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Do American workers settle for low-value lunches?

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When American workers head out for lunch, chances are the majority of them go to fast-food restaurants.

worker eating hamburger

More than half of the 32,000-plus consumers surveyed by Consumer Reports magazine eat fast food at least once a week, and 13 percent eat at fast-food restaurants more than 10 times a month.

Fast-food establishments scored much higher on speed and politeness of staff in the consumer magazine’s study than they did on one key element – the taste of the food.

Even taking into account discounts and dollar menus, some of the biggest names in the fast-food world received little praise for the value of their “uninspiring” fare, including McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell.

Overall, only 22 percent of respondents said they got excellent value for the money.

Which fast-food restaurants received the highest marks?

In the category of hamburger chains, In-N-Out Burger, with 300 restaurants in California and the Southwest, topped the list with a score of 88 percent out of 100 for overall satisfaction based on food quality, value, politeness, speed of service and cleanliness.

In-N-Out Burger was one of only two burger joints that received the highest rating for food quality and freshness. The Habit Burger Grill, another West Coast chain of 100 restaurants, was the other.

Whataburger, with 700 restaurants across the country, was the highest scoring national chain at 83 percent. Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Steak ’n Shake also both scored over 80 percent.

McDonald’s and Burger King shared the bottom rung of the Consumer Reports rankings at 71 percent each.

Among pizza chains, Papa Murphy’s Take N’ Bake Pizza, with nearly 1,500 stores in 38 states, also achieved an 88 percent rating for first place in the pizza category. It was the only pizza chain that scored the highest rating for food quality.

The Eastern chain Jet’s Pizza and the nationwide Marco’s Pizza also scored over 80 percent. At the bottom of Consumer Reports list was Sbarro at 65 percent.

Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill led Mexican chains at 84 percent, followed by Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill. Taco Bell brought up the rear.

Chick-fil-A was the highest rated chicken chain at 85 percent, followed by Boston Market at 80. KFC was last. Pei Wie Asian Diner and Noodles & Company led the Asian chains at 81 percent each.

Under the sandwich chain category, Portillo’s Hot Dogs in Illinois and Arizona scored highest at 87 percent, followed by Jason’s Deli, Firehouse Subs and Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

While more and more fast-food restaurants are adding healthier choices to their menus, the study found that most diners aren’t taking advantage of them. Only 19 percent of those surveyed had ordered a healthy meal during their most recent restaurant trip, and only 20 percent considered healthy options important when choosing a restaurant.

Asked what their biggest irritants were with restaurants in general, Consumer Reports respondents answered:

    Dirty utensils 76%
    Dirty restrooms 73%
    Impolite servers 72%
    Servers with poor hygiene 67%
    Food being too cold or too hot 66%
    Meal not being what was ordered 62%
    Feeling rushed by server 61%
    Server removing plate before finished 59%
    Food not looking as described 54%
    Slow service 51%
    Table not being ready for reservation 50%
    High tips automatically added to bill 50%
    Inaccurate bill 48%
    Tables too close together 39%
    Poorly situated table 38%
    Loud diners at other tables 38%
    Servers not bringing water until asked 27%
    Server using pet names such as “honeyâ€