Fast food and restaurant chains serve billions of people across the world and generate billions of dollars in revenue year after year. It’s a competitive industry that’s constantly evolving. One thing that doesn’t seem to change all that much is the names you see at the top. The top revenue-generating chain restaurants in the world are indeed a collection of household names.
From coffee and donuts to tacos and burgers, we’ll take a closer look at the menu items and business strategies that have helped these restaurants make their mark. By examining their innovative menu items, focus on sustainability, and commitment to quality, we’ll gain insight into how they’ve managed to remain at the top.
Founded in 1950 by William Rosenberg, Dunkin’ Donuts is a multinational coffee and donut chain that operates over 12,900 locations in 42 countries.1 With a focus on coffee, doughnuts, and baked goods, Dunkin’ Donuts has become a popular choice for breakfast and snacks. Its simple menu and quick service make it a convenient option for busy customers on the go.
Wendy’s, founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, has grown into a massive fast-food enterprise that generated $2.09 billion in revenue in 2022 alone.2 With its focus on quality ingredients and fresh, made-to-order meals, Wendy’s has built a loyal customer base around the world. Its innovative menu items and commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing have helped it stand out from many other fast-food chains.
Domino’s Pizza generated an impressive $4.48 billion in revenue in 2022. The American pizza chain is a household name, and a delicious source of pizza, pasta, wings, oven-baked sandwiches, and sides for families all over the planet. The company’s dedication to online ordering, fast delivery times, and delicious pizza has earned it a 30% stake in the pizza delivery market, and the eight best revenue numbers in the industry.3
Restaurant Brands International
Restaurant Brands International (RBI) is a Canadian-US multinational fast food holding company that was formed in 2014 when Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons merged with American fast food chain Burger King.4
The company expanded in 2017 and acquired Popeyes as well. With a revenue of $6.36 billion in 2022, RBI ranks as the seventh-largest fast food chain in the world. Its popular brands, including Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes, are projected to continue dominating their respective segments as RBI’s profit and stock price continue their climb.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle Mexican Grill generated $8.6 billion in revenue in 2022, with locations in the United States, UK, Canada, Germany, and France.5 Chipotle specializes in tacos, burritos, and bowls, with a focus on customization and high-quality ingredients.
It’s become a popular choice for those seeking healthy alternatives to the standard fast-food options. Chipotle commits to using only responsibly raised meat and locally sourced produce, which is a testament to the company’s commitment to quality ingredients.
Yum! Brands secured the fifth position on the list of the top 10 largest fast food chains in the world, with a revenue of $6.8 billion in 2022.6 This American fast-food corporation operates a variety of brands, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, The Habit Burger Grill, and WingStreet, across the world, except for in China where the divisions are operated by Yum China.
With continued expansion into new markets, a focus on innovation, and a portfolio of some of the most recognized fast-food restaurants in the world, Yum! Brands has solidified its position as one of the most successful fast-food corporations in the industry.
Yum China owns the exclusive rights to operate a variety of fast-food chains in China, including KFC, Pizza Hut, East Dawning, Little Sheep, Taco Bell, COFFii & JOY, and Huang Ji Huang, catering to a diverse range of customers. It’s the largest restaurant company in China, generating an estimated $9.56 billion in revenue in 2022.
Today, YUM China operates over 11,000 restaurants spread across 1,600 cities and employs over 450,000 people in mainland China.7 It’s an industry powerhouse that’s poised to grow even bigger in the coming years.
Subway is a privately held American restaurant franchise that specializes in selling submarine sandwiches and salads. Interestingly, the company does not own any of its locations. Instead, Subway collects 8% of revenue from each franchise.
With 43,600 stores worldwide, Subway has the highest number of locations of any restaurant in the world in 2020 and generated $16.1 billion in revenue in 2021.8 Subway’s impressive global presence and unique franchising model have earned it a prominent spot in the fast-food industry, along with impressive sales numbers.
With a revenue of $23.18 billion in 2022, McDonald’s has over 37,855 outlets in more than 100 countries, serving a staggering 70 million customers a day.9 The American fast-food company is known for its signature items, including the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, and the McChicken, along with a variety of other products such as breakfast items, soft drinks, milkshakes, wraps, and desserts.
McDonald’s revenue is primarily derived from rent, royalties, and fees paid by its franchisees, in addition to sales from company-operated restaurants. It’s also the world’s second-largest private employer, with roughly 200,000 office employees and 2 million restaurant workers spread out across over 100 countries.
In 2022, the title for the largest fast-food chain in the world belongs to Starbucks, which generated an impressive $32.9 billion in revenue.10 The iconic chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and caters to quality-minded coffee drinkers. Starbucks offers a wide range of hand-made coffee based on lighter roasts, as well as hot and cold drinks, whole-bean coffee, and a variety of other products, including teas, juices, pastries, and snacks.
Unlike many other fast-food chains, Starbucks does not follow a franchise model, with all locations being company-owned. From its ever-popular pumpkin spice latte to its seasonal and location-specific offerings, Starbucks has become a household name and continues to expand its reach across the globe.
Convenience is King!
These restaurant chains are successful for several reasons, including their focus on quality ingredients, innovative menus, and convenience for busy customers. While controversies and criticisms have arisen, these chains continue to evolve and adapt, introducing new menu items and expanding into new markets.
As the fast-food industry continues to grow and change, it will be interesting to see which brands emerge as the leaders of the future. For now, the likes of McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks remain the largest fast-food chains in the world, and it seems likely that they will continue to dominate the industry for many years to come.