Unlike their fast food brothers, fast-casual chains are known to rank higher in public opinion when it comes to food quality. Typically offering fresher, albeit slightly more expensive, food, these counter-service restaurants have changed the way Americans eat by fusing traditional restaurant fare with the speed and prices of fast food.
This winning combo has seen its popularity explode over the past few decades. In 2009, there were approximately 17,300 fast-casuals in the United States. By 2018, fast-casuals had more than doubled their footprint to nearly 35,000 locations, according to The Washington Post. And the market is always on the rise.
But like any other restaurant chain, they have sometimes been exposed by making questionable moves behind the scenes, taking shortcuts or simply giving bad publicity..
Whatever the reason, fast casual restaurants—like fast food—are still able to eat poorly. Here are the chains with some of the best-documented customer complaints.
While most Chinese-American foods aren’t exactly considered a healthy choice, fast-food giant Panda Express has received its fair share of criticism when it comes to the quality of its ingredients.
Once found primarily in malls and airports, Panda Express has expanded its reach since his creation in 1983. And being there for so long has had a significant impact on the kitchen – having in fact invented the orange chicken 35 years ago. While the dish has dramatically changed Chinese menus in America (for the better, some would say), it has also been criticized for using questionable ingredients.
In 2018, rival Pei Wei dealt Panda Express a dirty blow (and an all-out social media war) when he publicly denounced the restaurant for the transparency of its menu, especially with its Orange Chicken dish. The “challenge” included Pei Wei listing his recipe for his dish and asking Panda Express to “clean up” his version. Needless to say no.
And then, when he didn’t respond, Pei Wei went diving into the dumpster behind his rival’s restaurant and uploaded a photo of a used orange chicken pack from his factory to Twitter, exposing the brand for its long list of curators.
Aside from the wild brand wars, customers have also taken issue with the fast service chain. A recent Discussion on Reddit on the cons of chain food reached 3,000 upvotes and nearly 800 comments, showing that customers have a lot to say about the subject.
Additionally, the chain was voted one of America’s “Least Trusted Food Chains” by the ACSI customer satisfaction score last year.
However, although it depends on the dish, Panda Express offers healthy choices. Maybe just not the orange chicken.
When the St. Louis Bread Company opened in 1987 in Kirkwood, Mo., there was no indication of how big it would get. But this first sourdough starter would soon find its way across the country.
In its heyday, Panera Bread filled a soup and sandwich void that America didn’t know it had. More recently, however, complaints have been piling up that the once-beloved bread chain is falling apart. We noticed the customer grievances come about Panera”skimp” and increase its prices so much so that they no longer correspond to its quality.
Some people just complain about the “old times” when the restaurant offered hot pasta and an extra baguette didn’t cost an extortionate amount. In fact, customers are so unhappy with Panera that a Twitter trend was born last year calling the chain “quality hospital food.”
If that wasn’t enough of the poor social media exposure, the brand came under fire last year when a former employee posted a video on TikTok showing him boil macaroni and cheese in a bag to warm it up. After the viral video was slammed with comments about the cheapness of the preparation, the worker was fired.
The channel responded to the video, saying it’s made this way because ‘it’s shipped frozen to our bakery-cafes – it allows us to avoid using preservatives that don’t meet our cleanliness standards’ . Only the chain was continued in 2020 to market its food as “clean” when it allegedly contains preservatives. Either way, Panera may have more to explain.
When Americans crave chicken wings, they probably head to Wingstop…one of the largest fender suppliers in the country. But the Chicken Chain has a lot of baggage when it comes to its dodgy, and sometimes gross, history. Especially behind closed doors.
In 2016, an employee earned unwanted press for the chain when she put her face in a bucket of raw chicken at a Colorado location, causing more than a few raised eyebrows across the country. Then, last year, another video emerged showing another worker handling food without gloves on camera.
If poor cooking practices weren’t enough, Business Intern announced that Wingstop’s “boneless wings” aren’t actual “wings” at all, just chicken nuggets made from breast meat.
And despite all the controversial video footage and food claims, many customers say the restaurant is way overpriced. “I paid $14 for 10 grease dipped wings with cold seasoned fries,” one said. disgruntled reddit customer.
However, for those looking for wings for lunch or dinner, it might be best to stick with it. On Twitter, reports indicate that Wingstop’s fries are a disappointment, often described as mushy, rawand old.
Chipotle has done a lot to straighten out its image after the 2015 disaster it sickened more than 1,000 people and cost the burrito brand a $25 million federal fine. Although the outbreak will forever tarnish the company’s reputation, Chipotle has made progress in winning back customers in light of it, now exceeding revenue expectations. in recent consecutive years.
While Chipotle may have cleaned up its act, the brand is not without fault. Over the past few years, a series of failed menu experiments have diners wondering what fast casual Tex-Mex thinks.
Last years the smoked brisket has received many complaints that the beef looked more like jerky than shredded meat. Then the big rollout of queso in 2017 had customers wondering how the cheese could be so chalky. Remarking that “like chalk” wasn’t the flavor comparison they were looking for, Chipotle remade their queso and debuted it again in 2019, only to complain that the the lumpy cheese dip was congealed.
So if the “new” menu items weren’t hitting, at least his staples were still shining, right? Unfortunately no. For many customers, the consensus is that the overall quality of Chipotle has deteriorated. Social media posts raise questions like “What happened to this chain?” and “Does Has anyone noticed an extreme drop in Chipotle? »
Some suggest the drop was due to CEO Brian Niccol changing leadership in 2018, who was officially the CEO of Taco Bell, which is also not exactly known for its high quality standards.
Five Guys was at one time the millennial crowd darling burger chain—who couldn’t get enough of the huge portions of fries and burgers piled high with toppings. However, more recently, it has received numerous customer complaints.
One of the recurring complaints that customers have expressed about the brand concerns its recent price spike. Reddit started calling the burger joint a “absolute scam,” and Twitter was after the chain saying, “when you pay $20 for a burger and fries…you expect it to be at least decent.”
While Five Guys’ quality reports didn’t say people aren’t crazy enough, the ingredients were also subpar. According to a report by CBS News.
Plus, its large fries were named one of the “10 Worst Fast Food Meals” by Time magazine.