America's 34 Most Lucrative Fast-Food Chains

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Chick-fil-A
A hand holds up mac & cheese at Chick-fil-A.

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.

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McDonald's
McDonald's is Las Vegas.

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.

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Starbucks
Three Starbucks' Frappuccinos lined up.

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.

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Subway
Subway's Naturally Pit-Smoked Brisket sandwich.

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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Dunkin' Donuts
Dunkin' Donuts holiday donuts.

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

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

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

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.

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Chipotle
A burrito bowl at Chipotle.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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Whataburger
Whataburger restaurant exterior.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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Culver's
Culver's burger

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.

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'

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.

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wikimedia commons/Leahdi
Wingstop restaurant storefront.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.