50 Most Successful Restaurant Chains in America

The pandemic has been particularly tough on the restaurant business, claiming thousands of casualties nationwide as even longstanding iconic institutions like the Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, and the “21” Club in New York City, shut down for good. (These were the saddest restaurant closings of 2021.)

Chains weren’t immune, either. California Pizza Kitchen and Chuck E. Cheese, among others, filed for bankruptcy, and even such fast-food powerhouses as Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway closed numerous locations.

Many segments of the food service industry are still suffering, but as we evolve out of the pandemic – we hope – or at least develop strategies for avoiding it, many fine-dining establishments in New York City and other major urban areas are full or at least fuller than they’ve been for a couple of years. 

And the news is even better for chains – which may have fared better as food delivery and take-out burgeoned, and began to see a noticeable revival last year. As the food service trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News notes, “2021 was a course correction for an unprecedented 2020,” pointing out that a handful of chains have even exceeded their pre-pandemic numbers. Only four chains on the list saw sales decline from the previous year, while half a dozen saw increases of over 25%. (On the other hand, here are some restaurant chains whose sales actually increased in 2020.)

To determine the 50 most successful restaurant chains in America, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 2022 Top 500 countdown published by NRN. The publication sources its data through a partnership with the food industry research and data company Datassential and their proprietary Firefly database.  

This year’s ranking holds good news for Dunkin’, which enjoyed an 18.90% increase over 2020 sales, leapfrogging over Burger King and switching places with Subway to rise from No. 8 to No. 6. While Subway remains the nation’s largest chain by number of units (currently 21,178), it was one of the few chains that experienced a decline in sales – 0.30% worth. 

Chipotle did well in 2021, too, rising from No. 12 to No. 10 with a 19.30% increase in sales. Near the top of the list, last year’s No. 3, Taco Bell, fell down one slot, with last year’s No. 4, Chick-fil-A, taking its place.

One chain listed in last year’s report – albeit at No. 50 – dropped off all together: TGI Friday’s. The bottom rung is now occupied by cult favorite In-N-Out, though NRN reports (for the second year in a row) that no data is available for it. Top 50 newcomer Firehouse Subs joins the list at No. 49.

Source: MichaelGordon1 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

50. In-n-Out Burger
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): No data available
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): No data available

Source: krblokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

49. Firehouse Subs
> Menu category: Sandwiches
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 24.30%

Source: helen89 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

48. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse
> Menu category: Varied
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 38.00%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

47. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews
> Menu category: Varied
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 33.20%

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46. Golden Corral
> Menu category: Family casual
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.2 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 12.90%

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

45. Waffle House
> Menu category: Family style
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.20%

Source: Sundry Photography / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

44. Carl’s Jr.
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 2.30%

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

43. Bojangles
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.3 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 5.40%

Source: Manuel Milan / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

42. Five Guys Burgers and Fries
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): -4.00%

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41. Wingstop
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.7 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 7.50%

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

40. Hardee’s
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): -5.00%

Source: J. Michael Jones / Getty Images

39. Zaxby’s
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 2.00%

Source: arndog / Flickr

38. Culver’s
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $1.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 13.00%

Source: helen89 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

37. Longhorn Steakhouse
> Menu category: Steak
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 35.00%

Source: ElsvanderGun / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

36. The Cheesecake Factory
> Menu category: Varied
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.2 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 44.00%

Source: helen89 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

35. Jersey Mike’s Subs
> Menu category: Sandwich
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.2 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 38.10%

Source: hapabapa / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

34. Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches
> Menu category: Sandwiches
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.3 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 19.50%

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

33. Red Lobster
> Menu category: Seafood
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 5.00%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

32. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 38.00%

Source: ablokhin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

31. Outback Steakhouse
> Menu category: Steak
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.6 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 24.20%

Source: jetcityimage / Getty Images

30. Cracker Barrel
> Menu category: Family style
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.7billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 25.90%

Source: sanfel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

29. Denny’s
> Menu category: Family style
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $2.7 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 41.00%

Source: typhoonski / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

28. Whataburger
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 14.50%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

27. Texas Roadhouse
> Menu category: Steak
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 44.40%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

26. IHOP
> Menu category: Family style
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 38.50%

Source: jeepersmedia / Flickr

25. Buffalo Wild Wings
> Menu category: Sports bar
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.7 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 17.50%

Source: Juanmonino / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

24. Panda Express
> Menu category: Asian/noodle
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.7 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.40%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

23. Applebee’s
> Menu category: Varied
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.7 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 34.40%

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

22. Papa John’s
> Menu category: Pizza
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 12.00%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

21. Little Caesars
> Menu category: Pizza
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.50%

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

20. Chili’s Grill & Bar
> Menu category: Varied
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $3.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 22.00%

Source: rojer / Flickr

19. Jack in the Box
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 10.00%

Source: Brett_Hondow / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

18. Olive Garden
> Menu category: Italian/pizza
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $4.2 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 18.00%

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

17. Arby’s
> Menu category: Sandwiches
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $4.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 5.90%

Source: sanfel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

16. Dairy Queen
> Menu category: Frozen desserts
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $4.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 12.90%

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

15. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $4.8 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.80%

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14. KFC
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $5.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 8.00%

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13. Pizza Hut
> Menu category: Pizza
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $5.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 1.00%

Source: jeepersmedia / Flickr

12. Panera Bread
> Menu category: Bakery café
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $5.8 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 2.00%

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

11. Sonic Drive-In
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $5.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.00%

Source: M. Suhail / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

10. Chipotle Mexican Grill
> Menu category: Mexican
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $6.5 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 19.30

Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

9. Domino’s
> Menu category: Pizza
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $7.6 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.50%

Source: TennesseePhotographer / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

8. Subway
> Menu category: Sandwiches
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $8.9 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): -3.00%

Source: lawcain / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

7. Burger King
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $10 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 3.90%

Source: tupungato / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

6. Dunkin’
> Menu category: Coffee café
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $10.4 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 18.90%

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

5. Wendy’s
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $11.2 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 8.60%

Source: lawcain / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

4. Taco Bell
> Menu category: Mexican
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $12.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 7.00%

Source: Susan Vineyard / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

3. Chick-fil-A
> Menu category: Chicken
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $12.1 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 12.00%

Source: Wachiwit / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2. Starbucks
> Menu category: Coffee café
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $22 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 19.00%

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

1. McDonald’s
> Menu category: Burgers
> Total U.S. sales (2021): $45 billion
> Change over total U.S. sales (2020): 7.00%

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