Among hamburger chains, Wendy's International was the ranked highest by consumers, with Burger King Corp. and McDonald's trailing behind.
Conducted by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan Business School, the ASCI gave Papa John's a rating of 76 out of 100, topping the pizza segment, retail sector and industry average. McDonald's received a score of 64, the lowest in the study but three points higher than the prior year and its second-highest score since 1994, when McDonald's earned a 65.
Fast-food chains were most improved in the overall study, which during the fourth quarter of 2003 polled roughly 16,000 current customers of the companies surveyed about their expectations and perceptions of value and quality.
For Papa John's the rating was flat compared to the prior year as were the scores for Dominos' Pizza (75), Wendy's (74) and Burger King (68). The most improved chain in quality was Yum Brand's Pizza Hut, which scored a 75, up 7% from the prior year, compared to a 4.2% gain for the entire category.
The total customer satisfaction score for fast-food chains grew mostly because of McDonald's, whose scores are more heavily weighted in the index because of its size.
"This is not to suggest that McDonald's does not have more work to do in order to improve the customer experience, but it has taken a number of steps that seem to be paying off," said Claes Fornell, professor of business administration and director of the study, in an analysis of the results. "Better food quality, scaling back its non-burger chains, speed of service, product innovation and greater focus on healthier eating habits seem to have contributed to higher customer satisfaction, higher sales and profitability."