Restaurant Study reveal: Customers favor full-service restaurants over fast food chains

Following a tumultuous year, the restaurant segment is getting the stabilization it desperately needs.

Hiring is up as , and sales are on the rise. Customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants and limited-service restaurants — which was suffering leading into the pandemic (down 2.5% and 1.3%, respectively) — is no longer in free fall. 

Overall, customer satisfaction with the Accommodation and Food Services sector slips just 0.4% to a score of 77.6 (out of 100), according to our latest Restaurant Study 2020-2021

Fast food restaurants remain steady with an ACSI score of 78, but in a surprising twist, full-service establishments shine brightest, up 1.3% to 80. 

How did the latter, while less positioned to handle the increased demand on takeout, delivery, and contactless dining options, rise to the occasion? Let’s find out.

It starts with the customer experience

From a customer-experience standpoint, full-service restaurants pretty much feast on the competition, surpassing the limited-service category in almost every ACSI customer experience benchmark.

According to customers, full-service establishments beat fast food chains in food quality (86 to 82), restaurant layout and cleanliness (86 to 82), and staff courtesy and helpfulness (85 to 82). The former significantly outpaces the latter in terms of food variety (84 to 79).  

It doesn’t stop there.

Customers feel that orders are more accurate (88 to 84) at full-service restaurants, and these spots have better beverage quality (84 to 81) and a greater variety of beverages (82 to 78).

In the all-important mobile app space, full-service restaurants hold a slight edge as well. While both industries share an ACSI score of 82 for reliability, full service wins for quality 85 to 83.

10 fast food brands stumble

For the seventh straight year, Chick-fil-A leads the limited-service industry – and all restaurants – with an ACSI score of 83. However, customer satisfaction diminishes 1% year over year.

This trend is common across the industry – and on a larger scale. 

Of the 10 fast food restaurants that undergo satisfaction slips, half experience at least 3% declines.

Arby’s and Dunkin’ both slide 3% to 77. Chipotle Mexican Grill has the same score but tumbles 4%. Wendy’s sits near the bottom of the industry, dropping 4% to an ACSI score of 73. Subway takes the largest hit, tumbling 5% to 75.

Among full-service establishments, only one has a similar slide – Red Lobster falls 3% to 77. On the flip side, two full-service restaurants have strong customer satisfaction gains: Red Robin (up 3% to 78) and Chili’s (up 3% to 77).

Full service for the win

At a time when full-service restaurants could’ve been in serious trouble, they gave customers plenty of reasons to be satisfied. 

The full-service industry surpassed the limited-service industry in food quality (and variety), beverage quality (and variety), order accuracy, store layout and cleanliness, staff courtesy, and mobile app quality. 

Fast food restaurants are known for their speed but have fallen behind in this race. Let’s see if they can use that same sense of urgency to improve satisfaction and catch up to their full-service counterparts next time around.

Netflix and no chill: Why streaming services have a satisfaction problem

How did you entertain yourself during the past 18 months? 

Perhaps you read books you’d been previously putting off. Maybe you mastered countless board games like Monopoly, Battleship, and Catan. You may have even picked up a new hobby like knitting or calligraphy.

More likely, you plopped yourself down in your favorite spot, got nice and cozy, and streamed one TV show (or movie) after another. And you wouldn’t be alone.  

Thirty-nine percent of Americans added streaming subscription services during COVID-19, per an Adweek-Moring Consult poll. Additionally, 36% revealed they subscribe to more services now than they did before the pandemic. 

From a financial standpoint, companies like Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney have millions of reasons (and dollars) to feel good about their situation. If only consumers were as satisfied with what these brands were putting down.

Another (un)satisfied streaming customer

Customer satisfaction with video streaming slides 2.6% to an ACSI score of 74, according to our Telecommunications Study 2020-2021. Although customers still favor streaming to the other telecom industries, the lead is dwindling. And the streamers only have themselves to blame.

Customers feel the quality of original programming (down 3% to 74) and variety of TV shows by category (down 3% to 74) are both worse than the previous year. They believe both current season (down 3% to 71) and past season TV shows (down 3% to 73) aren’t as available as they once were, and they’re less thrilled with the number of TV shows (down 4% to 73). It doesn’t stop there.

Consumers believe the number (down 3% to 73) and variety of movies by category (down 4% to 73) were better last year. Worse yet, the availability of new movie titles leaves much to be desired, down 1% to an ACSI score of 70.

Disney+? More like Disney-minus

These flailing figures are an industry-wide issue. This year, seven streaming services post losses of 3% or more.

While Disney+ leads the category for the second straight year, satisfaction diminishes 3% to an ACSI score of 78. According to customers, the streamer is pretty much worse across the board. Aside from being less reliable, it’s middle of the road in terms of number – and variety – of TV shows and variety of films.

Along with Disney+, Hulu (75), Amazon Prime Video (74), CBS All Access (73), and Apple TV+ (72) all suffer 3% declines. 

Both Netflix and Apple TV, however, take the biggest licks of all. The former falls 4% to a score of 75, while the latter sinks 4% to 74. 

Netflix’s sudden fall from favor is probably the most shocking. Despite having the largest subscriber base, customers are clearly no longer as enthralled with the service as they once were, as its ACSI score is much closer to the industry average than the top of the charts.

What’s the solution to the streaming woes?

When pandemic lockdowns were in full effect, it was easy to turn to streaming services as a form of escape. Yet, after a while, screen fatigue set in and what was once a worthwhile activity quickly became a means of frustration.

Now that summer is here and pandemic restrictions are being lifted, people are going outside again and leaving streaming habits behind. While this might be good for our mental well-being, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for streaming services.

Still, the notion that “content is king” doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, as evidenced by Amazon’s recent $8.45 billion purchase of MGM. Perhaps this consumer (summer) break from screen time is exactly what streaming services need. It’ll give them a chance to regroup, rebuild their content libraries, and give people the fresh content they’ve been clamoring for. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. 

Either way, get your popcorn ready. This is a story you won’t want to miss.


If your employees aren’t happy, how can you expect your customers to be?

How do we keep our customers satisfied? 

It’s a question that all businesses ask, but many struggle to answer. 

Anyone who’s searching for a silver bullet or a magic pill to improve customer satisfaction may as well start over. Because it’s only a matter of time before they realize that a single solution doesn’t exist.  

Customer satisfaction depends on a lot of factors: customer service and the customer experience; the price of a particular product; the variety of goods a business offers; even the cleanliness of a store. The list goes on and on, and evolves over time – mobile apps, quality, and speed are three up-and-coming drivers of customer satisfaction that businesses would be wise to remember.

Yet, for all the steps organizations take to try to increase customer satisfaction, there’s one area that’s more important than many realize: employee satisfaction.

The link between employee and customer satisfaction is real

There is a genuine connection between employee and customer satisfaction. 

Happy employees tend to provide superior service to customers. Better service leads to happier customers. Happy customers are more inclined to become repeat shoppers, which means more money in the company’s pockets. 

This results in “… higher stock prices, bigger returns on investment, and happier shareholders. And (the smart companies) can turn that capital around to give employees bigger benefits, which in turn makes them, and their customers, even happier.”

Unfortunately, if happy employees equate to happy customers, the opposite is also true. Dissatisfied employees likely won’t offer top-notch service, creating unhappy customers who may take their business elsewhere. 

The proof is in the pudding

Sure, this concept makes sense, but where’s the proof it’s more just than a theory? Glad you asked.

A Glassdoor study set out to answer the following question: “Can companies help to achieve high customer satisfaction by investing in employees and ensuring that those who deliver goods and services are themselves satisfied with their jobs?”

Using Glassdoor employee reviews and American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) ratings, the study found a “strong statistical link” between employee and customer satisfaction. According to the study, every one-star improvement in an organization’s Glassdoor rating correlated to a 1.3-point (out of 100) increase in customer satisfaction scores. 


Happier workers enhance an organization’s ability to offer better customer satisfaction. This was especially evident for retail, restaurants, travel, and other industries with routine interaction between worker and customer. At the time, Southwest and Hilton topped the list in the travel space, while Costco and Trader Joe’s stood out among retailers as having both high employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. 

Currently, Southwest shares the number one customer satisfaction spot among airlines, while Hilton takes the lead outright among hotels, per our latest Travel Report. Meanwhile, Costco outpaces all department and discount stores in customer satisfaction for a fifth straight year with a score of 81 (out of 100), according to our most recent Retail Consumer and Shipping Report. Trader Joe’s also leads supermarkets and the entire retail sector with a score of 84.

Satisfying your employees will pay off

What does it take to make employees happier? 

Is it the money? Costco, Amazon, Wayfair, and more all increased minimum wage to over $15 an hour. What about focusing on employees’ mental well-being, cultivating a better work-life balance, or offering better perks like unlimited PTO?

Each of these elements is sure to entice employees. But just as one thing isn’t going to suddenly spark improved customer satisfaction, the same is likely true for employee satisfaction. 

What’s important is that, as you think of all the ways to improve customer satisfaction, you remember to keep your employees happy. Because if you don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.