15 Fastest Growing Fast Food Chains

In this article we are going to list the 15 fastest growing fast food chains. Click to skip ahead and jump to the 5 fastest growing fast food chains.

Fast food has been one of the most emerging industries in the past fifty years. In 2018, the industry was valued at $875 billion, up from $862 billion a year earlier. Even though the pandemic put a damper on the industry growth, it seems to be recovering nicely and is projected to reach more than $880 billion in 2021.

Fast food restaurants, also known as quick-service restaurants, provide the service of mass-produced, readily-available food. This is in contrast with traditional dining, where food is usually made fresh and to-order, requiring a longer wait time at the expense of fresh meals. Fast food chains, as is evident by their name, focus on the speed at which a meal is delivered to the customer. However, this is not to say that they are forgoing other qualities of their products such as taste and quality.

Historically, fast food was created for the average busy wage worker who needed a meal quicker than it would be available in a traditional restaurant setting. Thus, an alternative food service strategy was created, coined fast-food. Today fast food comes in many forms, but they all usually have one thing in common – speed.

To achieve a fast delivery, the meals can be pre-cooked and are finished quickly once the order is placed. Other fast-food restaurant chains may not pre-cook entire meals, but use frozen or pre-prepared ingredients which may be quickly assembled at a customer’s order. This method is employed by some of the fastest growing fast food chains such as McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD) and Restaurant Brands International Inc (NYSE:QSR) – owned Burger King.

Even though as a major modern industry fast food hasn’t been around that long (for around a century), the concept itself has been around since the Ancient Rome. The Romans were recorded to purchase their food from food vendors on the street. Street food was also a popular attraction in the Middle Ages where cooked meals were sold to travelers and the poor. Since the late 1800s, fast food has been around in Britain in the from of fish and chips shops. The hamburger, an icon in the world of fast food, was a creation originating in medieval Europe.

However, fast food as we know it in the form of affordable drive-throughs and greasy paper bags was popularized in the United States in the 1950s. A White Castle outlet opened in 1921, is considered to be the first fast food restaurant in the US (and the world). White Castle has eventually grown into a chain with more than 370 locations across the US, but it was overshadowed greatly by other chains such as McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD) and KFC (owned by Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM)), both of which are still among the fastest growing fast food chains.

Today fast food is an American staple, with more than 200 people in the US being served a hamburger every second every day. The number of outlets serving fast food has risen at a rapid rate, from around 75,000 locations in 1972 to more than 200,000 in 2018.

However, fast food has also gained somewhat of a bad reputation for the health risks associated with its consumption, with diseases such as high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and even depression being associated with it. Many fast food products also tend to be high in saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and calories, all which contribute to obesity and a lower mortality. To combat these issues, many fast food chains have introduced vegan, low-fat, low-calorie alternatives in their menus, but the sales for these menu items have not been as high.

Some of the fastest growing fast food chains usually follow a franchise model, but many also own certain locations. Both models operate with standardized ingredients and menus across most locations. Globalization in the past few decades has resulted in fast food chains being one of the most recognizable and employable businesses, with big names having thousands of outlets spread out in multiple countries around the world. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the fastest growing fast food chains based on the number of locations opened in the last several years. 

15. Wendy’s Co (NASDAQ:WEN)

 Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: 251

Out list of fastest growing fast food chains kicks off with American fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s Co (NASDAQ:WEN). The company was founded by Dave Thomas on November 15, 1969 in the city of Columbus, Ohio. He named the restaurant after his fourth daughter, Wendy Thomas, even using her as inspiration for the chain’s iconic logo. The chain is well known for its square sandwiches, burgers, and soft-serve ice cream known as Frosty. Today, there are more than 6,700 Wendy’s Co (NASDAQ:WEN) restaurants in operation in the United States as well as 29 other countries around the world.

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14. Papa John’s Int’l, Inc. (NASDAQ:PZZA)

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: 298

Headquartered in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, United States, Papa John’s Int’l, Inc. (NASDAQ:PZZA)’s is an American pizza restaurant franchise founded in 1984 by John Schnatter. Papa John’s Int’l, Inc. (NASDAQ:PZZA) has humble beginnings, with the founder selling pizza’s to customers of his father’s tavern out of a converted broom closet. Since then, the company has grown to 5,396 restaurants in 45 countries worldwide. The restaurant chain is now the fourth largest delivery spot in the United States, employing over 16,500 people.

Papa John's Int'l, Inc. (NASDAQ:PZZA)

13. Dairy Queen (owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A)

Number of locations opened between 2015-2019: Approximately 300

Dairy Queen, also known as DQ, is  an American ice-cream and fast food restaurant chain founded in Joliet, Illinois by Sherb Noble. The restaurants are owned by International Dairy Queen Inc which is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A). Dairy Queen was first operated as a frozen product and ice-cream selling business on June 22, 1940. Today, the headquarters of the company are located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With nearly 7,000 locations in 31 countries worldwide, Dairy Queen is one of the fastest growing fast food chains in the world. The largest Dairy Queen in the world is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is a two-story restaurant fit for seating 240 customers.

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12. Baskin-Robbins

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: 338

American multinational ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins was founded in 1954 in Glendale, California by Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins. The company claims to hold the title of world’s largest ice creams tore chain, with over 8,000 locations in almost 50 countries worldwide. The company has reached great heights from its humble beginnings over 50 years ago, and have constantly expanded their menu to accommodate with the changing times. Since 1945, the company has introduced more 1,300 flavors, the most recent of which include vegan and non-dairy options. The ice-cream is now also sold in supermarkets across the United States.

Pixabay/Public Domain

12. Tim Hortons (owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc (NYSE:QSR))

Number of locations opened between 2016-2020: 436

The 12th spot in our list of fastest growing fast food chains is Tim Hortons, a subsidiary of Restaurant Brands International Inc (NYSE:QSR).  Founded in Hamilton, Ontario by Canadian hockey player Tim Horton and Jim Charade, Tim Hortons is currently one of the largest Canadian fast-food chain with over 5,000 locations in 14 countries. The franchise sells coffee, doughnuts, and other fast foods.


10. Jollibee

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: Approximately 450

The largest fast-food chain brand in the Philippines, Jollibee is a multination chain operating a network of over 1,400 stores around the world. The vast majority of these stores are in the Philippines, with other stores in the Middle East, Hong Kong, North America, and Europe. The company was founded in 1975 by Tony Tan Caktiong as an ice cream parlor in Cubao, Quezon City. Later, the parlor began selling fast food items as well, which eventually became more popular than the ice cream. This resulted in the family shifting its branding towards fast food, and in 1978 the first Jollibee outlet was born. Since then the company has enjoyed rapid growth, opening locations all over Philippines as well as neighboring countries of South East Asia. The growth of the brand has made the founder, who was the son of poor Chinese immigrants, into a billionaire. Jollibee is operated by Jollibee Food Corporation.

9. Hunt Brothers Pizza

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: 500

Next in line in our list of fastest growing fast food chains is Hunt Brothers Pizza. Founded by four brothers: Don, Charlie, Jim, and Lonnie Hunt in 1991, Hunt Brother’s Pizza is a family-owned pizza chain headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. Hunt Brothers pizza has more than 7,800 locations in 30 United States cities, some of which are even at international United States military bases. Hunt Brothers Pizza is available in gas stations, convenience stores, schools, and sports arenas year-round.

Pixabay/Public Domain

8. Taco Bell (owned by Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM)

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019: 751

Headquartered in Irvine California, United States, Taco Bell is a fast food restaurant chain which sells Mexican-inspired foods, including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and chalupas. The chain was founded in Downey, California by entrepreneur Glen Bell in 1962, where he opened the first Taco Bell. Over the following few decades, Taco Bell grew to more than 7,000 restaurants in 30 countries worldwide. The brand is owned by Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM).

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7. Dunkin’ Donuts

Number of locations opened between 2016-2019:  887

Dunkin’ Donuts is a multinational fast food chain serving coffee, doughnuts, Munchkin donut holes, hot and cold beverages, and sandwiches. The restaurant was founded in 1950 by William Rosenberg, who noticed that the two most popular items sold at factories and construction sites were coffee and doughnuts. Today, Dunkin’ has over 12,000 locations in 42 countries selling over 4 million donuts a day. Dunkin’ Donuts was owned by Dunkin’ Brands, but last year Dunkin’ Brands was acquired by Atlanta-based company Inspire Brands in a $11.3 billion deal. Under new management, Dunkin’ Donuts is expected to remain one of the fastest growing fast food chains.

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6. McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD)

Number of locations opened between 2016-2020:  1,796

American fast food company McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD) is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, but still manages to remain one of the fastest growing fast food chains. It was founded as a small restaurant in San Bernardino, California by Richard and Maurice McDonald back in 1940 and has since then grown into a $185 billion corporation with the help of its owner and CEO Raymond Kroc. Today, McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD)’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, bringing in $21.08 billion in 2019 and its stock is one of the best dividend aristocrats to buy according to hedge funds. McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:MCD)’s outlets serve over 69 million customers in a day, operating in over 100 countries with more than 38,500 restaurants. It is also the world’s second-largest private employer, employing over 1.7 employees in 2018.

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Disclosure: None. This article is originally published at Insider Monkey.