I think I can identify the cause of this problem. It is the reason for all of this. Well, maybe not the reason, but the primary one.
No, I don't mean people who count the beans to be put in refried means and burritos, I mean accountants. When the core focus of quick service restaurants - something a little more "palatable" than "fast food" - became profitability and cash flow over product quality and customer service, then product quality and customer service had to take a back seat to making a buck.
Now, I'm not criticizing the profit motive per se, what I am criticizing is the near-exclusive focus on profit "above all else."
Some franchises focus first on quality, or service, then the other, then on profitability. How do they actually act vs. what do they claim? If their motto is "A good product, in a clean environment, produced quickly, at a fair price," then that is the order that they should focus on.
Something has to be first. If a good product is your primary goal, you order fresh beef, crisp lettuce, and fresh-baked buns from local bakeries. For a great product, you might use express-shipped beef where you get shipments every day or two and while they do use a refrigerator to store beef not being used, it is never frozen, it's never more than one day old from when it left the slaughterhouse and might have actually been a bull or cow earlier that day. Buns might be baked on site from never-frozen dough delivered daily, or they might even make their own dough. Lettuce comes from farms directly, farmers markets or direct wholesale, and also, is fresh daily. Cheese is shipped paper separated sliced, or shipped in recently made blocks and cut on-site. Cheese is made from dairy products (and flavorings) only, no oils or fillers.
If cleanliness or service is first, all utensils - this would inclaude cooking tools: scrapers, fry baskets, spatulas - are kept clean when not in use, are swapped out for clean ones regularly and taken back to be washed in a scalding hot dishwasher. Surfaces are routinely cleaned frequently to very frequently, with unused paper towels or clean rags. Grease is changed before it is excessively dirty, you have multiple grills so aftr one has been in use heavily for a few hours, the other can be used while that one is cleaned. Or the grill plate is removable so it can be swapped out and washed while a new one is in use.
In the customer area, tables are wiped - again, with clean rags using cleaner or disinfectant - when customers leave, restrooms are kept spotless and fully stocked, and the floors are regularly swept and mopped. Even the building, and potentially the parking lot/drive thru - are routinely washed.
When the place closes - or done overnight in stages for places operating 24/7 - grills are disassembled and power washed to remove accumulated grime, work areas are disassembled, cutting boards or service plates removed so everything can be fully cleaned. The entire floor and all tables get at least one complete cleaning.
And while probably required by code, everyone handling food or cleaning equipment wears hair nets, gloves, and if one has a cold, surgical-style face masks. (People cleaning restrooms, mopping, sweeping, washing the building or wiping tables are not required to do this.)
Also, employee wages are above minimum wage to encourage staff retention. MoSt of these places have staff churn rates of 150% or more a year,. This means for every 10 employees they have, they hire about 15 new people each year. So an employee who makes the grade and isn't fired or quits, gets regular quarterly or semi-annual raises. This means you have motivated people who know their employer cares about them, and want to stay, not people who leave once trained for another churning place place that pays a little more.
Then we get to the unfortunately more common one. Focus on profitability first. Supplies are bought from the least expensive supplier, regardless of its (lack of) quality, or even whether the product is fit for human consmption. Restrooms are filthy - although this may be less common since restaurant owners know inspectors check restrooms - employees are paid minimum wage or less when they think they can get away with it. Food is thrown together, without caring, in any state, whether or not edible. Grease is used until it's more like coagulated food particles rather than a liquid, food is shipped frozen, rapid thawed, and might be old, and if priices go up they substitute cheaper components, always focusing on lower cost of supply.
And if you re-read the last paragraph, substitute "stock" for "food," you get the entire business model of Wal-Mart.
"Perhaps she'll understand, if you tell it to her, plain."
- Don McLean, Castles in the Air