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  • America's 34 Most Lucrative Fast-Food Chains

    Fast Food December 24, 2019 By Danny Klein
    A hand holds up mac & cheese at Chick-fil-A.
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    Chick-fil-A

    More than a chicken sandwich

    Here’s one of the most remarkable realities about the fast-food industry, told by the numbers. At the end of 2018, there were only five restaurant brands in America with at least $10 billion in total U.S. systemwide sales—McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-A (Wendy’s and Burger King were knocking at the door). While that sounds like a standard heavy-hitters list of quick-service chains, there is one thing that separates them: Unit count. And this is where Chick-fil-A’s rise in recent years is eye-popping. The brand has the 19th most restaurants in the country, yet ranks fifth in total sales.

    Heading into 2019, Chick-fil-A stood at $10 billion across 2,400 restaurants.

    McDonald’s had 13,914 locations; Starbucks 14,825; Subway 24,798; and Taco Bell 6,588. Not to mention, Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. As you’ll see in the following list, Chick-fil-A has climbed to rare heights despite being significantly smaller than the restaurants it measures against (and being open 52 fewer days a year). The key figure: The chicken chain’s restaurants averaged $4.167 million last year. The nearest competitor was Raising Cane’s, at $2.963 million. But that was counting just 400 restaurants. Of brands with 1,000 locations or more, McDonald’s is the closest at $2.769 million per location. Panera, which had 2,093 stores at year’s end, was next at $2.74 million. Chipotle clocked in at $2 million.

    What this all illustrates is something we probably knew already—Chick-fil-A’s surge over the past 12 years, a span in which it doubled its U.S. store count—remains one of the biggest success stories the industry has seen to date. And there’s no reason to think the brand is slowing down.

    CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S LIST

    Here’s a look at where the top-earning restaurants in America stack up by total systemwide sales.

    Note: These figures reflect end of year fiscal 2018 results.

    McDonald's is Las Vegas.
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    McDonald's

    1. McDonald’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $38,524.05

    Previous year: $37,480.67

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,768.73

    Unit count: 13,914

    Franchised stores: 13,229

    Company stores: 685

    Total change in units from 2017: -122

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Three Starbucks' Frappuccinos lined up.
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    Starbucks

    2. Starbucks

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $19,700.00

    Previous year: $13,167.61

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,349.32

    Unit count: 14,825

    Franchised stores: 6,332

    Company stores: 8,493

    Total change in units from 2017: 895

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Subway's Naturally Pit-Smoked Brisket sandwich.
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    Subway

    3. Subway

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $10,410.34

    Previous year: $10,800.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $420.00

    Unit count: 24,798

    Franchised stores: 24,798

    Company stores: 0

    Total change in units from 2017: –1,110

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Taco Bell

    4. Taco Bell

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $10,300.00

    Previous year: $9,790.15

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,600.00

    Unit count: 6,588

    Franchised stores: 6,126

    Company stores: 462

    Total change in units from 2017: 142

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Chick-fil-A

    5. Chick-fil-A

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $10,000.00

    Previous year: $9,000.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $4,166.67

    Unit count: 2,400

    Franchised stores: 2,400

    Company stores: 0

    Total change in units from 2017: 175

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Wendy's

    6. Wendy’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $9,993.70

    Previous year: $9,288.09

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,636.40

    Unit count: 6,711

    Franchised stores: 5,825

    Company stores: 353

    Total change in units from 2017: 77

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    The Burger King sign hangs outside a restaurant.
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    flickr: Mike Mozart

    7. Burger King

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $9,950.00

    Previous year: $10,028.32

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,357.00

    Unit count: 7,327

    Franchised stores: 7,278

    Company stores: 49

    Total change in units from 2017: 101

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Dunkin' Donuts holiday donuts.
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    Dunkin' Donuts

    8. Dunkin’

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $8,787.00

    Previous year: $9,192.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $933.00

    Unit count: 9,419

    Franchised stores: 9,419

    Company stores: 0

    Total change in units from 2017: 278

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

     

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    Domino's

    9. Domino’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $6,600.00

    Previous year: $5,900.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,123.00

    Unit count: 5,876

    Franchised stores: 5,486

    Company stores: 390

    Total change in units from 2017: 258

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Panera Bread

    10. Panera Bread

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $5,734.63

    Previous year: $5,503.64

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,739.91

    Unit count: 2,093

    Franchised stores: 1,131

    Company stores: 963

    Total change in units from 2017: 50

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Pizza Hut

    11. Pizza Hut

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $5,500.00

    Previous year: $5,510.84

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $878.00

    Unit count: 7,456

    Franchised stores: 7,432

    Company stores: 24

    Total change in units from 2017: -41

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    A burrito bowl at Chipotle.
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    Chipotle

    12. Chipotle

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $4,800.00

    Previous year: $4,476.41

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,000.00

    Unit count: 2,491

    Franchised stores: 0

    Company stores: 2,491

    Total change in units from 2017: 83

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Sonic Drive-In

    13. Sonic Drive-In

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $4,447.10

    Previous year: $4,408.16

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,250.00

    Unit count: 3,606

    Franchised stores: 3,427

    Company stores: 179

    Total change in units from 2017: 13

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    KFC

    14. KFC

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $4,400.00

    Previous year: $4,417.05

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,210.00

    Unit count: 4,074

    Franchised stores: 4,019

    Company stores: 55

    Total change in units from 2017: -35

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Arby's

    15. Arby’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,886.90

    Previous year: $3,634.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,177.00

    Unit count: 3,329

    Franchised stores: 2,197

    Company stores: 1,132

    Total change in units from 2017: 46

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Little Caesars

    16. Little Caesars

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,800.00

    Previous year: $3,530.58

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $874.00

    Unit count: 4,262

    Franchised stores: 3,700

    Company stores: 562

    Total change in units from 2017: -74

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Dairy Queen

    17. Dairy Queen

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,650.00

    Previous year: $3,640.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,204.58

    Unit count: 4,406

    Franchised stores: 4,404

    Company stores: 2

    Total change in units from 2017: -49

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    The outside of Jack in the Box at night.
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    flickr: Thomas Hawk

    18. Jack in the Box

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,466.13

    Previous year: $3,469.17

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,553.00

    Unit count: 2,237

    Franchised stores: 2,100

    Company stores: 137

    Total change in units from 2017: -14

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Panda Express

    19. Panda Express

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,400.00

    Previous year: $3,114.80

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,616.00

    Unit count: 2,104

    Franchised stores: 125

    Company stores: 1,979

    Total change in units from 2017: 93

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Popeyes' chicken sandwiches side by side against an orange background.
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    Popeyes

    20. Popeyes

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $3,325.00

    Previous year: $3,213.06

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,415.00

    Unit count: 2,368

    Franchised stores: 2,327

    Company stores: 41

    Total change in units from 2017: 148

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Papa John's

    21. Papa John’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $2,720.00

    Previous year: $3,209.30  

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $815.00

    Unit count: 3,337

    Franchised stores: 2,691

    Company stores: 646

    Total change in units from 2017: 23

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Whataburger restaurant exterior.
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    Whataburger

    22. Whataburger

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $2,416.00

    Previous year: $2,278.62

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,928.50

    Unit count: 825        

    Franchised stores: 126

    Company stores: 699

    Total change in units from 2017: 4

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Jimmy John's Grain Wheat Sub.
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    Jimmy John's

    23. Jimmy John’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $2,200.00

    Previous year: $2,139.62

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $772.00

    Unit count: 2,803

    Franchised stores: 2,748

    Company stores: 55

    Total change in units from 2017: 48

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    CKE Restaurants

    24. Hardee’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $2,120.00

    Previous year: $2,168.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,131.00

    Unit count: 1,864

    Franchised stores: 1,745

    Company stores: 119

    Total change in units from 2017: 16

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Zaxby's

    25. Zaxby’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,850.00

    Previous year: $2,091.50

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,060.00

    Unit count: 898

    Franchised stores: 757

    Company stores: 141

    Total change in units from 2017: 21

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    flickr: Mike Mozart

    26. Five Guys

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,615.84

    Previous year: $1,436.52

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,274.80

    Unit count: 1,358

    Franchised stores: 866

    Company stores: 492

    Total change in units from 2017: 37

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Culver's burger
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    Culver's

    27. Culver’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,580.00

    Previous year: $1,400.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,390.00

    Unit count: 686

    Franchised stores: 680

    Company stores: 6

    Total change in units from 2017: 45

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Carl's Jr.

    28. Carl’s Jr.

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,261.03

    Previous year: $1,487.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,425.00

    Unit count: 1,156

    Franchised stores: 1,106

    Company stores: 50

    Total change in units from 2017: -7

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Bojangles'

    29. Bojangles’

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,296.21

    Previous year: $1,278.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,741.06

    Unit count: 759

    Franchised stores: 440

    Company stores: 319

    Total change in units from 2017: -5

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    Wingstop restaurant storefront.
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    wikimedia commons/Leahdi

    30. Wingstop

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,261.03

    Previous year: $1,087.43   

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,139.00

    Unit count: 1,252

    Franchised stores: 1,095

    Company stores: 29

    Total change in units from 2017: 225

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Raising Cane's

    31. Raising Cane’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,185.00

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,963.00

    Unit count: 400

    Franchised stores: 70

    Company stores: 330

    Total change in units from 2017: 0

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

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    Jersey Mike's

    32. Jersey Mike’s

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,148.49

    Previous year: $974.78

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $769.00

    Unit count: 1,494

    Franchised stores: 1,412

    Company stores: 82

    Total change in units from 2017: 151

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    The crowded drive thru at a Steak 'n Shake restaurant.
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    flickr: Kent Kanouse

    33. Steak ‘n’ Shake

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $1,035.00

    Previous year: $939.99

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $1,739.00

    Unit count: 594

    Franchised stores: 185

    Company stores: 409

    Total change in units from 2017: 9

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.

    In-N-Out Burger sign.
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    In-N-Out Burger

    34. In-N-Out Burger

    U.S. systemwide sales (millions): $950.00

    Previous year: $647.80

    Average sales per unit (thousands): $2,794.00     

    Unit count: 338

    Franchised stores: 0

    Company stores: 338

    Total change in units from 2017: 10

    Read more in the QSR 50 here.