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Fast Food Brands: The Rise and Fall

March 31, 2022
by
Nick Huntington-Klein

2021 and Fast Food

2021 was a turbulent year for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people. In particular, let’s take a look at fast food and the different major brands. What was changing over the year for different brands? Who was closing locations? 2021 was when we realized we might be in for delivery rather than eating in restaurants for a good while longer. Some places - pizza chains, for instance - are a little better set-up to weather that storm than places that depend on you eating your french fries no more than fifteen minutes after they leave the fryer.

We’ll be focusing here on the SafeGraph opened_on and closed_on columns, which show us when different locations, well, opened or closed. This lets us see not just how many locations each fast-food chain brand has (Subway still reigns supreme, by the way), but how that number evolves over time, on a monthly level.

Let’s start by making a simple graph of what’s going on with locations in 2021:

top 15 fast food brands

Alright, so no major shakeups. Nobody’s dropping out of the market all of the sudden. But we can already see some differences in which brands are trending up and which are trending down. What happens if we look just at the changes?1

A lot of McDonald’s woes appear to be related to the shutdown of their Walmart locations. But the 327 net closures in the data go beyond the 200 or so Walmart locations that got closed. Seems like people really aren’t into those delivery fries!

Where are these closures occurring? Let’s take a look.

We see quite a lot going on here. The midwest and mountain parts of the country seem largely unaffected by McDonald’s shutdowns in 2021. But Florida, the Southwest, and West are looking like trouble for the arches. Three of Alaska’s 28 locations closed down, more than 10%. Nevada is also above 10%, with 13 of 125 locations shutting down.

The one that’s really got to sting is Texas, though, with 73 out of 1113 locations shutting down, or 6.6% in a big state. Ouch!

Still, things seem not to be so bad for McDonald’s in the northeast. To further dive into these regional trends, download SafeGraph data today and experiment for yourself.

  1. Important to note with this data is that Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Sonic, and Arby’s only started getting tracked in 2021, so some openings we see may have just been re-openings from temporary closures that started at the beginning of the pandemic. Openings may be a bit overstates for those four.

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