Fast food restaurants are everywhere in America. Sometimes, it's a guilty pleasure you can't help but love. More often than not, however, it can be a subpar experience.
Most people have had the unfortunate experience of eating at a bad fast food restaurant. Whether it's because of the terrible food, the surly employees, or the filthy conditions, there are plenty of reasons to avoid certain fast food chains. In fact, some fast food restaurants are so bad that they've earned a spot on this list of the worst in America.
Top Ten Worst Fast Food Chains
From customer service nightmares to gross kitchen conditions, these restaurants have earned their reputation as the worst of the worst. We've ranked them in order based on what Google shows as the top results.
Keep in mind this list is subjective, and everyone may have their own opinions about which restaurants belong at the bottom of the barrel. So next time you're considering grabbing a quick bite, you might want to steer clear of these places.
Trust us, your stomach will thank you.
10. Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box is one of America's most popular fast food chains. Still, it is notorious for a terrible food poisoning scandal in 1993. Then, the restaurant was responsible for a nationwide E. coli outbreak that left four people dead (including 2 children) and 732 others sick.
Jack in the Box has also been the focus of numerous child labor violations across its franchises over the years – from a 1990 report of having the worst record of child labor violations in California to fines received at locations in both 2018 and 2020.
Aside from its troubling history, customers have also complained about the health quality of Jack in the Box's food. The restaurant's signature items, such as the Jumbo Jack and Sourdough Jack, are loaded with calories, fat, and sodium.
Customers have also complained about poor service at Jack in the Box. In particular, many people have said that the drive-thru times are painfully slow, and many report uncaring and indifferent shift managers.
9. Little Caesars
Little Caesars is one of the Worst Fast Food Restaurants in America for various reasons. First, many customers complain about the quality of the food, specifically the pizza. The dough is often said to be soggy, and the sauce is bland, with the cheese not evenly distributed, leaving some slices with too much and others with too little. The toppings are also often sparse, and it's not uncommon to find a slice with only one or two pieces of pepperoni.
In addition to the poor quality of the food, customers also complain about the dirty dining room and restrooms. The floors are often sticky, and the tables are covered in crumbs. In addition, the bathrooms are usually in need of a good cleaning, with toilet seats that are stained and floors that are covered in grime.
In 2018, an Indianapolis location was shut down by health inspectors after customers found rat droppings baked into their pizza crust. The franchisee was also cited for 4 other health code violations that same year for rodent-related issues.
Other customers have complained about the service at Little Caesars. The pizza chain is known for its “Hot-N-Ready” pizzas, which are supposed to be available without waiting. But many customers have said that the pizzas are often not ready when they arrive at the store and they end up waiting a long time for their order.
8. Carl's Jr (Hardee's)
Aside from their demeaning advertising campaigns, they readily admit, “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials because ugly ones don't sell burgers,” Carl's Jr has been boycotted in the past for its controversial far-right political endorsements.
Combined with its high prices and notoriously unhealthy menu options, it's no wonder that this chain is one of the worst-rated fast food restaurants in America. In fact, a Carl's Jr Triple Western Bacon Cheeseburger contains a whopping 1380 calories and 81 grams of fat. And that's not even the most caloric item on the menu!
Carl's Jr. also has a bit of a reputation for being dirty. Reports of insects and rodents in Carl's Jr. restaurants are not uncommon, and customers have also complained about finding dirt, hair, and other contaminants in their food. One customer summed up their experience at Carl's Jr, writing, “This place is a dirty little diarrhea factory.” ‘Nuff said.
Arby's is best known for its roast beef sandwiches. Still, many customers leave negative reviews about the quality of the food. The most common complaints are that the sandwiches are dry and tasteless, the fries are soggy and salty, and the service is slow and unfriendly.
The chain has also been involved in several food safety scandals. In 2005, for example, a man found a slice of human flesh in his chicken sandwich. Then, in 2012, the company was again in the news when it was revealed that a boy found a severed finger in his sandwich. Then there was that one time when an Arby's manager at a Vancouver, Washington location admitted to urinating in the milkshake mix “at least twice.” Ew.
Needless to say, these incidents have not done much to improve Arby's reputation.
Wendy's has consistently ranked as one of the worst fast-food chains for customer service. In addition, recent headlines question if Wendy's supports modern-day slavery on farms with their refusal to join the Fair Food Program.
What is it about Wendy's that keeps customers so unhappy? According to online reviews, it seems to be a combination of long wait times, cold food, uninterested employees, and unsanitary restaurant conditions.
5. Sonic Drive-In
Sonic Drive-In is an American fast-food chain specializing in burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes. The biggest complaints about Sonic are that the food is overpriced and not very good. In fact, many customers have said they would go to McDonald's or Burger King instead of Sonic because the food is better and cheaper. Others have said that the service is slow and the employees are unprofessional.
Another common complaint is that the restaurants are often dirty. In fact, in 2016, one family's experience went viral when they caught a mouse exploring the soda fountain machine on video at the drive-up window.
And if that's not enough to gross you out, a location in Florida was shut down due to 21 violations, including the health inspector finding cockroaches near the soft-serve ice cream machine and in a box of food wrappers. Needless to say, these reports of unsanitary conditions are not doing Sonic any favors.
But one of the most high-profile scandals involving Sonic happened in 2018 when three employees were arrested after an ecstasy pill was found in the hamburger wrapper for a kid's meal. Thankfully, no one was harmed, but this story damaged Sonic's reputation.
Chipotle is often lauded as one of the healthier fast food options. And while it's true that their food is made with fresh ingredients and doesn't contain any artificial flavors or preservatives, that doesn't make it immune to criticism. In fact, there are several reasons why Chipotle is one of the worst fast food restaurants in America.
The chain has been embroiled in multiple food safety scandals in recent years. First, in 2015, they were linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened dozens of people in 11 states. Then, in 2017, they had to close several restaurants after a norovirus outbreak where some workers reported being forced to work despite being ill.
And most recently, they were linked to a Clostridium perfringens outbreak in 2018, most likely caused by food being left out at unsafe temperatures. These incidents, coupled with reports of rodents falling from the ceiling, have seriously damaged Chipotle's reputation and caused many customers to lose faith in the brand.
In addition to food safety issues, Chipotle has also been accused of wage theft and discrimination. In 2012, they were hit with a lawsuit alleging that they failed to pay their employees for overtime work, resulting in the class-action plaintiffs being awarded $8M.
In 2014, another lawsuit was filed alleging that the chain discriminated against pregnant workers. The claimant, Doris Garcia Hernandez, was awarded $550,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for being terminated due to her pregnancy. These legal problems paint a picture of a company that is not always fair or ethical in its treatment of employees.
Finally, Chipotle's food is not as healthy as you might think. While their food may be fresh, it's also very high in calories. For example, any meat burrito with popular toppings like rice, beans, cheese, and salsa can easily clock in at over 1,000 calories. In fact, People Magazine also reports that one in ten meals ordered by customers had more than 1,600 calories. So if you're trying to watch your weight, Chipotle is probably not the best choice.
3. Burger King
Burger King is one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world, with over 12,300 locations. But that doesn't mean that it's immune to criticism. In fact, according to a study conducted on Twitter, Burger King was ranked as the least favorite food chain in the United States. No stranger to scandals over the years, Burger King has been embroiled in several controversies.
In 2010, a former Army sergeant claimed to have swallowed a needle in a burger he ordered from a Hawaii Burger King. Two needles were involved – one piercing his tongue while another was stuck in his small intestine. He was hospitalized to treat his injuries and filed a lawsuit for damages.
In 2013, Burger King found themselves in hot water when it was revealed that they had discovered “very small trace levels” of horse DNA in some of their burgers served in the UK. The company claimed that horse meat was only used in a small percentage of burgers and that it was never distributed to US restaurants. But this story still caused a lot of public outcry and damage to Burger King's reputation.
There was also a massive scandal in 2014, which resulted in the closing of 89 franchise locations in Germany. RTL Television reporters went undercover to reveal various issues like food that was past its sell-by date were being labeled and sold as fresh. They also uncovered that so-called made-to-order burgers had been sitting under warming lights for sometimes up to hours.
If all of those weren't enough, Burger King is also known for serving high-calorie foods full of saturated fats. From the Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich that has 700 calories to the Triple Whopper Sandwich with Cheese with a mind-blowing 1220 calories, it's no wonder that Burger King has been ranked as one of the unhealthiest fast-food chains.
2. Taco Bell
It's no secret that fast food isn't the healthiest cuisine. But some fast-food restaurants are definitely worse than others regarding their nutritional value – or lack thereof. And when it comes to the worst of the worst, Taco Bell is definitely in the running.
For starters, Taco Bell has been embroiled in multiple scandals in recent years. In 2011, they were caught using “mystery meat” in their tacos – meat that contained less than 35% beef, according to DNA testing.
In addition, plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit said that Taco Bell's “beef” included not just beef but also oats, seasonings, and other fillers, which under USDA standards, aren't allowed to be considered beef. And as if that wasn't bad enough, they (along with Mcdonald's and Burger King) also admitted to using an ingredient known as “Pink Slime” in their beef.
If that doesn't make your stomach turn, we don't know what will – except perhaps the 71 people sickened by E. coli-tainted lettuce served at Taco Bell in 2006. According to the CDC report, most people affected developed stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea, with 53 getting sick enough to need hospitalization. Eight people also developed a rare kind of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome.
McDonald's is perhaps the most well-known fast-food restaurant in the world. Yet, despite often being touted as America's favorite, McDonald's was ranked as the worst fast-food chain in America by Consumer Reports in 2014. The chain has also been criticized for its use of unhealthy ingredients and its negative impact on the environment.
Their number 1 spot on our list should come as no surprise, given their recent string of bad publicity. From reports of employees serving food that had fallen on the floor to moldy McFlurry machines to a McDonald's drink machine crawling with earthworms, it's no wonder McDonald's is at the top of this list. In 2006, a customer in Texas allegedly found a dead rat in a McDonald's salad.
And that's not the only time fast-food customers have found gross things in their meals. In 2000, Katherine Ortega found a fried chicken head in her Box of “Mighty Wings,” In 2015, a McDonald's customer in Japan found a human tooth in their french fries.
Customers have long complained about the quality of the food, the state of the bathrooms, and the slow service. In addition, many people believe McDonald's is responsible for contributing to the obesity epidemic in the US. While McDonald's may be convenient and affordable, it's definitely not the best choice when it comes to fast food.
So there you have it, the ten worst fast-food restaurants in America according to Google rankings and customer reviews. While some of these chains have tried to improve their reputation with changes like menu additions and offering free food in their apps, it seems that, for the most part, they've been unable to shake their bad reputations and continue to repeat many of the same mistakes from their past.
Victoria Cornell is the founder of Motherhood Life Balance. She helps busy moms find peace in the midst of the chaos, transform their mindset, get organized, and find the fuel to live their best life. You can find her at https://motherhoodlifebalance.com/