15 Most Successful Fast-Food Chains

The fast-food industry is a booming business, with billions of dollars in revenue generated each year. Many factors contribute to a fast-food chain’s success, including a strong brand identity, innovative menu items, and efficient operations. 

The industry is a dynamic and ever-changing one. By understanding the factors that contribute to success in this industry as compiled in this writing, fast-food chains can continue to thrive in the years to come.

About Fast-Food Business

The fast-food industry is a billion-dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down. In 2021, the global fast-food market was valued at \$843.1 billion, and it is expected to reach \$1.14 trillion by 2027. 

In the United States alone, the fast-food industry is worth over $200 billion. There are over 200,000 fast-food restaurants in the United States, serving over 50 billion meals each year.

This growth is being driven by a number of factors, including the increasing urbanization of the world’s population, the growing popularity of convenience foods, and the rising disposable incomes of consumers in developing countries.

The fast-food industry is so successful because it offers a number of advantages to consumers, including:

Convenience: Fast food restaurants are quick and easy to get to, and they offer a wide variety of food options.

Affordability: Fast food is relatively inexpensive, making it a good option for people on a budget.

Speed: Fast food is prepared quickly, so you can get your meal and be on your way in minutes.

Variety: Fast food restaurants offer a wide variety of food options, so there is something for everyone.

Despite the success of the fast-food industry, there are some concerns about the health effects of fast food. Fast food is often high in calories, fat, and sodium, and it can contribute to obesity, heart disease, and other health problems.

However, the fast-food industry is taking steps to address these concerns. Many fast food chains are now offering healthier menu options, such as salads, wraps, and grilled chicken sandwiches. They are also working to reduce the amount of calories, fat, and sodium in their food.

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How do you rate success in the fast food business?

Defining success in the fast-food industry can be multifaceted, with different metrics highlighting different aspects of a chain’s performance. Here are some key factors commonly used to gauge success:

Financial Performance:

Revenue: This is the total income generated by the sale of food and beverages. Higher revenue indicates a larger customer base and wider reach.

Profit: This is the amount of money remaining after deducting expenses from revenue. Profitability is crucial for long-term sustainability and expansion.

Return on investment (ROI): This measures the efficiency of invested capital in generating profits. A high ROI suggests that the chain is effectively utilizing its resources.

Market share: This reflects the percentage of the total fast-food market controlled by the chain. A larger market share indicates greater brand recognition and customer loyalty.

Operational Efficiency:

Average transaction time: This measures the average time it takes from order placement to food delivery. Faster service times contribute to customer satisfaction and higher customer turnover.

Food waste: Minimizing food waste reduces costs and improves environmental sustainability.

Employee satisfaction: A positive work environment with engaged employees leads to better customer service and higher retention rates.

Brand Strength:

Brand awareness: This refers to the extent to which consumers are familiar with the brand and its offerings. Strong brand awareness drives customer loyalty and attracts new customers.

Brand image: This encompasses the overall perception of the brand, including its values, quality, and reputation. A positive brand image attracts customers and inspires trust.

Customer loyalty: This refers to the tendency of customers to repeatedly patronize the chain over competitors. Loyal customers contribute to consistent revenue and profitability.

Innovation and Adaptability:

Menu innovation: Introducing new and exciting menu items can attract new customers and keep existing ones engaged.

Technological adoption: Utilizing technology for ordering, delivery, and customer engagement can improve efficiency and enhance customer experience.

Adapting to changing trends: Responding to evolving consumer preferences and dietary needs is crucial for long-term success.

No single metric can solely determine success, and a successful fast-food chain often excels in several of these areas. By focusing on a balanced approach that prioritizes financial performance, operational efficiency, brand strength, and adaptability, fast-food chains can achieve sustainable growth and success in a competitive industry.

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How much does Fast-Food Chain make annually?

It depends on which specific fast-food chain you’re referring to. Here’s a breakdown:

Individual Chain Revenue:

McDonald’s: In 2022, McDonald’s reported global systemwide sales of $232 billion, with $21.4 billion in revenue for the company itself.

Subway: In 2022, Subway had global systemwide sales of $18 billion.

Starbucks: In 2023, Starbucks reported global net revenues of $29.2 billion for their fiscal year 2023.

Burger King: In 2022, Burger King reported global systemwide sales of $20.9 billion.

Taco Bell: In 2020 (latest data available), Taco Bell reported global systemwide sales of $11.6 billion.

Average Fast-Food Restaurant:

The average fast-food restaurant in the US makes around $1.5 million in annual sales, according to Zippia.

However, this can vary greatly depending on factors like location, brand, and operating hours.

Some well-run fast-food establishments can make 5-10% profit on sales, translating to potentially several hundred thousand dollars per year for franchise owners.

Overall Industry Revenue:

The global fast-food industry is estimated to be worth $570 billion annually.

In the US alone, the industry generates around $200 billion in annual revenue.

What is the oldest fast food chain?

White Castle: Most historians agree that White Castle, founded in 1916 in Wichita, Kansas, is the world’s first true fast-food chain. They started with food stands and formally established in 1921, selling hamburgers for just five cents each. Their focus on quick service, pre-cooked food, and affordable prices paved the way for the fast-food industry as we know it.

What is the longest-running food chain?

Yoshinoya: This Japanese chain, founded in Tokyo in 1899, boasts the title of the oldest continuously operating food chain globally. They started as a beef bowl restaurant and have since expanded their menu to include other Japanese classics like gyudon and curry. 

Their focus on fresh, high-quality ingredients and traditional recipes has allowed them to thrive for over a century. So, while White Castle holds the crown for the first true fast-food chain, Yoshinoya wins the race for the longest-running food chain overall.

It’s worth noting that these titles can be debated depending on how you define “fast food” and “food chain.” However, both White Castle and Yoshinoya represent significant milestones in the history of food service, offering delicious and affordable options for generations of customers.

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What are the Most Successful Fast-Food Chains?

These 15 fast-food chains have achieved remarkable success through various strategies, from iconic branding and efficient operations to innovative menus and targeted marketing. 

They continue to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing tastes and preferences of consumers around the globe.

Each chain has its own unique recipe for success, but some common factors include strong branding, consistent quality, convenient locations, and a focus on customer satisfaction.

It’s important to note that success can be measured in different ways. Some chains may have the most locations, while others may have the highest revenue or profit. Ultimately, the most successful fast-food chains are those that are able to consistently deliver on their brand promise and meet the needs of their customers.

1. McDonald’s:

The undisputed king of fast food, McDonald’s boasts over 40,000 restaurants in over 120 countries, serving up their iconic Big Macs and fries to billions of customers annually. Their success lies in their efficient operations, consistent branding, and ability to adapt to local tastes.

  • First opened: 1940 (San Bernardino, California, USA)
  • Headquarters: Oak Brook, Illinois, USA
  • Main products: Burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, breakfast items, milkshakes
  • Owner: The McDonald’s Corporation (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Strong brand recognition, consistent quality and affordability, convenient locations, extensive menu, effective marketing and franchising strategies.

2. Subway:

The sandwich giant, Subway, has over 37,000 restaurants worldwide, offering customizable subs with a “million-dollar footlong” appeal. Their focus on fresh ingredients and build-your-own options has resonated with health-conscious consumers.

  • First opened: 1965 (Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA)
  • Headquarters: Milford, Connecticut, USA
  • Main products: Sandwiches, salads, soups, breakfast items, cookies
  • Owner: Subway Holdings (owned by Inspire Brands, a publicly traded company)
  • Success factors: Customization options, healthy image, focus on fresh ingredients, large franchise network, flexible store formats.

3. Starbucks:

Coffee connoisseurs flock to Starbucks’ 36,000+ locations for their premium brews and trendy drinks. They’ve successfully cultivated a “third place” atmosphere, making their cafes a popular spot to relax and connect.

  • First opened: 1971 (Seattle, Washington, USA)
  • Headquarters: Seattle, Washington, USA
  • Main products: Coffee, tea, pastries, sandwiches, breakfast items
  • Owner: Starbucks Corporation (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Premium coffee experience, focus on atmosphere and customer service, innovative menu items, strong loyalty program, global expansion.

4. KFC:

Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken recipe has captivated taste buds for over 80 years. KFC’s 26,000+ restaurants around the globe offer crispy chicken, biscuits, and sides that keep customers coming back for more.

  • First opened: 1930 (Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
  • Headquarters: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
  • Main products: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, coleslaw
  • Owner: Yum! Brands, Inc. (publicly traded company)
  • Success factors: Well-loved fried chicken recipe, consistent quality and value, strong brand recognition, international presence, focus on family meals.

5. Pizza Hut:

The iconic red roof of Pizza Hut beckons pizza lovers to its 18,000+ locations. Their pan pizzas, stuffed crusts, and endless toppings cater to every pizza craving imaginable.

  • First opened: 1958 (Wichita, Kansas, USA)
  • Headquarters: Plano, Texas, USA
  • Main products: Pizzas, pasta, wings, breadsticks, desserts
  • Owner: Yum! Brands, Inc. (publicly traded company)
  • Success factors: Variety of pizza toppings and styles, convenient takeout and delivery options, family-friendly atmosphere, strong brand loyalty, global presence.

6. Burger King:

McDonald’s biggest rival, Burger King, sizzles with over 19,000 restaurants worldwide. Their flame-grilled Whoppers and commitment to bold flavors have earned them a loyal following.

  • First opened: 1953
  • Headquarters: Miami, Florida, USA
  • Main product: Hamburgers
  • Owner: Restaurant Brands International (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Competitive prices, flame-grilled burgers, variety, brand recognition

7. Domino’s Pizza:

Domino’s delivery prowess has propelled them to pizza stardom with over 18,000 restaurants. Their focus on speed, convenience, and online ordering has made them a household name for pizza delivery.

  • First opened: 1960
  • Headquarters: Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  • Main product: Pizza
  • Owner: Domino’s Pizza, Inc. (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Efficient delivery system, online ordering, focus on value and convenience

8. Dunkin’:

America runs on Dunkin’, with over 11,300 locations serving up coffee, donuts, and breakfast sandwiches to fuel the day. Their affordable and convenient options cater to the on-the-go lifestyle.

  • First opened: 1950
  • Headquarters: Canton, Massachusetts, USA
  • Main product: Coffee, donuts, and other breakfast items
  • Owner: Inspire Brands (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Strong coffee program, convenience, affordability, breakfast focus, loyalty program

9. Taco Bell:

Craving Mexican-inspired flavors? Taco Bell’s 7,700+ restaurants dish up tacos, burritos, and nachos with a unique twist. Their affordability and late-night hours make them a popular choice for casual dining.

  • First opened: 1962
  • Headquarters: Irvine, California, USA
  • Main product: Mexican-inspired fast food
  • Owner: Yum! Brands (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Unique menu, affordability, value deals, catering to younger demographics

10. Wendy’s:

Wendy’s stands out for its fresh, never-frozen beef and witty social media presence. With over 6,900 restaurants, they offer a classic burger experience with a modern twist.

  • First opened: 1969
  • Headquarters: Dublin, Ohio, USA
  • Main product: Fresh beef hamburgers
  • Owner: Wendy’s Company (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Focus on quality ingredients, fresh beef, humorous marketing, variety of burgers and sandwiches

11. Chick-fil-A:

Renowned for their waffle fries and friendly service, Chick-fil-A has over 2,700 restaurants, primarily in the United States. Their focus on quality ingredients and chicken cooked to perfection has won over customers.

  • First opened: 1946
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Main product: Chicken sandwiches and waffle fries
  • Owner: Truett Cathy Foundation (privately owned)
  • Success factors: High-quality ingredients, customer service, unique menu items, closed on Sundays

12. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen:

Popeyes’ spicy fried chicken and Cajun-inspired menu have set them apart in the chicken game. With over 3,700 restaurants, they’ve captured the hearts (and taste buds) of those who love bold flavors.

  • First opened: 1972
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Main product: Fried chicken and seafood
  • Owner: Restaurant Brands International (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Spicy and flavorful food, focus on Cajun cuisine, limited-time offers, brand image

13. Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Chipotle has revolutionized fast food with its focus on fresh, responsibly sourced ingredients and customizable burritos and bowls. Their 2,900+ restaurants cater to health-conscious diners who value quality and sustainability.

  • First opened: 1993
  • Headquarters: Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Main product: Mexican-inspired fast casual food
  • Owner: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: Focus on fresh ingredients, customizable meals, sustainability, higher price point

14. Dairy Queen:

Dairy Queen’s iconic Blizzard treats and soft-serve ice cream have been bringing smiles to faces for over 80 years. With over 7,000 locations, they offer a sweet escape from the everyday.

  • First opened: 1940
  • Headquarters: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  • Main product: Soft serve ice cream and fast food
  • Owner: International Dairy Queen, Inc. (privately owned)
  • Success factors: Iconic brand recognition

15. Papa John’s Pizza

Papa John’s commitment to fresh dough and quality toppings has made them a favorite for pizza delivery. With over 5,600 restaurants, they offer a convenient way to enjoy pizza night at home.

  • First opened: 1984
  • Headquarters: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
  • Main product: Pizza
  • Owner: Papa John’s International, Inc. (publicly traded)
  • Success factors: High-quality ingredients, specialty pizzas, delivery and takeout options, loyalty program.

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What is the most successful fast-food chain in the world?

Ultimately, the “most successful” and “richest” fast-food chains depend on the specific criteria used. Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses, and their positions can change over time.

Revenue: In terms of global systemwide sales, McDonald’s reigns supreme, exceeding $23 billion in 2021. Starbucks also boasts impressive numbers, particularly in the US, with $23.2 billion in 2022.

Brand Value: McDonald’s again holds the crown with an estimated brand value of $196.5 billion in 2022, demonstrating its immense global recognition and influence.

Profitability: Chick-fil-A reportedly leads in average revenue per store, exceeding $6.7 million in the US, showcasing operational efficiency and customer loyalty.

Expansion: Subway has the largest global footprint with over 37,000 locations, indicating broad market reach and scalability.

Therefore, “most successful” depends on the chosen metric. McDonald’s dominates in revenue and brand value, while Chick-fil-A excels in profitability, and Subway wins in terms of global presence.

What is the richest fast-food chain?

Market Capitalization: McDonald’s again takes the lead with a market cap exceeding $180 billion as of October 2023, indicating its immense shareholder value.

Total Assets: Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, boasts total assets of over $13 billion, showcasing its financial strength and diverse portfolio.

Net Income: McDonald’s again shines with a net income exceeding $6 billion in 2022, demonstrating its ability to consistently generate profit.

Therefore, McDonald’s stands out as the richest fast-food chain based on market cap and net income, while Yum! Brands holds its own with total assets.

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Can I start a fast food business?

Starting a fast food business can be exciting and challenging, but with the right approach, you can definitely make it successful! Here are some steps and considerations:

Before you start:

Market research: Conduct thorough research to understand the demand and competition in your target market. Analyze what existing fast food options are available, their strengths and weaknesses, and identify any gaps you could fill.

Develop a unique concept: What will make your fast food business stand out? Consider offering a specific cuisine, healthier options, innovative dishes, or a unique dining experience.

Business plan: Create a comprehensive business plan outlining your financial projections, marketing strategies, operational procedures, and team structure. This will help you secure funding and stay on track.

Building your foundation:

Location is key: Choose a high-traffic area with good visibility and accessibility. Consider factors like rent, foot traffic, and proximity to potential customers.

Menu optimization: Offer a balanced menu with popular items, healthy options, and room for customization. Ensure your ingredients are fresh, high-quality, and cost-effective.

Efficient operations: Streamline your kitchen processes to ensure fast service and consistent quality. Invest in technology and equipment that improves efficiency.

Marketing and growth:

Branding and identity: Develop a strong brand identity that reflects your concept and resonates with your target audience. This includes logo, colors, packaging, and overall atmosphere.

Marketing strategies: Utilize various marketing channels like social media, online advertising, local partnerships, and loyalty programs to reach your customers and build brand awareness.

Customer focus: Prioritize customer satisfaction by offering excellent service, addressing feedback, and adapting to evolving preferences.

How can I make my fast-food business successful?

Hire the right team: Find passionate and skilled employees who can deliver exceptional service and maintain high standards.

Technology adoption: Embrace technology like online ordering, delivery platforms, and digital payment systems to enhance customer convenience and operational efficiency.

Sustainability: Implement sustainable practices like eco-friendly packaging, waste reduction, and responsible sourcing to attract environmentally conscious customers.

Remember, success in the fast food industry requires constant learning, adaptation, and innovation. Be prepared to adjust your strategies based on market trends, customer feedback, and competitor activity.

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The “most successful” fast-food chains are not monolithic. Success comes in many flavors, from consistent financial performance and brand loyalty to customer satisfaction and innovative approaches.

Ultimately, the most successful chains are those that can adapt to changing consumer preferences, stay relevant, and offer something unique and valuable to their customers.


What are some emerging trends in the fast-food industry?

Plant-based options, health-conscious choices, and personalized experiences are gaining traction

What are the biggest challenges facing fast-food chains?

Rising costs, labor shortages, and changing consumer demands all pose challenges.

How can I stay informed about the latest developments in the fast-food industry?

Read industry publications, follow food trends online, and try new restaurants.



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