An annual report released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) covers customer satisfaction with full-service restaurants and quick-service chains, as well as airlines, hotels, consumer shipping, and the mail services of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

In the QSR category, Subway remains the strongest brand at 83 (up 1 percent over last year).

Pizza makers Papa John's and Little Caesar hold all but steady at 82, with Pizza Hut somewhat lower at 80 (up 3 percent). Domino's years-long effort to reinvent its pizza appears to be paying off amid strong sales and a 5 percent ACSI increase.

Starbucks jumped 5 percent this year, matching coffee rival Dunkin' Donuts with a score of 80 (Dunkin' is up 1 percent over last year).

The subordinate place in QSR diner satisfaction belongs to burgers and tacos. Taco Bell dropped the furthest, 4 percent, from last year for a score of 74.

"So far, Taco Bell's efforts to spice up offerings with its new Cantina menu do not appear to have won over diners," according to the ACSI report.

KFC vaulted from the bottom with an 8 percent increase to 81 – the highest jump in the limited-service category. According to the report, however, "For KFC, this may well be an artifact of statistical averages. The most dissatisfied customers appear to have deserted KFC (for Chick-fil-A and Popeyes), leaving a smaller number of reasonably satisfied customers behind."

The rankings

The ranking and percentage change compared to 2012 includes;

  1. Subway, 83, 1 percent;
  2. Papa John's, 82, -1 percent;
  3. All others, 82, 0 percent;
  4. Little Caesars, 82 percent, 0 percent;
  5. Domino's Pizza, 81 percent, 5 percent;
  6. KFC, 75, 8 percent;
  7. Dunkin' Donuts, 80, 1 percent;
  8. Pizza Hut, 80, 3 percent;
  9. Starbucks, 80, 5 percent;
  10. Wendy's, 79, 1 percent;
  11. Burger King, 76, 1 percent;
  12. Taco Bell, 74, -4 percent; and
  13. McDonald's, 73, 0 percent.

Industry benchmarks

QSR customers offered relatively high marks to most elements measured, but quality was ranked somewhat lower compared to full-service restaurants. Ranking percentage by limited-service industry benchmarks include:

  1. Accuracy of food order, 85 percent;
  2. Quality of beverages for taste/temperature, 84 percent;
  3. Layout and cleanliness, 83 percent;
  4. Speed of service, 83 percent;
  5. Courtesy of the staff, 82 percent;
  6. Website satisfaction, 82 percent;
  7. Variety of beverages, 81 percent;
  8. Variety of food, 81 percent;
  9. Quality of food for taste/temperature, 81 percent.

Full-service inches ahead

For sit-down restaurants, there is little differentiation in customer satisfaction among the major chains with the industry's ACSI benchmark inching up 1.3 percent to 81, just ahead of the fast food at 80. This is not bad for QSR, according to the report, but probably too close for comfort for full-service restaurants. All chains display scores within the range of 81 to 83 with the exception of Chili's at 78. Despite a 3 percent increase in customer satisfaction, Chili's hasn't narrowed the gap to its competitors.

Two Darden-owned brands top the full-service category with ACSI scores of 83: Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Olive Garden has improved 4 percent compared to a year ago. The greatest improvement goes to Applebee's, up 6 percent to 82.

The June 2013 ACSI report is based on interviews with nearly 9,000 customers of these industries, chosen at random and contacted via phone and email between Jan. 21 and March 17, 2013.

Read more about restaurant industry trends.

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