McDonald’s. Chicago, Illinois
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $40.412 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 13,846
This organization that has become nearly synonymous with American fast food was founded with the mission of providing fast, consistent, and quality food at every one of its locations.
It all started when founder Ray Kroc took an interest in brothers Dick and Mac McDonald’s drive-in burger restaurant in California. They kept their operations moving quickly by only offering nine menu items, including a 15-cent hamburger.
Kroc purchased a franchise and opened the first McDonald’s in 1955, and just three years later, McDonald’s sold its 100 millionth hamburger. Kroc eventually bought out the brothers and turned the company into a national and global organization.
Today, McDonald’s is the number one restaurant chain in America based on both sales and number of locations, and it has over 36,000 restaurants in over 100 different countries.
Chick-fil-A. Atlanta, Georgia
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $11.32 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 2,470
Known for its chicken sandwiches and being closed on Sundays, Chick-fil-A began in 1946 as the Dwarf House. The first official Chick-fil-A opened in 1967 and featured a chicken sandwich recipe its founder, S. Truett Cathy, served at the Dwarf House.
The company focuses on providing stellar service to its customers, from its employees who are trained to say, “My pleasure” when a customer thanks them to its efficient drive-through.
Part of Chick-fil-A’s success has come from its high-quality franchisees.
There are only over 2,000 Chick-fil-A franchises across the country, but because of the low startup costs, the company allows over 20,000 people to apply to become franchisees each year. This means Chick-fil-A can be choosy about who manages their restaurants.
In 2019, Chick-fil-A became an international brand with locations in Canada and the U.K.
Taco Bell. Irvine, California
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $11.293 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 6,766
Taco Bell was founded in 1962 by Glen Bell, and it now has over 6,500 locations in the U.S. alone. The fast-food Tex-Mex restaurant is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut.
Taco Bell is known for its branding, its value menu, and its ever-changing products. It has also partnered with other companies such as Mountain Dew and Frito Lay to produce unique menu options such as Baja Blast Mountain Dew and Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos.
Taco Bell has brought attention to itself through its massive promotions, which include offering everyone in the United States a free taco for every base stolen in the World Series.
Burger King. Miami, Florida
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $10.204 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 7,346
Founded in 1954, just a year before McDonald’s officially formed, Burger King is the second-largest hamburger-focused restaurant chain in the U.S., and it has locations in nearly 100 countries.
Burger King’s most famous menu option, the Whopper, was created in 1957 as a strategy to set the restaurant apart from McDonald’s and its small burgers.
The rivalry between the two chains began before that, though, as some even say, Burger King’s founders came up with the idea for Burger King after visiting the restaurant that would eventually become McDonald’s.
Subway. Milford, Connecticut
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $10.2 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 23,801
As far as the number of locations goes, Subway is the U.S.’s largest restaurant chain with over 23,000 stores.
Subway started in 1965 when college student Fred DeLuca needed tuition money, and a family friend lent him $1,000 to open a restaurant. They opened a second location just a year later and continued to expand rapidly after that.
Now, Subway has locations in over 100 countries in addition to its strong presence across the U.S. It’s known for offering a healthier fast food option since it touts submarine sandwiches made from fresh meats, cheeses, and vegetables rather than greasy burgers and fried food.
Wendy’s. Dublin, Ohio
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $9.762 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 5,852
This is the third-largest hamburger chain in the U.S. You can usually recognize a burger from Wendy’s, thanks to its square patty. Wendy’s was founded by Dave Thomas in 1969. He named the restaurant after his daughter, Wendy, and even used her likeness as inspiration for its logo.
Besides its square burger patties, Wendy’s is also known for its Frosty desserts and unique side dishes such as chili and baked potatoes.
The restaurant’s other legacy is creating the first drive-through system with a speaker for ordering and a pick-up window.
Today, Wendy’s operates over 6,500 locations in 29 countries around the world.
Domino’s Pizza. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $7.044 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 6,126
With more than 17,500 locations around the world, including over 6,000 in the U.S., Domino’s sells an average of three million pizzas each day. On Super Bowl Sunday, however, it sells about two million pizzas in the U.S. alone.
Domino’s was founded in 1960 when the Monaghan brothers took over an existing pizza restaurant called DomiNick’s. Tom Monaghan took over operations completely a few years later, and in 1965 he opened two more locations and changed the name to Domino’s.
The chain grew quickly from there and now offers non-pizza menu items, such as chicken wings and desserts.
Panera Bread Company. St. Louis, Missouri
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $5.89 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 2,160
The eighth-largest restaurant chain in the U.S. is Panera Bread. The bakery-cafe chain only operates in the U.S. and Canada, a trait that sets it apart from many of the others on this list.
The restaurant is known for its bagels and other baked goods and its sandwiches, salads, soups, and coffee made from fresh, high-quality ingredients. Panera Bread is also a popular place for people to work, thanks to its cafe-style dining rooms and free wifi.
Panera Bread has two subsidiaries: Paradise Bakery and Cafe and Au Bon Pain.
R&L Foods. Plano, Texas
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $5.558 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 7,306
Founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas, Pizza Hut is known for not just its pizza delivery but also its dine-in pizza buffets offered at many of its locations. However, many franchisees are choosing to close these and instead focus on their pick-up and delivery services.
The company has over 18,000 locations across the globe and is one of the largest pizza chains in the world. It’s owned by Yum! Brands, Inc., which also owns KFC and Taco Bell.
Pizza Hut’s influence even stretches beyond earth, as it delivered a pizza to the International Space Station in 2001, becoming the first restaurant to do so.
Chipotle Mexican Grill. Newport Beach, California
Estimated 2019 U.S. Sales: $5.509 billion
2019 U.S. Locations: 2,584
Chipotle’s slogan is “Food With Integrity” since its mission is to provide dishes made from sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients. It offers bowls, tacos, quesadillas, and salads but is best known for its made-to-order, tinfoil-wrapped burritos.
Founded in 1993 in Denver, Colorado, the fast-casual chain now has locations in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. There are no franchises, which means Chipotle owns every location.
In 2018, after a few turbulent years for the company, Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol took over founder Steve Ells’ position as CEO. Since then, the company has released new menu items as well as an ethically and sustainably sourced apparel line.
While locally-owned restaurants are alive and well in the U.S., fast food restaurants are arguably more so. From small towns to big cities, there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one familiar food brand wherever you go.
Whatever your opinion is on fast food, these nationwide cuisines play a part in weaving together 50 diverse states and the countless communities within them by allowing someone in Oregon to get the same food as someone in Florida.
So what are the fast food chains with the largest presence in America? Here is a list of the ten largest restaurant chains in the U.S. based on their estimated sales in 2019.
We decided not to include beverage-focused establishments on this list, but if we did, Starbucks and Dunkin’ would both be in the top ten.
In addition, these rankings are based on U.S. sales only. Many of the chains on this list have massive global presences as well, but those aren’t included in this list.
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