Special Report

The Most Successful Restaurant Chains in America

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Restaurant chains in America range from internationally known giants like McDonald’s, with units numbering in the five figures, to small regional operations like HopCat in Michigan with fewer than 20 locations each – and they specialize in everything from burgers and subs to pasta and pizza to chicken and, well, more chicken. (Here’s a list of 18 new chicken dishes that debuted in 2022.)

Nobody knows exactly how many restaurant chain businesses there are in America today, in part because it’s difficult to define “chain” (does a place with two locations count? three?), and also because new ones open or spring from single-unit establishments all the time. It’s clear that there are at least 500 worth considering, however, judging from the ranking of the country’s top 500 chains published last month by the top industry trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News.

To determine the 50 most successful restaurant chains in America out of that 500 – ranging from grab-and-go fast food purveyors to sit-down dinner houses – 24/7 Tempo reviewed NRN’s 2023 Top 500 Countdown, produced each year by the publication in partnership with Datassential and its Firefly platform.

A successful restaurant chain can post impressive numbers. According to the NRN ranking, at least 50 of them recorded systemwide U.S. sales of over $1 billion last year, and the seven largest exceeded $10 billion – with first-place McDonald’s bringing in almost $50 billion. (Here’s a look at the most popular fast food chain in every state.)

Note that the ranking below differs slightly from NRN’s original. In cases where sales were tied, we ranked chains with greater year-over-year growth higher. (The number of U.S. locations for each chain comes from the data company ScrapeHero’s Location Intelligence Reports, and was current on various dates between early May and late June of this year.)

Click here for a list of the most successful restaurant chains in America

While the pandemic put a dent in sales for many chain operations, and while they still face “challenges such as inflation, a shallow labor pool and the supply chain” (to quote NRN), it should be noted that 45 of the 50 chains here posted gains in 2022 over 2021 – with one of them, the Louisiana-based chicken-fingers specialist Raising Cane’s, jumping a remarkable 31.2%.

Source: krblokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

50. Firehouse Subs
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.2 billion
> Change from 2021: 13.7%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,210

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49. BJs
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 15.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 216

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

48. Waffle House
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 6.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,981

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

47. Golden Corral
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 19.7%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 395

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Source: NicolasMcComber / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

46. Red Robin
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.5 billion
> Change from 2021: 10.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 500

Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

45. Bojangles
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.6 billion
> Change from 2021: 8.5%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 816

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Source: Sundry Photography / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

44. Carl’s Jr.
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 12.6%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,064

Source: GDMatt66 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

43. In-N-Out Burger
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $1.9 billion
> Change from 2021: 13.9%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 391

Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

42. Hardee’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 11.0%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,659

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Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

41. Jimmy John’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 2.8%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,747

Source: J. Michael Jones / Getty Images

40. Zaxby’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 9.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 925

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Source: ablokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

39. Five Guys
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 13.0%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,443

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

38. Longhorn Steakhouse
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 16.6%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 500

Source: sanfel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

37. Denny’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.5 billion
> Change from 2021: 5.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,518

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Source: LPETTET / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

36. Cheesecake Factory
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.6 billion
> Change from 2021: 14.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 211

Source: ablokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

35. Outback Steakhouse
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 3.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 691

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34. Red Lobster
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 13.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 653

Source: JHVEPhoto / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

33. Wingstop
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 16.8%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,777

Source: helen89 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

32. Jersey Mike’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 22.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,538

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Source: sanfel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

31. Cracker Barrel
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.8 billion
> Change from 2021: 8.6%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 661

30. Culver’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $2.8 billion
> Change from 2021: 13.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 943

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29. Raising Cane’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.1 billion
> Change from 2021: 31.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 694

Source: typhoonski / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

28. Whataburger
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 8.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 943

Source: ivanastar / Getty Images

27. IHOP
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 7.7%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,693

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Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

26. Papa John’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 6.5%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 3,117

Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

25. Chili’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.8 billion
> Change from 2021: 8.6%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,238

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Source: SweetBabeeJay / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

24. Buffalo Wild Wings
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $3.9 billion
> Change from 2021: 5.9%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,243

23. Texas Roadhouse
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4 billion
> Change from 2021: 15.9%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 622

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

22. Jack in the Box
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.1 billion
> Change from 2021: -1.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,194

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Source: MollyNZ / Getty Images

21. Applebee’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.4 billion
> Change from 2021: 4.7%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 1,562

Source: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

20. Arby’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.5 billion
> Change from 2021: 1.6%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 3,403

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Source: sanfel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

19. Dairy Queen
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.6 billion
> Change from 2021: 1.9%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 4,316

Source: Brett_Hondow / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

18. Olive Garden
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.6 billion
> Change from 2021: 4.5%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 906

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

17. KFC
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.7 billion
> Change from 2021: -8.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 3,899

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16. Little Caesars
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 11.5%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 4,184

Source: JHVEPhoto / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

15. Popeyes
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $4.9 billion
> Change from 2021: 6.5%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,970

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Source: Juanmonino / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

14. Panda Express
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $5.1 billion
> Change from 2021: 16.1%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,258

Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

13. Pizza Hut
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $5.3 billion
> Change from 2021: -4.3%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 6,823

12. Sonic Drive-In
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $5.5 billion
> Change from 2021: -5.8%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 3,547

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Source: RiverNorthPhotography / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

11. Panera Bread
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $6.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 12.3%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,132

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

10. Domino’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $8.6 billion
> Change from 2021: -0.8%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 6,726

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Source: Brycia James / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

9. Chipotle
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $8.6 billion
> Change from 2021: 14.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 3,200

Source: TennesseePhotographer / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

8. Subway
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $9.2 billion
> Change from 2021: 5.0%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 20,603

Source: lawcain / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

7. Burger King
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $10.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 2.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 7,257

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6. Dunkin’
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $11.3 billion
> Change from 2021: 8.3%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 9,450

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

5. Wendy’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $11.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 5.2%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 5,994

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Source: lawcain / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

4. Taco Bell
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $12.9 billion
> Change from 2021: 2.4%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 7,815

3. Chick-Fil-A
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $18.8 billion
> Change from 2021: 12.8%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 2,945

Source: 141290452@N05 / Flickr

2. Starbucks
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $27.5 billion
> Change from 2021: 12.0%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 15,988

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1. McDonald’s
> U.S. systemwide sales (2022): $48.7 billion
> Change from 2021: 5.9%
> Number of units (U.S. only): 13,509

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