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Fast Food Chains With The Most Locations Per State (#2 Most Popular Restaurant Will Surprise You!)

June 12, 2019
Nick Huntington-Klein

We found & visualized the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd most popular fast-food restaurant chain in each state using SafeGraph’s point of interest data.

It’s Subway’s World: You’re Just Living In It

When asked, “What’s the chain with the most restaurants in the US?”, the majority of Americans would guess McDonald’s. Surprisingly, the correct answer is actually Subway!

Subway is the most popular fast-food chain (most restaurant locations) in 49 out of 50 states. Delaware isn’t as interested in eating fresh.

In the US, there are 24,568 Subways compared to 13,793 McDonald's locations. Delaware is the only state where there are fewer Subway’s than McDonald’s, with only 32 Subways compared to 37 McDonald’s locations.

Subway’s lax real-estate requirements & franchising model have allowed for fast expansion since the brand’s founding in 1965.

Subway locations have fewer real estate requirements than McDonald's since McDonald's locations usually need to be in free-standing buildings & need a drive-through. Additionally, the average Subway store format is smaller than McDonald's which further reduces costs. Lastly, Subway boasts some of the lowest startup-costs when it comes to equipment and franchise fees compared to other Quick-Service-Restaraunt chains.

The flexible site-selection criteria & friendly franchising model, combined with America’s love of footlongs, has allowed Subway to expand to more locations than McDonald’s.

However, the gap between the brands is closing. Subway closed 1,100 restaurants in 2018, leading to the lowest number of store locations since 2011.

McDonald's: The Fast-Food Chain With The 2nd Most Locations In 40 States

The 2nd most popular restaurant chain is McDonald's in 40 states. Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, & Sonic are popular in the Midwest.

In 40 out of 50 states, McDonald’s has the 2nd most locations out of any fast-food chain. Even when competing for the #2 position, Mickey D’s wasn’t able to be as dominant on the map as Subway was for position #1.

From the map, it’s obvious McDonalds has had a harder time in the middle of the country.

Compared to McDonald’s, Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut have more store locations in the Midwest. Dairy Queen has strong roots in the Midwest, with its first store opening in Joliet, Illinois in 1940 and its corporate headquarters based in Edina, Minnesota. Pizza Hut was founded in 1958, by two Wichita State University students and brothers in Wichita, Kansas and has historical ties with the Midwest. Sonic, America’s drive-in, was started in Oklahoma and has maintained its home state advantage against McDonald's.

3rd Place: A Hodgepodge Of Brands

No single brand dominates for 3rd place. Instead, we start to see strong regional preferences in this fragmented map.

The 3rd most popular restaurant chain per state features a wide array of brands.

Many regional preferences are due to the initial restaurant being started in or near a state. For example, burger chain Jack In The Box was founded in San Diego and is ubiquitous on the West Coast. Waffle House, the breakfast food chain, was founded in 1955 in Georgia. It remains popular in its home state along with South Carolina.

Interestingly, Burger King is dominant in New England, even though it was started far away in Florida.

Curious About How SafeGraph Creates Its Datasets?

Get insight on how we create our geospatial datasets and handle the weird edge cases that come up when dealing with places data such as the corner case below.

Weird Edge Case #29356: A single store location that’s a KFC, Pizza Hut, & Taco Bell at the same time.

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