Burger King Whopper
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The Best and Worst Rated Fast Food Chains in Every State in the United States

Which ones were delicious; and which ones were fowl and got fried?

Travel can really take a lot out of you: after going through long lines, countless delays, missed schedules, and other impediments which prevented you from getting to your destination hours earlier so that you can enjoy a nice meal and relax, most restaurants have closed by the time you check in to a hotel — but a few fast food restaurants are open to take your order, as all you want is for something quick and inexpensive to eat before going to sleep…

The Best and Worst Rated Fast Food Chains in Every State in the United States

…but what are the best rated fast food chains in every state in the United States — and what are the worst rated ones?

To find out the answers to those questions, fast food chain restaurants which are located in the United States were analyzed from the following five cuisines or categories:

  • Burgers — McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out Burger, Hardee’s, Whataburger, Sonic Drive-in, Culver’s, Jack in the Box
  • Pizza — Dominos, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, Papa John’s, CiCi’s, Chuck E Cheese’s, Papa Murphy’s, Marco’s Pizza, Godfather’s
  • Doughnuts — Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Tim Hortons, Daylight Donuts, Shipley Do-nuts, LaMar’s Donuts, Winchell’s Donuts
  • Chicken — Chick-fil-A, KFC, Popeyes, Wingstop, Church’s Chicken, Zaxby’s, Bojangles’, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Boston Market
  • Mexican — Taco Bell, Chipotle, Qdoba, Del Taco, Taco John’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, El Pollo Loco

The number of star reviews and total reviews were collected for each fast food chain restaurant from Google Maps. For individual branches, direct links to Google Maps were sourced from the official Internet web sites of the fast food restaurants. When such links were not available, the name and address of each branch was searched using Google Maps. Addresses for some branches were already provided; and they were searched using the above method.

For every individual restaurant, the number of reviews for each star rating was multiplied by the corresponding number of stars, ranging from 1 to 5. These values were summed up; and the weighted average rating was calculated by dividing the sum by the total number of reviews. The same process was used to calculate the weighted average rating for chains in each state in the United States and in the 50 most populous cities.

The best and worst fast food chain restaurants were isolated both overall and by cuisine in every state and city. The best and worst individual restaurants were also isolated within these specific fast food chain restaurants. A threshold of at least 1,000 reviews was applied for all sections to prevent entries with a small number of mostly positive or negative reviews from topping the charts.

The data was gathered in June 2022.

This article — which was written by Matt Pelkey from SavingSpot — gives more details about the best and worst rated fast food chain restaurants in each state in the United States; and I have been given express written permission to use the graphs and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article. While CashNetUSA has endeavored to ensure the information provided is accurate and current, it cannot guarantee it, as this information is general in nature only and does not constitute personal advice. Neither CashNetUSA nor The Gate accept any liability — and assume no responsibility — for any and all information which is presented in this article.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is the article — with bonus graphics after the conclusion.

What Are the Best and Worst Rated Fast Food Chains in Every State in the United States?

Fast food is America’s national dish. Around 37% of U.S. adults eat fast food on any given day. Cheap, swift and tasty, with no cooking or dishes, fast food is a near-perfect fit for a culture of productivity, quick fixes and economic challenges.

Indeed, one USDA study found that Americans buy fast food because (wait for it…) they’re short on time. Americans are encouraged to work all hours, and the more adult members of your family are employed, the more likely you are to eat fast food. It’s a solution that also works for cash- and time-strapped parents who buy fast food for their kids because it strikes the perfect sweet spot of convenience and affordability.

Of course, parents also give kids fast food because kids find it delicious. And let’s face it, so do grown-ups. Whether it’s a perfectly honed formula for a quick, healthy mealor a guilty pleasure with inverse nutritional value, fast food feels good.

However, if fast food is an American phenomenon, preferences vary from city to city and state to state. CashNetUSA was curious how tastes differ around the country, so we headed to Google Maps to see how customers are reviewing them.

What We Did

We identified the best-known fast-food chains for burgers, pizza, doughnuts, chicken and Mexican food. Then we located the branches of these in every state and the 50 most populous cities and analyzed the ratings they have on Google Maps. We created a weighted averaging system to calculate the top- and bottom-rated fast-food chains in each region.

Key Findings

  • Chick-fil-A is the top-rated fast-food chain in most states (34) and big cities (27 out of 50).
  • Papa John’s is the lowest-rated chain in 16 states, more than any other chain.
  • On a state-by-state basis, Five Guys is America’s favorite burger joint, and McDonald’s and Burger King are tied for America’s worst.
  • 21 big cities rate Domino’s the lowest among fast-food chains — more than any other brand.

Chick-fil-A is America’s Favorite Fast Food

Chick-fil-A has the top average rating in 34 American states, more than any other fast-food chain. The chicken joint regularly claims first place on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) Restaurant Study, thanks to the quality of its meat and famous sauce. Although it could be the rush of oxytocin customers get when their thank-yous are greeted with a heartfelt, “my pleasure.”

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

LaMar’s Donuts and Coffee and Papa Murphy’s deserve special mentions for topping four states each — particularly since LaMar’s is only operational in five states. Perhaps when it expands, LaMar’s will become America’s favorite doughnut joint. At the moment, that honor goes to Krispy Kreme, which is the top-rated doughnut joint in 17 states — as revealed in the category-by-category breakdown in the interactive below.

These maps reveal that Five Guys is the top-rated burger chain in the U.S. Five Guys dominates its category in 29 states, a feat only beaten by Chick-fil-A, which is the top chicken joint in 46 states. McDonald’s and Burger King may have more stores and more history, but Five Guys — founded in 1986 — has a quarter of a million possible burger customizations, giving customers a good shot of getting exactly what they need.

Pizza Restaurants Rated Lowest in Majority of States

America’s pizza restaurants have a problem. The worst-rated fast-food brand in 35 states is a pizza joint, with the spoils shared between Papa John’s (16), Domino’s (14), Pizza Hut (4) and Little Caesars (1). The latter is known for its cheapness, but customers are unlikely to give a high rating for low cost if their taste buds are left wanting for better ingredients. And Papa John’s? Folks feel disinclined to cut the chain’s outdated customer service any slack since Papa John said some awful stuff.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

Burger King is the lowest-rated fast-food brand in two states and McDonald’s in another one. The pair are each considered the worst burger chain in 24 states, as revealed in our category-by-category maps below.

Dunkin’ Donuts takes the cake as the lowest-rated doughnut joint in 31 states, which is more than any other brand in its own category. Dunkin’, which flopped in India having failed to notice that Indians don’t eat doughnuts for breakfast, has offered unparalleled innovation in the doughnut form in the U.S. — but has failed to leave behind the stigma of artificial and unhealthy ingredients as American tastes have evolved.

KFC Losing Out to Giants and Minnows in Chicken Wars

Chick-fil-A is the top dog in 27 of America’s 50 most populated cities, echoing the results at the state level. In-N-Out Burger takes second place with 12 cities. Nine of these cities are in the brand’s home state of California. Indeed, In-N-Out Burger only operates in seven states and does not yet offer franchising out of concern for impacting quality.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

Chicken joint Raising Cane’s is giving Chick-fil-A a run for its money, out-ranking the champ in Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis. KFC does not fare so well: as demonstrated in the map below, it is the lowest-rated fast-food chain in five cities. From fake rumors of mutant chickens to vegetarian chicken that doesn’t cut the mustard (according to chicken industry representatives, anyway), KFC has long been a magnet for bad publicity that sticks.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

But despite KFC’s poor showing, the lowest-rated fast-food joints are mostly pizza places. Domino’s is the lowest-rated fast-food chain in 21 cities, with Papa John’s and Pizza Hut the worst in nine cities each. Of course, one issue is that each brand has its distinct take and specialties, which can leave customers wanting if they find themselves at an alternative to their usual. Pizza from your second-favorite pizza chain just doesn’t taste right at all, right?

A Domino’s in the Bronx is America’s Worst-Rated Fast-Food Joint

Curious where to find the best Chipotle, Chuck E. Cheese, or Church’s Chicken in the States? We delved into our data to identify the top- and bottom-rated restaurant for each chain. The highest fast-food joint in our study is a Chick-fil-A on Rangeline Rd. in Joplin, MO, with an average Google Maps rating of 4.77 when our data was collected. “The best service I’ve ever experienced!” raves one reviewer.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

The worst-rated fast-food joint in the U.S. is a Domino’s on Jerome Ave. in the Bronx (average 2.01). According to some reviewers, the pizza is cold, soggy and poorly presented. And it takes so long to arrive!

When you’re pressed for time, it’s tough to make the call between a quick, satisfying meal and something more meaningful and healthy. But setting aside a couple of hours each week to prep healthy meals for the days ahead can help you save time, watch the pennies and develop a love affair with the valuable ingredients that underlie the healthiest recipes. Why not try some of these solutions when you’re in a fix?

Final Boarding Call

I must take issue with Daylight Donuts being the top fast food restaurant chain in the state of Georgia, as I had never heard of the company. I went to the official Internet web site of Daylight Donuts and only found two locations within the state of Georgia: one in Atlanta; and the other in Cartersville. I cannot believe that Chick-fil-A is not considered to be the top fast food restaurant chain in the state in which the company was founded and is still currently based.

I do agree that Chick-fil-A is among the best fast food restaurant chains in the United States, as the food is not only of a high quality; but the service is usually very good as well — not to mention that I have had the pleasure of meeting the late founder Samuel Truett Cathy and his son Dan in person.

For additional articles here at The Gate which pertain to fast food experiences, please read the following articles:

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.


Bonus Graphics

As a bonus which was not included in the original article are graphics which illustrate the top rated fast food chains in every state in the United States — as well as the bottom rated ones — in five different categories:

  • Hamburger
  • Chicken
  • Doughnut
  • Mexican
  • Pizza

Top Rated Fast Food Restaurant Chains

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

Bottom Rated Fast Food Restaurant Chains

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: CashNetUSA.

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