Fast food restaurants in the US earned $278.6 billion in revenue in 2021. With over 50,000 chains across the nation, it’s a profitable industry that suits Americans’ need for fast, cheap, and occasionally quality food.
They aren’t all gems, however, and the following list contains options from low-tier to higher-tier fast-food restaurants. Opinions about each chain are mixed, given many people have had different experiences with the companies’ food, service, and ethics. So from pizza places to burger joints to mega-coffeehouses, here are 10 fast food restaurants ranked from worst to best.
10. Burger King
According to its website, more than 11 million people visit Burger King restaurants worldwide daily. Founded in 1954, Burger King is one of the largest fast food hamburger chains in the United States. Originally named Insta-Burger King, it ran into financial difficulties back in 1954 and was originally purchased by some franchisees and renamed Burger King. It’s the home of the Whopper, its signature hamburger.
In recent years, Burger King has taken to trolling rival fast food McDonald’s in its advertising. At one point, it had “Scary Clown Night,” which offered a free Whopper to anyone dressed as a clown (eluding to McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald) on Halloween. While its advertising might be amusing, many people believe the food is subpar and of low quality. There are other more serious reasons why people are hesitant to go to the burger joint, including legal issues surrounding the false representation of its products, problematic advertising campaigns, and its abundance of unhealthy menu options.
9. Domino’s Pizza
Domino’s started from humble beginnings as a single pizza restaurant in 1960. Since then, it has become one of the world’s most prominent leaders in pizza delivery. Domino’s has impacted the entire food delivery industry with the following: the use of patented insulated bags to keep pizzas hot during delivery; a sturdy, corrugated pizza box that keeps moisture from weakening the box; and the 3-D car-top sign.
Despite being a huge chain, many think Domino’s lacks flavor, texture, and quality. Those who have qualms with the pizza cite its watered-down sauce, dry crust, and mushy cheese as the main reasons for its inferior rank.
KFC, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, claims to have “world famous fried chicken” and boasts on its website that it practically invented fried chicken. KFC began in 1930 when 40-year-old Harland Sanders began feeding hungry travelers at a humble service station in Corbin, Kentucky. He then spent the next nine years perfecting his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices and the basic cooking techniques still used by KFC today. Currently, there are over 24,000 KFC locations around the world in more than 145 countries and territories.
Since its inception, Colonel Sanders has been its mascot with his signature goatee, black frock coat, and string tie. And although Harland Sanders passed away in 1980, he remains an icon of the company and its international symbol of hospitality. Its slogan, “finger-lickin’ good,” has hardened since 1956 and went on to become one of the most well-known slogans of the 20th century.
The company has been involved in criticism and controversy surrounding animal welfare, links to obesity, and environmental impact. While some view KFC as having addictive chicken, others wonder if its founder would be pleased with the product today since many view it as having decreased quality and tastiness over the years. That, plus its higher prices and slow service, bumps KFC down on the list of notable fast food places.
Subway prides itself on having freshly-made, convenient, and affordable food. With its daily fresh-baked bread, flavorful subs, and meals you can feel good about eating, it’s no wonder Subway is one of the top fast food places. In general, Subway’s meals are low in sugar and a decent fiber and protein source. Many menu options are also jam-packed with fat and sodium, but one of the main selling points is the ability to customize your meal to your tastes.
While the longtime Subway slogan “Eat Fresh” indicates the fresh ingredients used, Subway has seen its popularity decrease in recent years as it needs a major brand renovation.
6. Taco Bell
Taco Bell features an extensive array of eclectic, Mexican-inspired food items, including tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, beverages, and more. Its signature Baja Blasts and Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos took the world by storm and have become some of the most popular items on the Taco Bell menu. As of 2018, Taco Bell serves about 2 billion customers yearly at over 7,000 locations.
The Taco Bell strategy works despite embodying none of the traditional virtues such as organic products, embracing social causes, or promoting small businesses. In the past couple of decades, customer satisfaction has trended upward.
According to its website, Wendy’s is all about serving fresh food, and quality is its recipe. With a business model centered on franchises, there are almost 7,000 stores, most of which are located in North America. The chain is known for its square hamburgers, sea salt fries, and frosties, a form of soft-serve ice cream.
In 1984, actress Clara Peller was featured in a very successful advertising campaign with the slogan “Where’s the beef?” This line quickly became an American pop culture phenomenon. In addition to the iconic line, Wendy’s has also taken to Twitter, roasting customers and other fast food chains such as McDonald’s.
Its consistent quality and variety of food items make Wendy’s one of the better fast food restaurants.
Since its creation, McDonald’s has grown from a single small restaurant to a leading food service brand with more than 36,000 locations in more than 100 countries. It is the world’s largest restaurant chain based on revenue. It’s best known for its hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and french fries, but its menu also has many other food items, including chicken, fish, fruit, salads, and desserts. Its signature item is the Big Mac.
Some pros to eating at McDonald’s: cheap options, simple and quick ordering, and guilty-pleasure foods. Some drawbacks: low-quality food, unhealthy ingredients, and poor service.
Chiptole believes that “there is a connection between how food is raised and prepared, and how it tastes”. Their website also states: “Real is better. Better for You, Better for People, Better for Our Planet”. As a result, Chiptole promises no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, making them one of the freshest, healthiest fast food options.
The chain specializes in bowls, tacos, and burritos made to order right in front of the customer. This customization, along with the flavorful food, fresh ingredients, and affordable prices, makes Chiptole worthy of being near the top of this list.
As one of the largest American fast food restaurant chains, Chick-fil-a specializes in chicken sandwhiches, but also offers food options such as nuggets, fries, and salads. Many of the company’s values are influenced by the Christian religious beliefs of its late founder, S. Truett Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist. Due to this, Chick-fil-a’s are closed on Sundays. The company’s opposition to same-sex marriage, however, has been the subject of public controversy, although Chick-fil-a has begun to loosen its stance on the matter.
With its fresh, tasty food and fast service, Chick-fil-a can be considered one of the better fast food restaurants in the United States.
Starbucks Corporation is a chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves. It is the world’s largest coffeehouse chain and has stores in over 80 countries. The rise of the second wave of coffee cultures has been significantly attributed to Starbucks, which introduced a more extensive variety of coffee aimed at the masses. It serves hot and cold drinks, espresso, lattes, refreshers, frappuccinos, pastries, and more. It also boasts seasonal drinks and allows customers to access free Wi-Fi, making it a hub for many people to work or relax.
Reasons for Starbucks’ success include its delicious beverages, an established brand, consistent quality and service, and easy ordering, allowing customers to place orders online. Many have complained, however, about the high-priced nature of the chain.