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Grab a Bite: The Most Popular Fast Food Restaurants in America

It’s no mystery that McDonald’s is one of the most popular fast food restaurants in America and the world, but the legendary hamburger giant isn’t the only go-to place for a quick bite. While the research firm NPD Group affirms that fast food consumption has decreased over the past decade, bringing the count down from 215 meals per person in the year 2000 to 191 purchased meals in 2014, the restaurant industry continues to grow at a solid pace. The most popular fast food chains in the U.S. earn over $5 billion in sales each year, and while the ranking changes  somewhat from year to year due to shifting tastes, certain restaurants remain resilient to such dietary changes amongst the American population.

Furthermore, while many of the quick bite options in the US account for the 10 Biggest Fast Food Chains in the World, which we covered in an earlier article, there are also some national chains that have gained a large fan base over the years, leading to large store unit expansions and increases in sales.

So, the following list includes burger joints, sandwich shops, coffee spots, pizza places and, of course, chicken joints. When combined, these fast food restaurants hold over 60,000 stores spread across US soil and reel in more than $80 billion in sales. Are you curious to see if your local favorite made it onto this list? Let’s take a look at the eight most popular fast food restaurants in America for quick culinary satisfaction.

8. Taco Bell

This fast food restaurant has been feeding late-night taco cravings all over the U.S since 1962, when Glen Bell opened the first store in Downey, California. Today, the American purveyor of fast-casual Mexican food is an established force in the U.S restaurant industry, with sales increasing by 6% every year since 2001 and a current count of over 5,000 units across the country. Although Taco Bell’s flavor profile could be more developed, the company’s brand power is a force to be reckoned with.

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The list of the most popular fast food restaurants in America continues on the next page.

7. Chick-Fil-A

While KFC seems to be the obvious choice for fried-chicken cravings, this southern restaurant has slowly been conquering the fast-food market. While its biggest competitor suffered from bad press a few years ago, leading to drops in sales and unit shutdowns, the Atlanta based Chick-Fil-A increased its sales by 10% last year according to the food industry research firm Technomic. Its fairly-priced chicken sandwiches are undoubtedly the menu highlight, and with over 60 new store openings in 2012, this joint is clearly a rising star.

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6. In-N-Out Burger

Although this infamous California burger joint accounts for far less nationwide sales than its competitors, its cult-status earns the company substantial popularity points. With only 280 store units spread out along the West Coast, In-N-Out Burger’s three economical hamburger choices earn the firm over $500 million per year in sales. If you doubt this spot’s popularity, just ask any American what he or she is looking forward to the most on their next trip to California.

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5. Chipotle Mexican Grill

Many may argue that Taco Bell is the far more popular choice when it comes to fast-casual Mexican food in the US, but I beg to differ. In terms of food quality, pricing, and flavor profile, Chipotle Mexican Grill is the go-to choice for a solid burrito on any given day. Also, the fact that many investors choose this company for value investments gives faith to its popularity and growth potential.

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4. Starbucks

Not a fast-food chain in the traditional sense of the meaning, but this mecca for coffee, baked goods, and light meals is an indisputable favorite when it comes to on-the-go bites. With over 10,000 locations across the country and $10 billion in yearly sales, Starbucks profits from extremely strong brand power. Its coffee mugs and thermoses, for example, have become very popular holiday gifts, while the coffee variations keep expanding.

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3. Burger King

In the land of burger joints, this king has been holding its own since 1954. Inspired by its competitor, McDonald’s, Burger King’s popularity remains undisputed, in spite of sales dropping slightly over the past years. However, its ever-expanding menu and $1 dollar options are sure to keep the $8.5 billion annual sales income afloat for the next decade.

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2. Subway

Considering the percentage of over-weight people in the U.S, it’s almost surprising that Subway is even among the top five choices when it comes to fast food. But with recent changes in dietary trends and the low price of $3 for the daily sub, this fast-casual sandwich giant is the second most popular fast food chain. After almost 50 years on the market, Subway now serves 2,800 sandwiches and salads every 60 seconds in the U.S, according to howstuffworks.com. Now that’s what I call popular.

 

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1. McDonald’s

I’m pretty sure that Dick and Mack McDonald weren’t expecting to earn over $30 billion in sales when they first opened a barbecue drive-in in the 1940’s, but that’s the financial reality of this fast-food giant today. With an annual staff growth surpassing that of the U.S. army, one of the most economical full-meal menus on the market, and a brand power matching Apple’s, McDonald’s is indisputably the king of the realm of most popular fast food restaurants in America.