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From Global Giants Like Taco Bell and McDonald's to Emerging Brands Like Crumbl, These Are The Top 15 Fast Food Franchises Fast food/QSR franchises offer significant entrepreneurial opportunities, including extensive resources, support systems and brand recognition provided by their parent companies.

By Clarissa Buch Zilberman

Key Takeaways

  • The QSR sector offers a wide range of franchising opportunities, from traditional burgers and fries to international cuisines.
  • Many of the franchises listed have shown significant growth and expansion, both in the U.S. and internationally.
  • Franchises benefit from the extensive resources, support systems, and brand recognition.
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In the world of fast-paced dining, franchising opportunities abound, catering to entrepreneurs eager to carve their slice of the market. From classic burgers and fries to wraps and salads and even international-inspired cuisine, these quick-service franchises serve up fast and convenient meals worldwide and are some of the most profitable fast-food franchises to own.

In this article, explore the top 15 quick-service restaurant franchises according to the 2024 Franchise 500 Ranking. Each brand brings its unique twist to the table, whether it's through innovative menu offerings, efficient service models, or widespread popularity.

Let's take a closer look at these dynamic establishments that have redefined the notion of fast food and continue to delight hungry customers both in the U.S. and abroad.

Related: Considering franchise ownership? Get started now to find your personalized list of franchises that match your lifestyle, interests and budget.

1. Taco Bell

  • Founded: 1962
  • Franchising since: 1964
  • Overall Rank: 1
  • Number of units: 8,320
  • Change in units: +12.4% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $576,000-$3,400,000
  • Leadership: Sean Tresvant, CEO
  • Parent company: Yum! Brands Inc.

Taco Bell, the largest purveyor of Mexican cuisine worldwide, offers a prime opportunity for potential franchisees. With over 7,000 locations spanning 30 countries, Taco Bell's reputation for quick, affordable and flavorful Mexican-style fare solidifies its status as a top contender in the quick-service restaurant industry. As a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., Taco Bell benefits from the extensive resources and support of a renowned parent company with a vast global presence and is consistently one of the most profitable fast food franchises.

Related: See Where These Franchises Ranked in Our 2024 Franchise 500

2. Jersey Mike's Subs

  • Founded: 1956
  • Franchising since: 1987
  • Overall rank: 2
  • Number of units: 2,557
  • Change in units: +46.8% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $214,000-$1,400,000
  • Leadership: Peter Cancro, Founder and CEO
  • Parent company: Jersey Mike's Franchise Systems Inc.

Jersey Mike's, a leading player in the quick-service restaurant sector, specializes in "submarine" sandwiches. With more than 2,000 locations nationwide and a commitment to exceptional customer service, Jersey Mike's offers franchisees a compelling opportunity to join a thriving brand with a proven track record of success that makes Jersey Mike's one of the best fast food franchises year after year.

Related: Jersey Mike's Grew From Hometown Hero to National Powerhouse By Adopting This Mindset

3. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

  • Founded: 1972
  • Franchising since: 1976
  • Overall rank: 3
  • Number of units: 4,091
  • Change in units: +21.1% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $384,000-$3,700,000
  • Leadership: Sami Siddiqui, President
  • Parent company: Restaurant Brands Int'l.

With over 3,000 locations across the U.S. and 30 countries worldwide, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen stands as a leading force in the fast food franchise industry, captivating taste buds and attracting franchise opportunities globally. For those passionate about fried chicken and seeking entrepreneurial ventures, launching a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchise gives franchisees the opportunity to join one of the most successful QSRs (quick-service restaurants) in the United States.

Related: Popeyes Is Going Global — And Its Secret International Recipe Is Helping the Brand Sizzle Here At Home

4. Dunkin'

  • Founded: 1950
  • Franchising since: 1955
  • Overall rank: 6
  • Number of units: 13,372
  • Change in units: +1.9% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $438,000-$1,800,000
  • Leadership: Paul Brown, CEO
  • Parent company: Inspire Brands

Dunkin', formerly known as Dunkin' Donuts, traces its origins back to 1948 when Bill Rosenberg established The Open Kettle in Quincy, Massachusetts, offering coffee and donuts at affordable prices. Over the years, it evolved into a nationwide phenomenon, shedding its "Donuts" moniker and expanding its menu to include bagels, breakfast sandwiches and more. With over 9,400 franchises in the U.S. and 3,400 internationally, Dunkin' remains a staple in the quick-service restaurant industry, providing franchisees with flexible operational options and a community-oriented business model that aligns with its iconic slogan, "America runs on Dunkin'."

Related: Dunkin' Brews Up Cross-Generational Buzz With This Odd Celebrity Pairing

5. Culver's

  • Founded: 1984
  • Franchising since: 1988
  • Overall rank: 7
  • Number of units: 918
  • Change in units: +20.0% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $2,500,000-$7,200,000
  • Leadership: Rick Silva, CEO
  • Parent company: Culver Franchising System LLC

Culver's—popular for its signature ButterBurgers, frozen custard desserts and cheese curds—originated in Wisconsin in 1984 and has since expanded to over 900 locations across 26 states. Led by founder Craig Culver and known for its strong franchising system, Culver's presents a promising opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs seeking to join a fast-growing restaurant chain with a loyal customer base.

Related: Culver's Is Punching Way Above Its Weight In the Fast Food World, Thanks to This Unique Growth Strategy

6. Arby's

  • Founded: 1964
  • Franchising since: 1965
  • Overall rank: 9
  • Number of units: 3,602
  • Change in units: +2.8% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $645,000-$2,500,000
  • Leadership: Rita Patel, Brand President
  • Parent company: Inspire Brands

Starting an Arby's franchise offers numerous advantages, including the widespread brand recognition enjoyed by its 3,600+ locations across the U.S. As one of the top 10 restaurant brands in North America, Arby's is poised for continued growth, supported by a diverse and highly regarded menu that resonates with consumers. With flexible store layouts tailored to local markets and comprehensive support systems provided by Arby's, franchisees can embark on a successful venture even with limited management experience, making Arby's an appealing option for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Related: This One Menu Item Turned Arby's Into a Top Contender In the Fast Food Scene

7. KFC

  • Founded: 1930
  • Franchising since: 1952
  • Overall rank: 12
  • Number of units: 28,475
  • Change in units: +16.7% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $1,900,000-$3,800,000
  • Leadership: Tarun Lal, President
  • Parent company: Yum! Brands Inc.

Considering a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise? With more than 28,000 restaurants worldwide and a menu that's constantly evolving to include new favorites like chicken wings and sandwiches, it's a brand people know and love, offering a special secret recipe that keeps customers coming back for more. Whether you're interested in a traditional restaurant or a smaller express outlet, KFC provides options that fit a franchisee's budget and ambitions, making it the perfect recipe for entrepreneurial success.

Related: Yum! Brands: A global fast-food leader on the move

8. Tropical Smoothie Cafe

  • Founded: 1997
  • Franchising since: 1997
  • Overall rank: 13
  • Number of units: 1,312
  • Change in units: +15.6% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $297,000-$662,000
  • Leadership: Charles Watson, CEO
  • Parent company: N/A

As a leader in the health-focused fast-casual market, Tropical Smoothie Cafe boasts a wide-ranging menu of real-fruit smoothies, wraps, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads, catering to health-conscious consumers nationwide. Founded in 1997 in Destin, Florida, the franchise has rapidly expanded to over 1,300 locations across the United States, offering entrepreneurs a proven business model, extensive support and diverse location options to capitalize on the booming health food trend and cater to the growing demand for convenient, nutritious meal options.

Related: See Who Made This Year's Franchise 500 Hall of Fame

9. Wingstop

  • Founded: 1994
  • Franchising since: 1998
  • Overall rank: 14
  • Number of units: 2,046
  • Change in units: +42.5% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $326,000-$975,000
  • Leadership: Michael Skipworth, President & CEO
  • Parent company: Wingstop Restaurants Inc.

Since its inception in 1994 in Garland, Texas, Wingstop has become synonymous with delicious buffalo-style chicken wings and fresh-cut fries, with over 2,000 locations across 26 states. The franchise offers excellent corporate support, comprehensive training resources, relatively low startup costs and royalty fees, territory protections and flexible franchising opportunities tailored to a franchisee's experience and financial capabilities. Whether you're a newcomer to the industry or a seasoned restaurant manager, Wingstop provides a promising pathway to entrepreneurial success in the thriving fast-casual dining market.

Related: This Entrepreneur Is on a Mission to Eradicate Generational Poverty in the Black Community — And She's Using Franchising to Do It.

10. Smoothie King

  • Founded: 1973
  • Franchising since: 1988
  • Overall rank: 15
  • Number of units: 1,354
  • Change in units: +13.4% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $312,000-$1,400,000
  • Leadership: Chris Bremer, Chief Development Officer
  • Parent company: Smoothie King Franchises Inc.

Founded in 1973 in Kenner, Louisiana, Smoothie King is the original U.S.-based smoothie brand, now headquartered in Dallas and led by CEO Wan Kim. With over 1,300 units nationwide, Smoothie King offers franchisees immediate access to a loyal customer base and consistent sales growth supported by a robust corporate team. Franchising with Smoothie King provides numerous benefits, including brand recognition, a straightforward operating system and extensive support and training resources, making it an appealing option for entrepreneurs seeking to enter the thriving health and wellness market while promoting nutritious, handcrafted smoothies and complementary health-related products to support active lifestyles.

Related: Are You a Great Leader or an Average Leader? Use This Chart to Find Out.

11. Wendy's

  • Founded: 1969
  • Franchising since: 1971
  • Overall rank: 17
  • Number of units: 7,127
  • Change in units: +4.6% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $321,000-$4,600,000
  • Leadership: Todd Penegor, President & CEO
  • Parent company: Wendy's Int'l. Inc.

Established in 1969 by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio, Wendy's quickly gained recognition for its quality food and fast prep times, offering hamburgers, fries and famous Frosty desserts. With approximately 94% of its locations franchised, Wendy's presents numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs worldwide, boasting strong brand recognition and allowing franchisees flexibility in pricing, operating hours and more. Despite the initial investment cost, Wendy's offers extensive training and support, making it an attractive option for individuals seeking to enter the fast-food industry and benefit from a well-established customer base and global presence.

Related: Wendy's Eyes Expansion With New CEO

12. McDonald's

  • Founded: 1955
  • Franchising since: 1955
  • Overall rank: 18
  • Number of units: 40,801
  • Change in units: +4.6% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $1,500,000-$2,500,000
  • Leadership: Chris Kempczinski, CEO
  • Parent company: N/A

From humble beginnings in the 1940s, when Dick and Mac McDonald opened their drive-in burger joint in San Bernardino, California, McDonald's has evolved into a global powerhouse. Recognizing the potential for expansion, the brothers implemented iconic branding elements like the yellow and red colors and the distinctive golden arches.

With the help of Ray Kroc in the 1950s, McDonald's embarked on a journey of nationwide and international growth, establishing over 40,000 locations in more than 100 countries today. Through innovative concepts like Hamburger University and Play Places, McDonald's continues to shape the fast-food industry, solidifying its status as a beloved household name worldwide.

Related: McDonald's Made a Simple Change to a Cult-Favorite Menu Item. Now, the Sandwich Is a $1 Billion Brand.

13. Papa Johns

  • Founded: 1985
  • Franchising since: 1986
  • Overall rank: 24
  • Number of units: 5,968
  • Change in units: +11.6% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $189,000-$975,000
  • Leadership: Rob Lynch, CEO
  • Parent company: Papa John's Inc.

Looking to dive into the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry without the hassle of starting from scratch? Consider launching a Papa Johns franchise, which is one of the cheapest fast food franchises to open, and where you can tap into the enduring popularity of pizza without the need for dine-in facilities. Papa Johns has become a household name, known for its focus on delivery and take-out pizza, which has enabled franchisees to flourish by catering to customers seeking delicious, piping-hot pizza on time. With upfront costs averaging less than $300,000 (depending on location) and no franchise fee, starting a Papa Johns franchise offers a compelling opportunity to leverage the brand's loyal customer base, specialized focus and robust support resources for immediate success in the competitive pizza market.

Related: McDonald's Dives Into Anime Craze — And Flips Its Golden Arches — with WcDonald's Event

14. Pizza Hut

  • Founded: 1958
  • Franchising since: 1959
  • Overall rank: 26
  • Number of units: 17,996
  • Change in units: +4.5% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $367,000-$2,100,000
  • Leadership: Dianne Simrall, Director, Franchise Finance
  • Parent company: Yum! Brands Inc.

If you're considering diving into the world of pizza franchises, Pizza Hut is an all-around winner. With more than 5,000 locations in the United States and another 12,000-plus worldwide, Pizza Hut is the largest pizza restaurant chain globally, boasting a loyal customer base and market dominance cultivated over more than 50 years. As a household name offering not just pizza but also garlic bread and a variety of other food products, Pizza Hut presents a compelling franchise opportunity for those with the drive and ambition to succeed in the quick-service restaurant industry.

Related: McDonald's New Drive-Thru Concept CosMc's Skyrockets in Popularity — Particularly Among One Age Group

15. Crumbl

  • Founded: 2017
  • Franchising since: 2018
  • Overall rank: 31
  • Number of units: 881
  • Change in units: +772.3% over 3 years
  • Initial investment: $368,000-$1,400,000
  • Leadership: Jason McGowan, CEO
  • Parent company: N/A

Looking to indulge in the sweet success of the dessert industry? Crumbl Cookies is a rapidly growing franchise specializing in gourmet cookies that redefine the art of baking. With a unique rotating menu of more than 100 flavors, including classics like chocolate chip and innovative creations like sea salt toffee, Crumbl Cookies offers a delightful experience for every palate. Founded in 2017, Crumbl has quickly expanded to more than 800 locations, making it the fastest-growing cookie company in the U.S. Whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur or a baking enthusiast looking to turn your passion into a business, Crumbl Cookies offers a sweet opportunity to join a thriving franchise and spread joy, one delicious cookie at a time.

Clarissa Buch Zilberman

Entrepreneur Staff

Freelance Writer, Editor & Content Marketing Consultant

Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor based in Miami. Specializing in lifestyle, business, and travel, her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Realtor.com, Travel + Leisure, and Bon Appétit, among other print and digital titles. Through her content marketing consultancy, By Clarissa, she leverages her extensive editorial background and unique industry insights to support enterprise organizations and global creative agencies with their B2B, B2C, and B2E content initiatives. 

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