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This Is the Least Trusted Restaurant Chain in the U.S., According to Data

This major eatery isn't exactly a hit with Americans, a recent study reveals.

Restaurants have been through a lot in the last 18 months, with dining rooms shuttered, overloaded deliveries, and building outdoor dining spaces that didn't previously exist. In these circumstances, even your go-to eatery can have a bad day. But some major restaurant chains are more inconsistent than others, and are losing the trust of diners across the country. To help you discover which casual dining spots may not be worth your next meal, we looked at the recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Restaurant Study from 2020-2021 to find out which restaurant chain is the least trusted of them all.

For its 2020-2021 study, ACSI chose 19,423 customers at random to interview. They were contacted via email between April 2020 to March 2021 and asked to describe their experiences at some of the largest restaurant chains in the U.S. in regards to 10 different factors: accuracy of food order, food quality, beverage quality, variety of food, variety of beverages, layout and cleanliness, courtesy and helpfulness of waitstaff, the speed with which food was received, website satisfaction, and the reliability of the restaurant's mobile app. ACSI then used those results to calculate an overall customer satisfaction score out of 100 for each restaurant chain. At Best Life, we looked at the restaurants that received a below-average score (below 80) to determine the least trusted chain in the country. Read on to find out the dining establishment you may want to ditch instead.

RELATED: This Is the Least Trusted Retailer in the U.S. Right Now, Data Shows.

Cracker Barrel

the exterior of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 78

With a score of 78, Cracker Barrel was only two points away from the average customer satisfaction score, but it did drop one point from the 2020 survey.

On the consumer review site Trustpilot, the country-themed restaurant and gift store has a very overall low score, with a 1.8-star overall rating out of 5.

"First thing we notice was a rat by the front door and rocking chairs," one customer of a Cracker Barrel in Maine wrote on Trustpilot. "Our waitress took 15 minutes to acknowledge us even though it was early and not busy. Once our order was placed it took another half hour to get our meal."

Outback Steakhouse

the entrance and sign of an Outback Steakhouse restaurant in Key West, Florida
Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

ACSI score (out of 100): 78

Just like Cracker Barrel, Outback was pretty close to an average score on the ACSI survey and its rating didn't change since last year's findings.

For the moment, Outback seems to be losing points with customers who say that the food at this Australian-themed eatery isn't very tasty, giving it a 2.1 rating on Trustpilot. "Been going downhill for 10 years now, so we can't blame COVID," one Outback customer wrote on Trustpilot about a location in Pennsylvania. "Ordered the Queensland chicken and shrimp. It was dry and tasteless. I have only sent back 2 dished in my life and this was one time."

Red Robin

the exterior of a Red Robin restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 78

In a rare bit of good news for the restaurants on this list, Red Robin was up two points from the ACSI 2020 survey, where the restaurant got a 76. On Trustpilot, this gourmet burgers-and-brew joint has a slightly higher score than Outback, with a 2.4 out 5 overall customer rating.

It appears that this chain might still have room to grow in terms of customer service and food, however. "Waited awhile until the waitress came to take our order. She asked us for our drink order and I let her know that we were ready to place our full order at this time. She snapped and said, 'Let [me] first get the drink order.' We only wanted water," one customer wrote about a Red Robin in Wisconsin. "The food finally came and the onion rings were soggy and dripping with fat. The burger was ice cold."


The exterior of an Applebee's restaurant
George Sheldon / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 77

While the ACSI survey shows that Applebee's may not be the most reliable restaurant, it is holding steady with a score of 77, the same from the 2020 ACSI survey. Applebee's has an overall customer rating of 3.3 out of 5 stars on the review site Consumer Affairs. And it seems that this popular chain still has some major problems among customers.

"I waited far too long for the disgusting food I got," a customer wrote about an Applebee's in Michigan. "The ribs were apparently leftover from a week or so ago, as they were black on the back, and the meat was tougher than rawhide."


The exterior of a Chili's restaurant
Eric Glenn / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 77

Customers are a little bit more impressed by this American chain than they are with Applebee's, seeing as Chili's has a 3.5 out of 5 overall customer rating on Consumer Affairs. Like Red Robin, it was the only chain to see an increase in satisfaction year over year, up two points from its 75 in 2020.

Just like many of the restaurants on this list, some customers aren't pleased with Chili's food and service. "The tea was watered down," one wrote about a Chili's in Mississippi. "My wife asked that no salt be on her fries. Her fries had salt and they were cold. I was supposed to have onion petals but I ended up with fries too that were cold."

Red Lobster

the exterior of a Red Lobster restaurant in Indianapolis, Indiana
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 77

Red Lobster is down two points from the ACSI 2020 survey and the food could be to blame.

Customers on Trustpilot gave this seafood restaurant a 2.9 out of a possible 5-star rating, citing disappointing food for the low score. "The food at the Gateway Mall in Brooklyn is terrible," one Red Lobster diner wrote. "The prices have gone up and the food taste[s] like trash now. They have taken a lot of popular meals off their menu too. Just terrible."

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TGI Fridays

The exterior and logo of a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 77

TGI Friday's appears to do a decent job when it comes to customer satisfaction, as it has a 3.5-star overall customer rating on Consumer Affairs. But it did fall out of favor slightly on the ACSI survey, from 78 to 77, probably because guests have noticed that the food at this restaurant chain and the cleanliness factor need some serious work.

"I went to the restroom first and noticed that there were no paper towels or soap in the restroom," one TGI Friday's diner wrote about a location in Georgia. "My friend and I continued to give them a chance, considering it was late (11 PM) …  and we had hand sanitizers. I ordered ribs and a few sides, one of which they didn't include on my plate and a cocktail. I shortly noticed that a roach was crawling on my ribs." The customer noted that they brought the bug up to the manager, who was "irresponsible with handling" the situation and still had them pay for the meal.

The Cheesecake Factory

The exterior of The Cheesecake Factory
Idealphotographer / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 77

The Cheesecake Factory wasn't evaluated by the ACSI survey in 2020, but its new appearance isn't for glowing reasons. On Trustpilot, The Cheesecake Factory has a 2.2-star rating, most likely due to the behavior of the staff and long wait times.

"The service was horrible and the manager was even worse," a customer wrote about a Cheesecake Factory in Delaware. "We waited for over an hour for our food. Finally, I canceled the order. The manager apologized but did not offer any comps and the waiter never apologized. Will never go there again."

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Buffalo Wild Wings

Th exterior of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant
Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 76

Buffalo Wild Wings is one of two chains that got a 76 on the ASCI survey, the second-lowest score among full-service restaurants. (It also wasn't included the previous year.) The sports bar has a bad reputation on Trustpilot, as well, with a 1.8-star overall customer rating. Customers have specifically called Buffalo Wild Wings out for how unorganized they are when serving food.

"Went to dinner with family and each meal came out separately with a 15 min time frame between each plate delivery!!!" one diner wrote about a Buffalo Wild Wings in South Carolina. "Manager said that is the policy …  [and] said if we wanted all the food to come out together we should have let our waitress know!"


The exterior of a Denny's restaurant
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100):  76

This diner-style restaurant isn't very trustworthy, according to the ACSI survey, which gave it a 76 for the second year in a row. On Consumer Affairs, many customers have shared their experiences with Denny's poor quality food and unkind workers.

One wrote about a Denny's in California, where their eggs were "served very cold," while another customer at a Denny's in Texas said their sweet tea was moldy. That reviewer also claimed that they didn't feel well later because of their meal. "After I got home, 6 hours later, I was sick as a dog no matter what, so I call the health department and went there. They say I got salmonella poison[ing]."


the exterior of an IHOP restaurant
James R. Martin / Shutterstock

ACSI customer satisfaction score (out of 100): 74

With a score of 74, this iconic pancake house, which wasn't ranked previously, was voted as the least trusted restaurant chain in the ACSI survey. While it has a 3.4-star overall customer rating on Consumer Affairs, customers don't necessarily enjoy IHOP's iconic breakfast dishes.

"My pancakes were hard as a rock and the food was cold," one diner wrote about a location in Florida. "My daughter ordered a burger and it was raw. We were there for a good 45 minutes waiting for our server to come to our table so we could get the order set straight and done right."

Another said that an IHOP in California was one of the worst dining experiences they ever had. "First [the waiter] spills water on our table. Then I asked for hot water, he gave me a mug that had a big lipstick stain on it. Then he served the water in those hot tea or coffee containers. … That was disgusting, the water was not clear, it was light yellow… This ruined my whole meal."

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