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In an industry rife with competition, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are pulling out all the stops to turn one-time patrons into loyal customers.
How? Through mobile apps.
Some 1 in 4 diners use restaurant mobile apps or digital wallets to pay for meals, according to Market Force Information.
The customer insights firm is out with a new set of restaurant rankings culled from the responses of more than 10,400 people. They're based on a composite loyalty index that measures criteria including satisfaction with the food quality, service, value and restaurant experience.
"What I do see that's very clear is that technology is taking more and more of a role in QSR," Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer of Market Force, told CNBC. "I think there's going to be an interesting potential trend where there is less service and much more technology."
Click ahead to see America's favorite restaurants in different categories.
— By CNBC.'s Sarah Whitten
Posted 28 March 2016
While Little Caesars and Cicis Pizza have traded food quality for value, Papa Murphy's model is a bit different.
The pizza chain sells premade pies that customers purchase in-store and bring home to cook.
"Papa Murphy's has the highest food quality, so [consumers] are trading off a bit of the convenience to have that high food quality," Flink said.
The restaurant has a loyalty rating of 77 percent, up 6 percentage points from last year. The next highest loyalty score for pizzerias was Pizza Ranch, with 66 percent.
Taco Bueno took the top spot on Market Force's composite loyalty index for Mexican restaurants with a score of 57 percent. That's up a whopping 12 points from last year's score. It was also enough to beat out Chipotle Mexican Grill, which garnered a rating of 53 percent.
Taco Bueno was lauded for its value, food quality and staff friendliness.
Chick-fil-A dominated Market Force's loyalty index for chains that specialize in chicken. The restaurant garnered a rating of 77 percent, up 3 percentage points from last year.
Chick-fil-A led in nearly every category including staff friendliness, food quality and overall cleanliness. It ranked second in value and healthy options.
"We still have Chick-fil-A just remaining the top of the crème de la crème and they continue to be so. They have put a ton of work into managing the experience at the drive-thru," Flink said.
Raising Cane's ranked second in this category, earning 70 percent.
When it comes to sandwich shops and delis, customers have a hard time distinguishing between brands. McAlister's Deli narrowly beat out its competitors for the No. 1 spot in Market Force's loyalty index for restaurants that specialize in sandwiches.
The chain had a loyalty score of 70 percent, up 3 percentage points year-over-year. Its nearest competitor, Firehouse Subs, only had a 1-point difference in loyalty.
Similarly, the top six brands were all within a few percentage points of each other. Subway and Arby's were the only restaurants that lagged behind in this category, scoring only 54 percent each.
Flink cited the sandwich shops' broad menus for their success, but noted that many of the restaurants have dealt with competition from an unlikely source: Wawa.
The convenience store chain has become a popular sandwich destination for customers seeking fresh, quality food.
"That's a lot of competitive pressure from a completely different industry on the QSR," Flink told CNBC.
The chain garnered a loyalty rating of 68 percent, up 5 percentage points from last year, compared to Panera's score of 64 percent.
Krispy Kreme was lauded for its food quality and value, while Panera racked up points with consumers for being the best in atmosphere, curb appeal, healthy options and cleanliness.
The frozen dessert industry is fraught with so much competition that two restaurants reign supreme: Smoothie King and Culver's.
Both brands garnered a score of 68 percent on Market Force's loyalty index. But while Smoothie King saw and increase of 2 points year-over-year, Culver's dipped 4 percentage points in this category.
Smoothie King ranked highest in food quality, cleanliness and healthy options while Culver's was considered best for staff friendliness, according to consumers.