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The 2011 Zagat Fast-Food Survey Reveals the Top Fast Food and Full-Service Restaurants

Subway and Cheesecake Factory rank among the best in service and food offerings


America's diners have spoken and Five Guys makes their favorite fast food hamburgers, while Wendy’s ranks as the top overall mega chain. Since 2007, the reputable Zagat has tallied votes from fast food and quick-serve consumers for their annual Zagat Fast-Food Survey. Akin to the highly rated Zagat guides for restaurants and other arts and entertainment sectors, the survey polled over 6,000 people and rated their remarks on a 30-point scale to find out what people liked the most in these restaurants.

2011 categories are divided into size: large chains (up to 5,000 outlets), mega chains (over 5,000 outlets), quick-refreshment (coffee, ice cream) and full-service (table service), but several other specialty food sub-categories also make up the long list of rankings. Despite fast food establishments having come under fire for generating fatty foods, the survey shows 69 percent of pollsters want government-mandated calorie counts on menus and 55 percent of surveyors consider calorie counts when ordering food. This means fast food consumers are becoming more health conscious and particular in what they order, which is a good thing considering 779,000 collective totals meals per year are served at fast food/full-service chains.

Subway, McDonald’s and Wendy’s show up most frequently in the mega-chain categories. McD’s wins the best facility ranking, Subway wins the best service category and Wendy’s win top food. The top five most popular mega-chains are: Subway, McD’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Taco Bell, while the poll picked Five Guys, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger for the top five most popular large chains. P.F. Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory, Bonefish Grill, CPK and Maggiano’s Little Italy score as most popular in the full-service chain category.

For the second year in a row, Five Guy’s burgers takes the best burger accolade besting yet again In-N-Out, who won in 2009. KFC hands down wins the fried chicken specialty category; Long John Silver's has the best fish and McD’s cooks the best French fries. In these specific food categories, both large and mega chains are thrown together and aren’t separated like they are in other categories. This year, Zagat added a wings category where Buffalo Wild Wings wins. There are also categories for top milkshakes (Dairy Queen), coffee, (Starbucks for fast food, IHOP for full-service), salads (Panera Bread for fast food, Cheesecake Factory for full-service), ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s) and best smoothie/frozen yogurt (Red Mango).

Read about all the Zagat results here.  

by: Garin Pirnia