In a world of “go go go”, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) have quickly become a staple in our lives. Feeling tired after work? No problem, just pick something up on your way home. If you live in a metropolitan or suburban area, chances are, you’ll be within a 5-10 minute driving or walking radius of a QSR.
Considering how ever-present these chains are, it’s no surprise that the QSR industry in the US is expected to grow by 4.6% annually between 2020 and 2027. In such a fast-growing industry, let’s slow down and explore the top QSR restaurant chains in the US. We will break down the 5 largest quick-service restaurants and the 5 most profitable QSRs in the United States. Let’s dive in!
First, we’ll be taking a look at the top 5 largest QSR chains in the US based on the number of locations.
Taking the top spot is Subway – the king of customization by letting every customer be the artist of their own sandwich. Originally founded in 1965, Subway has always highlighted its diverse menu with healthier alternatives in comparison to traditional fast food restaurants. Today, Subway has 20,576 locations operating in 54 US states and territories.
Founded in Seattle, Starbucks has become the gold standard for quick-service coffee. Offering a creative menu with plenty of room for customization, there’s a drink for everyone at their cozy coffee shops. With 15,873 locations across 52 states and territories, there’s no shortage of Starbucks locations to get your caffeine fix.
There’s no doubt that McDonald’s is one of the most recognizable fast food icons with their unmissable golden arches. For the past 84 years, McDonald’s has been serving up their classic selection of America’s favorites. Their 13,444 locations in 54 US states and territories mean that a good burger and fries are never too far away.
Previously known as Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunkin’ has made its way into the morning rituals of Americans. Whether you’re looking for a little pick-me-up or a sweet treat, Dunkin’ has become a staple for coffee runs. With 9,370 locations in 44 US states, America indeed runs on Dunkin’.
Offering a flavor fiesta on a budget, Taco Bell has got your back with an abundance of Mexican-inspired favorites. Their delicious menu items, along with their famous hot sauce, will leave you craving more. For those giving into their spicy cravings, Taco Bell has 7,198 locations in 51 US states to help fulfill those guilty pleasures.
Now, we’ll be exploring the top 5 most profitable QSR chains in the US based on revenue per location.
Adding a bite of Southern charm to their strategy seemed to worked well for Chick-fil-A. Known for their juicy chicken, waffle fries, and commitment to closing on Sundays, Chick-fil-A takes the top spot, making $6.7 million per location.
With their focus on perfecting one particular menu item, chicken fingers, Raising Cane’s is well-known for simplicity and quality. Their hand-battered, never-frozen chicken tenders with their famous Cane’s Sauce have become an icon for late-night cravings. Simplicity is key, earning Raising Cane’s a solid $5.4 million per location.
Shake Shack’s humble beginnings as a hot dog cart in New York City with a simple mission to “Stand For Something Good” has set them up for success. Elevating the fast food experience with its commitment to quality and sustainability, Shake Shack has earned its place in the third spot with $3.8 million per location.
A Texas icon, Whataburger is known for its classic menu with a hint of Southern charm. Their 24/7 service and famous classics, like the Whataburger and Spicy Ketchup, make it a convenient and beloved chain. This embodiment of the Texas spirit takes the fourth spot with $3.7 million per location.
Making its second appearance on this list, this fast food giant can’t be ignored with its famous golden arches. Not only does McDonald’s have the third-most locations in the US, but its cherished classics have also earned it the number-five spot for profitability with $3.6 million per location.
From the comforting familiarity of golden arches to the late-night cravings for tacos, quick-service restaurant chains are here to stay. These top QSR chains are constantly redefining the on-the-go dining experience to keep up with the demand for fast, satisfying meals. At the forefront of convenience, quality, and variety, the top QSR chains in the US will remain at the heart of Americans from coast to coast.
Looking for more restaurant industry insights for the upcoming year? The data from this article is from our 2024 State of the Industry Report. Download your free copy to learn more about current restaurant industry trends and to stay ahead of the curve.
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-Tara Hardie, ZZA Hospitality Group, 16 locations