A Tale of Two Countries: Americans Are Enjoying Fast Food More Than Ever

Even in the age of organic-everything and green living, fast food is becoming more popular. A new study explains why some Americans are sticking with super-sized portions and greasy fries despite the abundance of natural food choices.

Healthy eating in the United States has been a growing source of contention for decades. Our glorious country has come to be known for larger-than-life portions, fried food, and lack of exercise.

As much as we don’t want to admit to eating the ice cream, burgers, and fries that our country has become famous for, it seems like we do it all the time. After all, 90% of U.S. homes regularly eat dessert and the typical American eats a burger 4.3 times per month.

So with this in mind, it is important to be conscious of the negative health effects that come with eating these foods. And, no, we’re not saying that it is a bad idea to have a burger and an ice cream cone once in a while! Rather, it is all about making healthy choices.

However, many households are losing the battle against junk food, and today fast food is becoming more popular with more Americans than ever before. According to a new survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Americans are changing their preferences on both where and what they eat — and not always for the better.

For the first time in the survey’s history, fast food restaurants were rated higher than sit down establishments when it comes to customer satisfaction. These restaurants, dubbed full service restaurants in the survey, saw a 3.7% decrease in overall satisfaction, dropping from 81 to 78. Fast food, on the other hand, stayed the same at 79 points (each scale is out of 100). The cheap prices at fast food restaurants is definitely a factor here, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite the stereotype, nutrition experts say that middle-class Americans are actually more likely to eat fast food than low-income Americans.

The ACSI’s managing director David VanAmburg explains to NBC that there are plenty of reasons why full service restaurants are suffering, including expensive prices, lack of variety, and lower grocery store prices, which encourage shoppers to cook more at home. He also mentions that even though prices are rising in restaurants, the service, meal, beverage selection, and overall experience doesn’t necessarily match the increased price.

Not only that, but fast food chains are stepping their game up and giving customers exactly what they want, while offering a different dynamic than what we have become accustomed to.

“The fast food category is not just about traditional burger chains anymore,” VanAmburg says. “It’s now about a number of newer, more dynamic, more diverse types of fast casual choices that really stress innovation and the quality of the food they’re serving. And the pricing is very competitive compared to full-service restaurants.”

The 5,000 consumers surveyed for the report chose Chick-fil-A as the winner in the fast food category. Papa John’s and Panera Bread tied for second place, Subway came in third, followed by Arby’s, Chiplote Mexican Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC. All the fast food restaurants grew in customer satisfaction, while the sit downs lost points dramatically.

Cracker Barrel came out on top for the sit-down restaurants, followed by Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, and Chili’s in descending order.

With these trends in mind, VanAmburg explains that the American ideal of the traditional hamburger chain is changing. He explains, “We’ve seen burger chains languishing near the bottom of the ratings for a number of years now, but the gap is becoming greater between them and places like Panera Bread and even an alternative in the fast food category, like KFC.”

So while more Americans are concerned about eating healthy, the country clearly still deserves its reputation as a Fast Food Nation.

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