Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Dig Into 2017: The Top Food-Based Franchises of the Year

While the franchise model has expanded into almost every type of business imaginable, franchises based around food remain an industry cornerstone.

This story appears in the June 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

While the franchise model has expanded into almost every type of business imaginable, franchises based around food remain an industry cornerstone. Almost a quarter of the 988 companies that applied for the 2017 Franchise 500 list were food-related. And according to the latest Economic Impact of Franchised Businesses report prepared for the International Franchise Association, “quick-service restaurants provided more establishments, jobs and payroll and generated more output and contributed more to GDP than any other single line of business.” Full-service restaurants and retail food businesses contribute significantly as well.

Related: 100 Franchises You Can Start For Less Than $150,000

We’ve ranked the top food franchises, divided by category -- such as Asian food, frozen desserts and sandwiches -- and then ranked them within their respective categories, so whatever type of food franchise you’re interested in, you can see who comes out on top.

The rankings are based on each company’s performance when run through our Franchise 500 formula, a comprehensive evaluation of more than 150 data points in the areas of costs and fees, size and growth, franchisee support, brand strength and financial strength and stability. But keep in mind that the list is not intended as a recommendation of any particular franchise. Always do your own research to find the opportunity that’s right for you. That means reading the company’s legal documents, consulting with an attorney and an accountant, talking to as many existing and former franchisees as possible -- and, of course, sampling the food! 

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

Asian food

#1. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

Asian-American food
Startup cost: $130.2K–$520.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 184 / 0

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

Baked goods

#1. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts 

Doughnuts, coffee
Startup cost: $275K-$1.9M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,059 / 113


#1. Wingstop Restaurants 

Chicken wings
Startup cost: $303.2K–$922.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 929 / 20


# 1. Dunkin’ Donuts

Coffee, doughnuts, baked goods
Startup cost: $228.6K–$1.7M
Total franchised/co.-owned: 11,941 / 0

Frozen desserts

#1. Dairy Queen

Ice cream, burgers, chicken
Startup cost: $361.5K-$1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 6,839 / 2

Full-service restaurants

#1. Denny’s 

Family restaurants
Startup cost: $915.6K-$2.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,558 / 162

Wikimedia Commons/McDonald's in Svedala, Sweden


#1. McDonald’s

Burgers, chicken, salads, beverages
Startup cost: $1M-$2.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 31,230 / 5,669

Mexican food

#1. Taco Bell

Mexican food
Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 5,559 / 909 

Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Misc. quick-service restaurants

# 1. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit 

Startup cost: $280.8K-$481.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 600 / 7

Marco's Pizza


# 1. Marco’s Pizza

Pizza, subs, wings, cheese bread
Startup cost: $224.1K-$549.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 806 / 0

Edible Arrangements

Retail food

#1. Edible Arrangements International 

Sculpted fresh-fruit bouquets
Startup cost: $196.6K-$327.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,245 / 8

Jimmy John's


#1. Jimmy John’s Sandwiches

Startup cost: $325.5K-$555K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,574 / 62

Smoothies and juices

#1. Smoothie King

Smoothies, health products
Startup cost: $188.2K-$414.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 831 / 26