Fast food restaurants in the U.S. - statistics  &  facts

A quick service restaurant (QSR), or limited service restaurant (LSR) is an establishment that serves meals at a lower price point and typically provides fast service, a limited menu, and limited table service. They are more commonly referred to as fast food restaurants outside of the industry. The quick service restaurant industry in the United States is one of the most well-established in the world. Many of the biggest global QSR brands originated in the U.S. and dominate a large portion of the market. In the U.S., all states are home to fast food restaurants. A 2021 ranking of the U.S. states with the most QSRs found that California accounted for the highest number with almost 31.5 thousand units, while the least populous state, Wyoming, accounted for the least. The total consumer spending in the QSR sector in the United States was 304.8 billion in 2021, up from the previous year’s total of 272 billion. Consumer spending in the sector fell in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What are the biggest U.S. fast food brands?

While the U.S. fast food landscape has been inundated by new concepts over the past decade, the older, well-established U.S. QSR brands continue to dominate the industry. When looking at the leading U.S. fast food chains by sales, McDonald's accounted for the highest sales. Meanwhile, coffeehouse chain Starbucks followed not-so-close behind in second place. With a brand value of over 154 billion U.S. dollars, McDonald’s was also the leader in a list of the most valuable fast food brands in the world in 2021, followed by brands such as Domino's Pizza, Subway and, Yum! Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, KFC & Pizza Hut). Although burger restaurants such as McDonald’s are more commonly associated with the U.S. quick service restaurant market, sandwich chain Subway came out on top in a ranking of the biggest QSR chains by number of units with over 22 thousand establishments in the U.S. alone.

Are fast food restaurants popular with U.S. consumers?

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) scores on a 0-100 scale at the national level with 100 being the highest and best possible score. The ACSI is an economic indicator based on modeling of customer evaluations of the quality of goods and services purchased in the United States. In 2021, the average ACSI score for quick service restaurants in the U.S. was 78 out of 100, having remained constant over the previous year. McDonald's received a score of 70 which meant that customer satisfaction was eight points below the industry average. Meanwhile, chicken restaurant Chick-fil-A was the highest-rated QSR with a score of 83. Chick-fil-A was also awarded the highest level of drive-thru order accuracy in U.S. restaurant chains. However, Chick-fil-A had the longest drive-thru times when compared to other companies such as Dunkin', Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, and KFC. Taco Bell topped the list when it came to the fastest drive-thru times in U.S. QSR chains.

Digitalization of the U.S. fast food industry

In recent years, the QSR industry has moved increasingly online. By 2022 the global revenue of the online food delivery market was forecast to exceed 343 billion U.S. dollars. Furthermore, the market size of the U.S. quick service delivery sector was predicted to reach as much as 33.2 billion dollars by 2022. Many fast food restaurants have formed partnerships with online food delivery services such as GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats in order to target the growing market. This digitalization became crucial for quick service restaurants during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, where lockdown and social distancing measures caused consumers to be unable to make in-store purchases. In 2021, the U.S. online food delivery penetration share in the restaurant market was predicted to rise from the pre-COVID-19 estimate of 10 percent to a post-COVID-19 estimate of 14 percent.

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