Why McDonald’s Customer Service Sucks in Three Charts


Share on LinkedIn

Customer service at McDonald’s sucks.

They’ve held the bottom spot on the American Customer Satisfaction Index for five straight years. Nearly everyone has a bad customer service story from McDonald’s. 

McDonald’s itself even admitted that it’s “service is broken” on a 2013 webcast for franchise owners. 

Here are three charts that explain how things got so bad.


Control Issues

McDonald’s has leveraged franchising to grow from a single restaurant in San Bernardino, California to a company with more than $28 billion in revenue. Growth through franchising comes at the expense of control. 

Chances are, the person serving up your Big Mac isn’t a McDonald’s employee. They’re more likely employed by a franchise operator.

Source: Entrepreneur.com

In my book, Service Failure, I related a story of a McDonald’s cashier who told me he hated me because I didn’t have a nickel when my order came to $4.05. It’s hard to pin that incident on McDonald’s, but I could easily blame the employee’s supervisor.

Who hired and trained that supervisor? A McDonald’s franchise operator. The reality for McDonald’s is a large part of their customer service reputation rests in the hands of their franchisees. 

McDonald’s still impacts service at franchise locations, albeit indirectly. They establish the procedures and operating standards that franchisees must follow.

It’s in this area that McDonald’s has created a problem for itself by making operations more complex.


Complexity Issues

McDonald’s has suffered a large dose of menu creep in their never-ending quest to be all things to all people.

A recent article in Fortune magazine illustrated how the number of menu items at McDonald’s has increased significantly since 1980.

Source: Fortune

All these options don’t make it any easier on franchise operators. A 2013 QSR study found that the average drive-through wait time was three minutes and ten seconds. (For comparison, Wendy’s is more than a minute faster.)

The same study found that nearly 12 percent of McDonald’s drive-through orders contain an error. 

Simply put, having 121 items on the menu (not counting different sizes), makes it tough on the operation. Their recently announced “build your own burger” initiative will only make things worse.

Having a slew of options and long wait times wouldn’t be so bad if their food was delicious. It isn’t.


Taste Issues

Food quality at McDonald’s is consistently ranked at or near the bottom when compared to their competition. 

2014 Consumer Reports taste test ranked McDonald’s dead last among burger chains. 

Source: Consumer Reports

Poor quality food can lead to a host of other problems.

  • Customers become more price-sensitive.
  • Longer wait times are less tolerable.
  • Employees get worn down from fielding more complaints.

By comparison, look at In-N-Out. They share a remarkable amount of history with McDonald’s, yet enjoy a stellar reputation for customer service. 

Outstanding food quality isn’t the only reason for this, but it is definitely a part of the equation. Due in part to some of the tastiest burgers around:

  • Customers are less price-sensitive.
  • Customers willingly endure long wait times.
  • Employees receive few complaints.

McDonald’s executives are grasping at straws while same-store sales are slumping. Adding menu items, new technology, or rolling out a dubious Lovin’ > Hatin’ ad campaign won’t fix things.

Improving their miserable service by addressing some of the underlying causes just might. 

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Thirty years ago, I was director of marketing research and planning with a competitive regional fast food chain. Our hamburgers were bigger than McDonald’s and were made fresh. They were never frozen. Most of our other ingredients were fresh. In those days, McDonald’s was viewed as little more than a QSR “filling station”, a place for families with little kids, teens with big appetites and small cash, and anybody else for whom saving a buck was considerably more important than what they ingested. If you wanted a hamburger that tasted like warm, vaguely beef-flavored cardboard (and not always warm), McDonald’s was your best choice. In three decades, little has changed with McDonald’s re. food and service except, as you note, much more menu complexity and much longer service times; and there’s even smaller likelihood that the future will bring any improvement.

    So, for all who prefer McDonald’s, enjoy your warm, beef-flavored cardboard burger which is served at a snall’s pace. In fact, for added indigestion and more time waiting to get your order, make it a Big Mac. There are fewer and fewer customers like you: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/12/08/369402086/mcdonalds-reports-steep-drop-in-sales-at-u-s-restaurants


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here