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Chick-fil-A, Chipotle top customer satisfaction ranking

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Customers gather by the hundreds outside the Gilbert, Ariz Chick-fil-A restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012.

When it comes to fast food, chicken seems to be king.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Inc. led the fast-food category in the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index restaurant report released Tuesday.

The chicken chain had the highest score ever recorded by a fast-food restaurant, with 86 out of 100. It was closely followed by Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. with a score of 83. Rounding out the top three was sandwich purveyor Panera Bread Co. with a score of 80.

It is Chick-fil-A’s and Chipotle’s first time on this list. Panera Bread was not measured in 2014.

The three companies all focus on a smaller menu, which could have led to their success, said Forrest Morgeson, director of research for the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

“Quality sort of trumps price,” he said. “They do charge a little more than the burger fast-food restaurants … but they’re really focused on high quality.”

Chipotle’s and Panera Bread’s high scores can also be seen as a reflection of the improving economy, as well as the trend toward fresher fare and healthier eating, the report said. Customers pressed for time still want higher-quality ingredients in their food, and they’re willing to pay a bit more for it, it said.

“High scores for Chipotle and Panera Bread suggest that consumers think they’re getting a reasonable value for money,” the report said.

But it wasn’t all good news for the fast-food industry.

According to the report, customer satisfaction with fast-food restaurants as a whole dropped 3.8 percent to 77, the lowest score in five years, Morgeson said.

“Everything is either flat or down a bit,” he said. “It seems to be an industry-wide trend.”

Much of the decline can be attributed to McDonald’s Corp.’s performance. The index is based on the weighted average of companies, and weight is determined by market share.

This year, McDonald’s came in last place, falling 6 percent to a score of 67. The report noted that the fast-food chain has posted six straight quarters of decreasing U.S. sales.

Pizza chains also suffered this year. Papa John’s International Inc. and Pizza Hut each dropped 5 percent to 78, while Domino’s Pizza Inc. tumbled 6 percent to 75 and Little Caesar’s plummeted 8 percent to 74.

“Over the past several years, pizza chains have increasingly competed on price, sometimes at the expense of quality ingredients, and that is now beginning to have a negative effect on customer satisfaction,” the report said.

East Coast darling Dunkin’ Donuts was the only company to improve customer satisfaction from the year before, increasing 4 percent to 78. Rival Starbucks Corp. fell 3 percent to 74.

The 2015 restaurant report was based in 5,023 customer surveys collected between Jan. 19 and Feb. 9.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.