The 10 Worst Fast Food Chains

Yesterday's list of the 10 best fast food chains in the U.S. was all about hope. It was a look at fast food chains that are doing it right by sourcing from quality vendors, paying their workers an appropriate wage, considering their environmental footprint, and offering reasonable portions that also happen to be delicious. And some of them are actually doing all of that!

Today's list, on the other hand, is about hopelessness.

Story continues below

The chains on this list are those that should be avoided at all costs. The ones that you should cross the street. You should plug your nose to keep from getting even a single waft from their kitchens. When food from these places is offered for free at a party, you should either pardon yourself politely or burn the entire platter to save your fellow partygoers.

These are the ten worst fast food chains in America.

Note: This isn't just some random list. This is scientific in nature. Mostly. (To view the methodology, check out the post from yesterday.) As such, due to how I developed my points system, the list is essentially broken in two tiers: Really Bad, and Simply The Worst. There are five chains in each category.

On to the list!

6. (tie) Hardee's/Carl's Jr.
If you go east of the Mississippi, it's known as Hardee's. West, and it's Carl's Jr. No matter where you're at, it's certainly not known as "good." Perhaps their biggest issue -- on top of their ridiculous Calorie Bomb offerings (items over 750 calories) -- is that they're third worst in terms of starting employee salary, paying their new workers $7.34 an hour.

6. (tie) Sonic
I'm not going to spend time here speaking ill of their advertising. The two guys in a car are funny. I like them. But if they really ate Sonic as much as they claim to in the ads, they wouldn't be able to fit in the car. Sonic ranked, by far, number one in the amount of Calorie Bombs on their menu, to the point where I simply stopped counting.

6. (tie) Wendy's
In terms of number of establishments, Wendy's is number four in the country, trailing only McDonald's, Starbucks, and Subway. When your corporation is that big, there's a certain responsibility it must have about its environmental impact. Wendy's does not share this feeling. It doesn't even show up in Newsweek's ranking of the 500 greenest companies in the U.S. (For comparison's sake, McDonald's is 149 and Starbucks is 283.) That's no way to set an example.

6. (tie) Taco Bell
As Neil Hamburger continues to warn us, something is rotten in the state of Taco Bell, what with the constantly Twittered claims of food poisoning. But that's not why it ranks so low. They earn a ton of money, pay their workers next to nothing, and their awareness of environmental impact is nonexistent. Not to mention, when you live in a place like L.A. with great Mexican food around nearly every corner, there's just no reason to ever "run for the border."

6. (tie) Popeyes
This is clearly a case of taste. Bojangles could have easily taken this spot over, and it's not like Popeyes is doing something more atrocious than the below mentioned KFC. (They both source terribly.) But they do at least pay their workers over $8 an hour. Still not great, but it does set them apart.

And now, the very worst franchises:

1. (tie) Checkers/Rally's
Walk into a Checkers, and it seems like it should be a tier above McDonald's, Burger King, and the like. Maybe it's the diner ambiance or the milkshakes. But instead, they provide the least tastiest burger out there. It doesn't help they pay their new employees $7.33 an hour, second worst in American fast food chains.

1. (tie) Papa John's
There's probably a reason pizza chains take up three of the top four spots on my list, and that reason certainly has to do with upbringing. Anyone born in Chicago will tell you that pizza is not a "fast food." But Papa John's is particularly heinous due to whatever garlic buttery concoction they pack in with the object they call "pizza." Also, it's in poor form for the company's CEO to be so outward regarding his stance on not raising the minimum wage while his workers make $7.23 an hour.

1. (tie) Domino's
In most of the metro stops in Mexico City, there are small stands for Domino's that offer small, personal pizzas (the standard pepperoni or cheese) for 20 pesos, the equivalent of about $1.50. If you've ever had one, you understand it's not even worth that price.

1. (tie) KFC
Someday, someone's going to write an analysis about the downfall of western society, and trace it back to the moment that Yum! Brands decided to take two of their properties and Frankenstein them into the first combination KFC/Taco Bell. Today, unfortunately, is not that day. But separating the two entities is difficult. So, why does Taco Bell get a relatively plush spot in the above tier? They pay their starting workers 16 cents an hour more. I like to imagine many fights in the kitchen that occur over this discrepancy in pay.

1. (tie) Little Caesar's
Little Caesar's, a chain that pays their workers $7.56 an hour, can also afford to have the 20th most stores open in the U.S. The secret? Their "specialty" is large pizzas sold for $5 a pop. People who buy them see good value. I see the worst that humanity has to offer.

Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading