Special Report

The Best-Selling Chain Restaurant Foods of 2019

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More than a third of U.S. adults ate fast food on a given day between 2013 and 2016, according to a report on fast food consumption published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similar research isn’t available for casual dining restaurants — chains with sit-down service like The Olive Garden or IHOP — and in general they’re apparently not drawing customers as efficiently these days as are quick-service places (which is how the industry prefers to describe fast food outlets) — but anyone who’s tried to score a table at a Cheesecake Factory on a Friday night will know, they’re still obviously doing okay.

What draws people to these chains, whether quick-service or casual dining? An abundance of choice in most cases, probably — but each chain seems to have at least one signature item that people can’t resist. These are the essentials for many of their customers — the entrees that diners want to sit down for, or the most iconic items at every major fast-food chain.

24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the most popular items ordered at some 22 fast-food (sorry, quick-service) and casual dining chains. Some of these are no-brainers. Of course people mostly order fried chicken at KFC, for instance. Others might surprise you — for instance, the most popular food at the nation’s leading chicken purveyor, which isn’t KFC. (These are the top 10 chicken chains in America.)

Click here to see the best-selling chain restaurant foods of 2019.

24/7 Tempo reached out to the press information offices of the top quick-service and casual dining chains in America to learn which menu items are their best sellers. In several cases, where information wasn’t available directly from the chains, we relied on estimates appearing in reports published by several food service industry sources.

Source: Courtesy of Burger King

Burger King
> Best-selling item: The Whopper

This ubiquitous burger chain claims to sell 2.1 billion examples of their Whopper — a quarter-pound “flame-grilled” patty with tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun — though, as Investopedia notes, “it is very difficult to find verification for that figure.”


Source: Courtesy of Carl's Jr.

Carl’s Jr.
> Best-selling item: Western Bacon Cheeseburger

The chain says that they sell about 27.5 million of these burgers annually. It’s a charbroiled patty with two strips of bacon, melted American cheese, two onion rings, and bbq sauce on a sesame seed bun. Carl Jr.’s sister chain, Hardee’s (see below) also offers the sandwich, but they don’t claim it as their best seller.

Source: Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory
> Best-selling item: Chicken Madeira

Out of their whole massive menu, including appetizers, salads, flatbread pizzas, pastas, burgers and sandwiches, omelettes and other egg dishes, steaks and chops, seafood, and more, this popular dinner house chain reports that they sell more of this hearty entree — sautéed chicken breast with asparagus, mozzarella, and mushroom-Madeira sauce — than anything else.

Source: Courtesy of Chick-fil-A

> Best-selling item: Waffle Fries

You might think it obvious that this chain’s number-one best seller would be their signature chicken sandwich, but you would be wrong. It’s these waffle-cut skin-on potato slices, crisp-fried in canola oil.


Source: Courtesy of Chili's

Chili’s Grill & Bar
> Best-selling item: Cajun Chicken Pasta

Chili’s came out of Texas and has always offered Tex-Mex-style dishes, including tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, and, yes, chili — but it’s hottest offering is this putatively Cajun combination of grilled chicken and penne in Alfredo sauce with “chile spices,” parmesan, tomatoes, green onions, and a side of garlic toast.

Source: Courtesy of Chipotle

> Best-selling item: Chicken Burrito Bowl

In their survey of the food items ordered most often this year, the food delivery service DoorDash placed the burrito bowl in first place (its inspiration, the actual burrito, was fifth). It’s quite possible that Chipotle invented the bowl, but it is almost certainly its principal purveyor. The chain specifies that the best-selling chicken burrito bowl also includes white rice and black beans


Source: Courtesy of Denny's

> Best-selling item: Build Your Own Grand Slam

This chain’s Original Grand Slam is a breakfast combo plate consisting of two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, two bacon strips, and two sausage links. Customers have the option, though, of compiling their own combination of any four items on the breakfast menu, working things like hash browns, ham, or toast into the mix. It’s the star Denny’s option.

Source: Courtesy of Domino's

> Best-selling item: Pepperoni pizza

It’s one of America’s favorite comfort foods and it has been identified as this pizza chain’s most iconic offering, so it’s hardly surprising that this basic pie is the Domino’s customer’s number-one choice.

Source: Courtesy of Golden Corral

Golden Corral
> Best-selling item: Fried chicken

This something-for-everyone all-you-can-eat buffet chain describes this, the most popular item in their extensive selection of hot and cold dishes, as “seasoned, golden-brown, and crispy.”


Source: Courtesy of Hardee's

> Best-selling item: Sausage biscuit

Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are under the same ownership and have almost identical menus, but while Carl’s Jr.’s customers overwhelmingly prefer a bacon cheeseburger, Hardee’s aficionados are more in the homespun breakfast mood. Why? Who knows, but according to Thrillist last year, the clienteles are culturally different. “Carl’s Jr. fans…listen to EDM,” according to the site. “Hardee’s fans are obsessed with…country music.”

Source: Courtesy of IHOP

> Best-selling item: Buttermilk pancakes

The chain formerly known as the International House of Pancakes counts these fluffy flapjacks as their signature item. Every year, IHOP sells more than 700 million pancakes (counting these, as well as other variations).


Source: Courtesy of KFC

> Best-selling item: Original Recipe Fried Chicken

Several sources confirm that the most popular item at KFC remains their most famous product — chicken pieces (in various combinations) fried in batter seasoned with their famous “11 herbs and spices.”

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

> Best-selling item: French fries

Sure the Big Mac is a big seller, but the one thing almost everybody orders at the world’s largest fast food chain, and the item that tops everything else are the fries. Even people who’d never admit to eating a Big Mac swear by them. Their secret? They’re treated with dextrose and sodium acid pyrophosphate for color, various preservatives, and “natural beef flavor.”

Source: Courtesy of Olive Garden

Olive Garden
> Best-selling item: Chicken Alfredo

Of all the faux-Italian specialties on this dinner house chain’s ample menu, this one gets ordered most often. It’s basically fettuccine in a sauce made with butter, cream, and parmesan, topped with grilled, sliced chicken and sprinkled with parsley flakes.


Source: Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse

> Best-selling item: Outback Center-Cut Sirloin

A rectangular slab of seared beef, this sirloin steak is Outback’s signature, and its most popular dish.

Source: Courtesy of Panera Bread

Panera Bread
> Best-selling item: Broccoli cheddar soup

Panera patrons love this rich, cheesy soup. There are numerous copycat recipes online, and DoorDash recently named it one of the top 15 foods on the rise in 2019. (They didn’t specify Panera’s version, but that’s the most common one by far.)


Source: Courtesy of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers

Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
> Best-selling item: The Box Combo

Above all other options, Raising Cane’s customers prefer this combination of four chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast, coleslaw, Cane’s Sauce (a secret recipe, said to consist of mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, garlic powder), and a regular-size drink.

Source: Courtesy of Red Robin

Red Robin
> Best-selling item: Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger

The burger chain’s popular standard, this burger is garnished with pickle relish, pickles, red onions, tomatoes, mayo, and a choice of cheese. Runners-up are the Royal Red Robin Burger (smoked bacon, egg, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo) and the Smoke & Pepper Burger (black-pepper bacon, extra-sharp cheddar, shredded romaine, dill pickle planks, and a trademark Smoke & Pepper ketchup on a toasted brioche bun).

Source: Courtesy of Starbucks

> Best-selling item: Cold brew

Not a Frappuccino, not Pumpkin Spice Latte, and not plain old coffee, but the trendy cold brew is number one for Starbucks. Second place is held by Teavana Iced Green Tea, and a food item — the Egg & Cheese Protein Box — is number three.


Source: Courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell
> Best-selling item: Original Crunchy Taco

This is the basic Taco Bell order, a staple of the chain’s menu since founder Glen Bell is said to have invented the pre-formed crispy taco shell in the 1950s and filled it with seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce, and shredded cheddar cheese. The chain reports that they sell 2 billion tacos (of various kinds) annually.

Source: Courtesy of Whataburger

> Best-selling item: Original #1 Whataburger

This chain’s basic offering, a large beef patty on a bun with optional complimentary lettuce, tomato, pickles, and/or diced or grilled onions, remains fans’ favorite. Cheese, bacon, avocado, etc., may be added for an extra charge, and the chain reports that fans love customizing their burgers. Another big seller, they add, is the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit on the breakfast menu..


Source: Courtesy of White Castle

White Castle
> Best-selling item: Sliders

Founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, White Castle is usually considered to have been the first-ever fast food restaurant. It made its reputation with its unique burgers — small, square, and cheap (they originally cost five cents each) — which were so easy to eat that they were dubbed “sliders.” They’re still the number-one item for the chain.

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