,” she said. “Those consistently providing great food and great, friendly atmospheres are bringing customers back.”
Eden-Harris noted that Five Guys is a client of Market Force, together with McDonald’s, Panda Express, Panera and Sonic.
The larger quick-service chains in the study struggled to achieve consistently high ratings across all attributes, the data found. For example, McDonald’s rated low for healthful choices, even though it recently announced that it would make Happy Meals more health-focused.
However, the brand, which has more than 14,000 locations in the United States, still rated high for being kid-friendly. And while McDonald’s scored lowest for quality of food, it ranked second for speed of service behind Sonic.
Similarly, Taco Bell had the lowest score for cleanliness but the highest score for overall value.
In other attribute rankings, Subway took the highest score for healthful choices, while Panera won the most votes for atmosphere, Chick-fil-A had the highest score for kid-friendliness, and Chipotle dominated the green and sustainable category.
Market Force said its pool of survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 70 years old and spanned the socioeconomic spectrum. Sixty-two percent of the participants reported incomes of more than $50,000 per year. More than three-quarters of the respondents were women, and half the participants said they have children at home.