The Other Kind of Hamburger Menu: How the Top 25 Fast Food Chains Stack Up Digitally

Not long ago, Business Insider released their picks for the 25 Best Fast-food Chains in America. Being naturally-inclined toward inquisitivity, we thought about seeing how those restaurant chains stacked up in terms of their digital presence. So, we decided to take action on that idea and do a ranking of our own.

*Whataburger, #12 on Business Insider’s list, was not included in this analysis because we helped them create their website. If you’re still interested in seeing how they rank by another publication, you can read about their award-winning website here.

Our Methodology

Our approach for this analysis was very high-level; we were only looking at which web and mobile app features—if the company had an app at all—were offered by each.

There were some features we specifically checked for that we felt were necessary for the industry. Those included: a responsive website design, online ordering tools, and an optimized location search that utilizes geolocation.

While we looked at the existence of these features as part of our grading methodology, other things such as overall design and functionality were really the bigger deciding factors in ranking the fast-food chains’ digital presences. Some restaurant chains also earned bonus points for things like integrated loyalty programs and mobile games.

The Industry Leaders

  1. Chipotle
  2. Jersey Mike’s
  3. Panera Bread
  4. Jimmy John’s
  5. Chick-fil-A
  6. Five Guys
  7. Fuddruckers
  8. Firehouse Subs
  9. Papa Murphy’s
  10. Pollo Campero

Why Chipotle is the Winner

Chipotle may have been in the middle of the pack for Business Insider, but in our analysis they were the clear winner. Their website and mobile app each possessed all of the features that we were looking for from a restaurant chain’s digital presence. In addition, the design and functionality for both was at the top of this class. The consistent quality in all of their digital media is what really set them apart from the rest.

In addition to their traditional applications their mobile game, even after not being updated for two years, is better than a lot of popular games in the app store right now. The Scarecrow is robust, well-designed, and is even relevant to Chipotle’s overall brand because the gameplay is related to their “food with integrity” philosophy. While Chipotle was not the only company with a mobile game - both Schlotzsky’s and Firehouse Subs have games in their apps - theirs was by far the best one.

All of those positives aside, there is still some room for improvement in Chipotle’s digital portfolio. The most obvious area where they could be better is by integrating their new “Chiptopia” rewards program into the visitor flows of the site and the mobile app.

Important Note on Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A would likely disagree with its place in this ranking given the huge success they just had in the launch of their new mobile app. And their app is awesome - one of the best in this analysis by far - but their website falls well short of that same standard. One instance that illustrates the quality divide is the online ordering feature for each. On the site, ordering is only available for catering, whereas the mobile app allows users to place both regular and catering orders. With Chick-fil-A’s website lacking in a few key areas, we had no choice but to keep them out of the top spot.

The Middle of the Pack

  1. Potbelly
  2. Moe’s
  3. Jamba Juice
  4. Qdoba
  5. Culver’s
  6. Krispy Kreme
  7. The Habit Burger Grill
  8. Schlotzsky’s
  9. Jason’s Deli
  10. Ben & Jerry’s

Differentiation Becomes More Difficult

In this section of our grading process, we came to a point where there were a few companies that had fairly average websites and bad mobile apps, while others had a good website and nothing for mobile. So, we had to make a key determination: is it better to have a bad mobile app than no app at all? In our eyes, it is absolutely not.

We feel this way for a few reasons:

  • If you have a bad mobile app, its use rate is going to be low.
  • The users that do download the app and attempt to use it will be frustrated by its poor design and delete it.
  • Finally, when the company eventually improves the app, it will be difficult to get back those users that had a poor experience.

The Bottom Five

  1. In-N-Out Burger
  2. Raising Cane’s
  3. Zaxby’s
  4. McAlister’s Deli

Why McAlister’s Deli is Dead Last

While their website and mobile apps offer a few of the core features for the industry - even more than some significantly higher on this list - McAlister’s has issues with poor design and shoddy functionality.

Their approach and execution of their mobile presence was noticeably flawed. McAlister’s primary app was, at times, non-functional—while it held the promise of geolocation, this feature failed every time we tested it. In addition, they have a completely separate loyalty app, which is designed much better, but it makes it frustrating for users to have to download multiple apps to perform functions that could very easily be present in just a single mobile app.

Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed the chance to get to see how the fast-food chains ranking at the top in terms of Business Insider’s criteria (financial performance, customer satisfaction, and value) compared when looking at their digital presences. We love working with the fast-food industry, with multiple current clients in the field, and we are always looking to educate ourselves about the current trends in the online space for those companies and their competitors.

If you have any questions regarding this post, WillowTree’s business, or how we may help with your company’s digital needs, please feel free to reach out to us.