Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Education and Human Services


Nutrition and Food Studies

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Douglas Murray

Committee Member

Lauren Dinour

Committee Member

Yeon Bai


Background: The obesity epidemic in America is a growing cause for concern. Because frequency of dining outside the home is on the rise, accurate understanding of restaurants and the foods they serve is imperative. Purpose: It is the purpose of this study to determine how consumers perceive a food item in terms of calories and reputation at a fast-food restaurant, McDonald’s, in comparison to a similar food item at a casual dining restaurant chain, Applebee’s. This study fills a gap in the literature by providing a comparison of perception between fast food and full service restaurants menu offerings. Methods: Using a snowball sample, participants were recruited via email listserves at a large, public university in the Northeast United States to participate in a quantitative survey instrument to determine differences in perceptions of these restaurants. Participants were also asked to estimate the calories in three similar meals from each restaurant. Data was collected in LimeSurvey, and exported to SPSS where chi-square, descriptive, and paired sample t-test analyses were conducted. Results: Of the 195 participants, a large majority were female (69%), Caucasian (71%), and highly educated (60% possessing Bachelor or graduate degrees). Overwhelmingly, 90% of participants answered that they believed Applebee’s served more healthful food compared to McDonald’s. Participants indicated a higher mean satisfaction rating for taste, quality, and healthfulness compared to McDonald’s. Additionally, the caloric content of the McDonald’s burger and chicken sandwich meals were overestimated (overestimated as 1268 vs. 940 kcal, and 998 vs. 930 kcal, respectively), while the comparable burger and chicken sandwich meals from Applebee’s were underestimated (1261 vs. 1410 kcal, and 979 vs. 1410 kcal, respectively). Demographic information was collected to test for statistically significant differences within the sample. Significance was found for education and quality and healthfulness of Applebee’s (p=.013 and p=.012, respectively), income and healthfulness of McDonald’s (p=.009), age and quality and healthfulness of McDonald’s (p=.001 and p=.000, respectively), as well as age and quality and healthfulness of Applebee’s (p=.021 and p=.010, respectively). Conclusions: Overall, the results reveal that there is a dichotomy between estimated calorie estimations and the actual caloric contents of foods served at these restaurants. Also, the incorrectly perceived healthfulness of Applebee’s may contribute to the growing dietary health concerns and indicate the need for consumer education and awareness.

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Nutrition Commons