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In 2021, America celebrates 100 years of fast food restaurants. White Castle, believed by historians to be the very first fast food chain, opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. Since then, fast food of all varieties has spread worldwide, becoming a billion-dollar industry that includes some of the most recognizable brands ever created. The top 10 fast food brands have a strong international presence with chains all over the world. Check out the rankings for 2021 and learn more about how these iconic brands have evolved on the international stage.

  • Starbucks is the World’s most valuable fast food brand
  • Subway has the greatest number of stores worldwide
  • Haidilao has the greatest average value per store

The Largest Fast Food Chains Worldwide

Although Starbucks is the most valuable brand, Subway take the top slot with the most number of stores worldwide.

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Learn More About The Top 10 Fast Food Restaurants

  1. Starbucks
  2. McDonald’s
  3. Kentucky Fried Chicken
  4. Subway
  5. Domino’s Pizza
  6. Taco Bell
  7. Dunkin’
  8. Pizza Hut
  9. Haidilao
  10. Tim Hortons

#1: Starbucks

View inside Starbucks Milan Roastery. Photo via Starbucks Official.

Starbucks is an American Institution and the most valuable fast food brand on the planet. Its value comes in just under 38.5 billion dollars or approximately 18.2 billion cups of coffee. 

Starbucks may have started as a cozy neighborhood coffee shop, but it has grown into an empire that transformed American coffee culture from basic drip coffee to comparatively expensive espresso drinks of all varieties. 

Starbuck now has over 30k locations worldwide, including the homeland of espresso itself: Italy.

Starbucks recently opened its first location in Italy, an opulent multi-story roastery housed in an old post office building, every bit as ornate as the famous open-air Galleria shopping experience. Hours before the grand opening, lines of people, both Milanese, and tourists, snaked around the building in anticipation.

#2: McDonald’s

Original McDonald's Store
The original McDonald’s Restaurant in the 1950s. Photo via

McDonald’s is the most recognizable restaurant brand in the world, according to The Visual Capitalist. McDonald’s was started by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1940. It remained a small, family-owned restaurant until Ray Kroc approached the couple in the mid-1950s and convinced them to franchise the restaurant in 1955.  

Kroc would eventually supersize the brand, buying it from McDonald’s and generating plenty of scandal in the process. The golden arches created a cultural phenomenon and have remained a daily part of American life.

The story is featured in a blockbuster film starring Michael Keaton called The Founder. The brand has also been featured in documentaries like Super Size Me, Hot Coffee, and McMillion$.

#3: Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC in Japan
A statue of Colonel Sanders in a Santa outfit on December 23, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan. Photo vis Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Kentucky Fried Chicken, known the world over simply as “KFC,” is worth a cool 15 billion dollars! That’s a lot of money, but it is less than half the value of the next most valuable brand, McDonald’s, worth 33 billion dollars!

KFC was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders, an entrepreneur who began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. The first “Kentucky Fried Chicken” franchise opened in Utah in 1952. Sanders would eventually sell a majority of the company to a corporation that would take the brand globally. 

After the United States and China, Japan is the third-largest market for KFC. A wildly popular marketing campaign in the 1970s established the brand as a secular holiday tradition. As a result, 70 percent of sales in Japan are takeout, with customers tending to buy fried chicken for parties and other special occasions.

#4 Subway

Subway with Halal Meat
A Subway shop in the UK with signs promoting their status as a Halal meat provider. Photo via TripAdvisor.

Did you know there are more Subway restaurant locations worldwide than any other chain? At 41,600 locations, Subway has more sites worldwide than Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s combined. 

The brand was founded by 17-year-old Fred DeLuca in 1965. He used a $1,000 loan from a friend to start the brand, which is now worth 8.1B dollars. 

Subway is known for its freshly baked bread and an endless combination of toppings. Due to widespread demand from Muslim customers in the U.K. and Ireland, Subway removed ham and bacon from 185 of its stores across those countries — and replaced the products with approved halal meat.

Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal meat is processed in a way that adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.

#5 Domino’s Pizza

Werner Lomker from Dominoes Pizza
Werner Lomker making pizzas at the 2018 World’s Fastest Pizza Maker in Las Vegas. Photo via PRNewswire.

Domino’s pizza was founded in 1960 and now has over 11,000 stores in 90 countries. The brand is worth 6 billion dollars and went public in 2004. 

Domino’s boasts a fast delivery service, and Canadian franchise owner Werner Lomekr is a two-time World’s Fastest Pizza Maker record holder. Lomker can make three large pizzas in just 47.56 seconds!

#6 Taco Bell

Taco Bell Kimchi Quesadilla
The Spicy Kimchi Quesadilla in Korea. Kimchi is a spicy, traditional Korean side dish made from fermented seasoned cabbage. Photo via Taco Bell.

Taco Bell has 13,000 stores in 31 countries. Although that’s fewer countries than some of their competitors Taco Bell goes above and beyond to create unique menu items that pay homage to local cuisine.

The Tikka Masala Burrito is a favorite at the India locations, and the Kimchi Quesadilla is popular in Korea! Headed to Spain? Check out the Chocomarsh dessert Crunchwrap filled with gooey Marshmallows and melted Chocolate perfect for sharing “tapas” style. 

Taco Bell fans in Japan enjoy a Shrimp and Avocado Burrito. Check out the complete list of international taco bell menu items on their website. 

#7 Dunkin’ Donuts

A seaweed and dried pork floss donut from Dunkin’ Donuts in China. Photo via Dunkin’ Donuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts was started in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1948 by founder William Rosenberg and is now worth 5.7 billion dollars. The shop was initially called Open Kettle and was changed two years later. 

Dunkin’ Donuts crafts special donuts that reflect the local cuisine and culture. Some of these international donuts can be pretty unusual. In Singapore, you can get wasabi cheese and seaweed cheese donuts. In some Asian countries, you can get mochi donuts, and in China, you can get a dried pork and seaweed donut.

#8 Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut TNT Ad
A Pizza Hut promotion for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tour in 1990. Photo via Flickr.

In 1958 Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother to open a pizza place while they were students at Wichita State University. The brand is now worth 5.1 billion dollars. 

The brand was franchised a year after it opened and until the 1970s had a mascot named Pizza Pete. Ultimately Pizza Pete was retired in favor of the iconic red roof logo. Their primary competitor struck pop culture gold in 1990 when they were featured in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but Pizza Hut ads were included on VHS when the film hit home video. The brand spent around 20 million dollars on marketing campaigns for the 1990 “Coming Out of Their Shells” concert tour and album release.

#9 Haidilao

Manicure at Haidilao
A Haidilao customer gets a free manicure while waiting for a table at the popular hot pot chain. Photo via The Straits Times.

Haidilao (Chinese: 海底捞; pinyin: Hǎidǐlāo), is a chain of hot pot restaurants founded in Jianyang, Sichuan, China in 1994. It’s the only brand on our list that wasn’t founded in North America. In fact, despite a value of 4 billion dollars, the brand only has 400 restaurants in 17 countries, primarily on the Asian continent.

The brand is known for its exceptional customer service despite long wait times. Because the brand is so famous, it’s not unusual for customers to wait several hours for a table. In response, Haidilao made queuing a  part of the Haidilao experience. They offer an entertainment area that provides customers with board games, free snacks, drinks, manicures, massages, and even shoe polish services while they wait.

#10 Tim Hortons 

Tim Hortons in the 1970s
A look inside the first Tim Hortons in Toronto in the 1970s. Photo via Tim Hortons.

Of the 5,000 Tim Hortons locations open worldwide, over 4,000 are located in Canada. The brand began in Hamilton, Canada, in 1964 and is now worth 4 billion dollars. 

Although Canadians are well known for their deference and politeness, it turns out they are quite passionate about their grammar! Tim Hortons was “Tim Horton’s,” but that changed in 1977 after years of intense and sometimes violent demonstrations by pro-French Quebecers who wanted French to be the official language of the province. 

The law made it illegal for businesses to advertise English names. The government passed Bill 101, which made French the sole official language in Quebec. Apostrophes are an exclusively English punctuation mark, so the company changed its branding worldwide to comply with the law and is now known simply as Tim Hortons.

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