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January 23, 2023

Big Mac Magic? Why do McDonald’s consumers keep coming back in droves despite being very dissatisfied

Martin Müller

Content Lead

Also available in other languages
“You don’t need the best ratings to succeed in the fight for consumer money.”

There is one recurring theme in our data: The average rating of famous fast-food brands is quite low, but the business doesn't show signs of faltering. We were curious about the reasons behind this and conducted research comparing ratings and consumer engagement of arguably the most famous of them all: McDonald's. 

How do the Golden Arches fare against other restaurants and fast-food joints? Are all their outlets of the same quality? And where is the worst McDonald's in our European database of almost 800 000 outlets? Let's find out.

Note: This is an example of ultra-targeted research we can carry out thanks to the granularity and accuracy of our on-trade BI tools based on big data from the on-trade channel. If you’re interested in similar topics, let us know and we’ll see what we can do.

McDonald’s seen through data

Our research covers the 5 countries in which we operate: Italy, Spain, Poland, Czechia and Slovakia. We will be dealing with the average consumer rating and engagement, both based on millions of user interactions captured by our data-driven BI tool Outlet Census (OC). And we will compare the average rating and engagement of McDonald’s joints vs all restaurants or fast-food joints in total.

We’re asking these 2 questions: 

  • How satisfied are McDonald’s consumers in comparison to an average restaurant or fast-food? For this, we will use the OC indicator Consumer Rating Score.
  • How much consumer engagement do McDonald's joints generate compared to an average restaurant or fast-food? We’ll look into the OC indicator Consumer Engagement Score for that.

Top engagement beats abysmal rating

Here are the rating results for each country followed by an interpretation of the data. 

Note: Throughout the whole article, we intentionally omit outlets that have very low engagement scores and therefore too small a data sample, which could lead to a distorted view of the market.

The chart above shows our outlet database split into percentiles (with 100 being the best and 0 the worst) and the relative position of the average restaurant, fast-food and McDonald’s outlet in terms of rating and engagement. In full numbers, the results are as follows:

Rating

  • Restaurant: 35th percentile
  • Fast-food: 30th percentile
  • McDonald’s: 12th percentile

Engagement

  • Restaurant: 71st percentile
  • Fast-food: 59th percentile
  • McDonald’s: 98th percentile

For McDonald's, we see wildly different results for rating and engagement. McDonald’s ranks on average amongst: 

  • 12% of the worst outlets in rating
  • 2% of the best outlets in engagement

In Spain, Poland and Czechia McDonald’s on average didn’t manage to get above the “4 out of 5” threshold where 89% of all on-trade outlets in our database fall into. That’s not good. But there is another part to this story.

In the on-trade, engagement means business

Some might argue that engagement is more important as it reflects consumer traffic and the business potential of an outlet. Consumer engagement is the sum of all digital consumer interactions with the outlet like comments or ratings on Google Maps, TripAdvisor, social media etc. 

McDonald’s joints have exceptionally high consumer traffic despite the low rating. This demonstrates the power of the McDonald’s brand around the world and shows that you don’t need to be the best-rated outlet to succeed in the fight for consumer money. 

On average, McDonald’s joints have over 5x the restaurant average and over 8x the fast-food average. That’s on-trade done right. 

The best McDonald’s: The magic of Jessica, Leonardo and Irene

But let’s take it up one level and find the best McDonald’s in our European database. 

The best McDonald’s is a complete exception. Located far from the famous tourist destinations in a smaller town of Surbo near Lecce, it has an exceptionally high engagement (12 850) and an almost perfect rating of 4.75.

If you read through the reviews in Google Maps, Facebook or TripAdvisor, one thing stands out - the reviews very often praise the staff, sometimes even calling the members by their first names. You will find a lot of reviews mentioning Jessica, Leonardo or Irene specifically. It really shows that in on-trade, it always comes down to people

Source: Google Maps

In any case, the management and staff of McDonald’s in Surbo are doing an exceptional job. While the average rating percentile of McDonald’s is just 12, this one occupies the 84th! And its engagement is in the absolute top tier: 327th position out of 797000 outlets

The worst McDonald’s: Rude staff and no bathroom

But let’s flip the coin and look at the dark side of McDonald’s. The worst McDonald’s in our European on-trade database is the one at Via Marsala in Rome. Despite being operational for almost a year, it has a very low engagement rate of 29 and a rating of 2.44

In a similar manner to the best McDonald’s, the reviews very often mention the service as the main culprit with waiters being rude, slow and often messing up the orders (missing items are mentioned constantly in the reviews). The second biggest reason for the abysmal ratings was the absence of a toilet and a place to wash one’s hands. Which is really surprising in a place serving meals eaten with bare hands. 

There is one explanation though. This McDonald’s is located at Rome Termini, the main train station of the Italian capital. It is therefore part of a bigger building with toilets of its own. Still, the critical voices are understandable. You don’t want to eat a burger with dirty hands, moreover at a train station. Or go for a train with hands covered in ketchup or mayo.

Source: Google Maps

Interestingly, there is another McDonald’s located in the same building with a better rating. One of the reviews actually recommends people visit it instead of this one.

Are all McDonald’s outlets in the same ballpark? 

But let’s answer the big question: Are all McDonald’s joints really bad in terms of rating and great in engagement, or is their distribution along the rating lines more nuanced? 

First, let’s look in detail at one country. We’ve chosen Spain as it is famous for its food (with world-renowned specialities like tapas, paella, gazpacho, churros, Jamón Ibérico, chorizo etc.) and on-trade culture as a whole.

Look at our Spanish market report or article on the top 50 Spanish on-trade cities for more information about the Spanish on-trade like outlet concentration, ratings etc. 

There are big differences in the quality of specific outlets. For example, the best McDonald’s in Spain can be found in Murcia on Calle de Molina de Segura. It has a 4.28 rating and a 1653 engagement score. But there are 4 more McDonald’s outlets with the same rating in Spain and many others in a similar league. The worst McDonald’s in Spain is located in Alicante (Avenida de Denia 1) with an average rating of 2.87.

While the best McDonald’s (and 4 others) is in the 30th percentile, the worst one is in the 2nd percentile, meaning it is amongst the 2% of the worst on-trade outlets in Spain. That’s quite a difference. So let’s conclude with a definitive chart of McDonald’s outlets’ rating distribution.

The McDonald’s Index

Below you see the “McDonald’s Index” - a chart covering all the McDonald’s outlets in our European database. It shows the values for average (A) and median (M) for all of them combined as well as the top 20 outlets and worst 20 outlets’ averages. 

You can see the great differences between the top and worst performers and their relative distance from each other and the average. The top 20 are very close to the top, meaning they share the ranks with the best restaurants and other fast food places. On the other hand, the worst 20 are dangerously close to the bottom.

After looking at the chart, we can definitely say that not all McDonald’s are equal when it comes to their rating or engagement and that by looking at our data you clearly see which ones are the winners and which ones are lagging.

Here are the complete results in percentiles for rating:

  • Best McDonald’s outlet: 89th percentile
  • Top 20 McDonald’s Average: 54th percentile
  • Top 20 McDonald’s Median: 48th percentile
  • McDonald’s Average: 13th percentile
  • McDonald’s Median: 12th percentile
  • Worst 20 McDonald’s Average: 2nd percentile 
  • Worst 20 McDonald’s Median: 2nd percentile 
  • Worst McDonald’s outlet: 2nd percentile 

And for engagement:

  • Best McDonald’s outlet: 1st percentile
  • Top 20 McDonald’s Average: 1st percentile
  • Top 20 McDonald’s Median: 1st percentile
  • McDonald’s Average: 3rd percentile
  • McDonald’s Median: 3rd percentile
  • Worst 20 McDonald’s Average: 28th percentile 
  • Worst 20 McDonald’s Median: 28th percentile 
  • Worst McDonald’s outlet: 15th percentile 

Conclusion: What really matters in the on-trade

To sum up, McDonald’s is extreme in both aspects - worst 12% in average ranking but top 2% in average engagement. And there are huge differences between the best and worst outlets. What does it mean? Even though the service might not be at its best most of the time, it doesn’t matter that much. The concept, taste and sheer power of the brand ensure that consumers keep coming back for more. An impressive feat.

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If you’re interested, here is a map of 5 best and 5 worst McDonald’s in Europe. Save for one exception, all of them are in Italy and Spain and all the best ones are in Italy. 

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