McDonald’s still outsells all your favorite fast-food chains

Illustration for article titled McDonald’s still outsells all your favorite fast-food chains
Photo: yaoinlove (iStock)

These days, just about every major fast-food player is looking for ways to avoid being left behind. From going national with plant-based burgers to speeding up visits, from taking a page out of the competition’s playbook to offering unlimited food and opening hotels, every big chain is chasing the next thing that’ll truly distinguish it from its field of rivals.

However, at least through the end of 2018, McDonald’s continues to reign supreme over all other challengers, old and new alike. The annual QSR 50, a list of the 50 largest fast-food companies in the U.S. by sales, offers an overview of how the biggest “quick-service restaurants” are faring in the U.S. As the 2019 edition indicates, the golden-arched face of American dining is still well ahead of the pack, whether some diners like it or not. Some key takeaways from this year’s list:

  • Not only did McDonald’s double the system-wide sales of second-place finisher Starbucks in 2018, but it reportedly outsold Subway (#3), Taco Bell (#4), and Chick-fil-A (#5) combined.
  • Speaking of Subway, which as you may have heard is going through it right now, the 1,100+ restaurants it closed between 2017 and 2018 are just one of their present woes. Its average sales per store are the second-lowest in the entire top 50, and while the sheer number of Subway locations is likely skewing that figure (there are still 24,798 stores in the U.S., far more than even McDonald’s or Starbucks), it appears that the sandwich chain’s struggles are not over yet.
  • As previously reported here and elsewhere, the average single Chick-fil-A location is wildly outselling its contemporaries. When you combine that with the chain’s rapid growth, the 2020 listings are going to be very interesting.
  • Also on the topic of of per-unit averages, Shake Shack (which did not make this year’s top 50, likely because of the 136 total locations included in last year’s data) has a higher sales average than every other restaurant save for Chick-fil-A. People love their Shackburgers, it would appear.

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Burners Baby Burners: Discussion Inferno

I find the chart info way more interesting. Subway has nearly double the stores yet makes a sixth per store what McDonalds does.

Subway, Chick-fil-A, and Dunkin’ own zero of their own stores, 100% franchised. Dairy Queen owns 2 out of 4406 stores which is an oddly low number. Chipotle and In-n-Out are the only chains to own all their stores; White Castle owns all but 3 of their 375. Starbucks owns about 60% of theirs and has nearly 900 more stores than McDonalds.

Panera makes almost as much per store as McDonalds, despite being the polar opposite business.

Whataburger, In-n-Out, Raising Canes, and Chick-fil-A are all above McDonalds on per-store revenue, with CFA absolutely clobbering the rest at over a million per store more than anyone else on the list.

Pizza Hut has 1600 more stores than Dominos yet makes $250k less per store. Little Caesar’s makes nearly the same per store as Pizza Hut at $874k per store (to PH’s $878k), although having 3000 less stores. Don’t buy into the pizza game, it’s not very lucrative compared to other choices.

Speaking of franchise industries not to get into besides pizza, ice cream is dead last on the list with Baskin Robbins bringing in a sad $240k per store. Auntie Anne’s is in bad shape as well at $538k per store. Firehouse Subs, Jersey Mike’s, Jimmy John’s, all of which are doing better than Subway (who is dead last on savory foods, above just Baskin Robbins) but none of which are doing as well as any donut chain, so stay out of the sandwich game. Stick with chicken or burgers it seems, maybe buy a Taco Bell or Del Taco as those do fairly well.