9 Most Successful Fast-Food Chains

­©­2009 HowStuffWorks Hungry? McDonald's is one of the most popular places to get ­your fast food fix.

Americans spend more money on fast food than on movies, music, books, magazines, and newspapers combined. The rapid growth of this $240 billion industry over the last 30 years has been the result of economic shifts that have forced more women to work outside the home. Here are the top nine fast-food chains and how they stack up worldwide.

Go to the next page to see the first fast food chain on our list.­

1
Subway

­

Almost everyone recognizes Jared Fogle as the poster boy for Subway's healthy, low-fat diet. He lost 245 pounds in a year by eating two Subway sandwiches per day and walking. Subway was founded in 1965 by 17-year-old college freshman Fred DeLuca and family friend Dr. Peter Buck. Today there are more than 27,000 restaurants in 85 countries, employing more than 150,000 people. With worldwide sales totaling more than $9 billion annually, Subway serves nearly 2,800 sandwiches and salads in the United States every 60 seconds. If all the sandwiches made by Subway in a year were placed end to end, they would wrap around the world an estimated six times.

 

2
McDonald's
McDonald's prides itself on changing with the times. After suffering harsh criticism, the chain revised its menu to offer healthier options.­
McDonald's prides itself on changing with the times. After suffering harsh criticism, the chain revised its menu to offer healthier options.­
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Originally founded by Dick and Mac McDonald as a barbecue drive-in in the 1940s, the McDonald's Corporation now boasts annual profits of more than $21 billion. Known for its signature french fries, the corporation trains more new workers annually than the U.S. Army, and an estimated one in eight Americans has worked for McDonald's. In 1968, McDonald's operated about 1,000 restaurants worldwide, but today it has more than 31,000.

3
Pizza Hut

­ In 19­58, brothers Dan and Frank Carney of Wichita, Kansas, founded Pizza Hut. Now based in Dallas, this restaurant chain specializes in American-style pizza along with side dishes such as buffalo wings, bread sticks, and garlic bread. Pizza Hut is the world's largest pizza chain, operating more than 12,500 stores in 100 countries and employing 140,000 people. With $5.3 billion in annual sales in the United States alone, the company rakes in more than its nearest competitors -- Domino's and Papa John's -- combined.

4
Burger King

­ In December 1954, James McLamore and David Edgerton opened the first Insta Burger King in Mia­mi, Florida. The restaurant was based on an assembly line production system inspired by a visit to the McDonald brothers' hamburger stand. Today, Burger King has more than 11,000 restaurants in 65 countries. With an average annual income of $11.2 billion, the chain employs more than 340,000 employees and serves 11 million customers a day.

5
KFC
As fast food has spread across the world, so have fast-food jobs. A worker finishes his shift at a KFC in Chengdu, China.
As fast food has spread across the world, so have fast-food jobs. A worker finishes his shift at a KFC in Chengdu, China.
Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Kentucky ­Fried Chicken was the brainchild of Harland Sanders, who opened his first restaurant during the Great Depression in a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. In the 1930s, Sanders developed his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices, which has been touted as one of the best-kept secrets in the world and to this day is locked in a vault in Louisville.

Colonel Sanders, as he was known, sold his empire for $2 million in 1964. Today, KFC is a $10.3 billion franchise with more than 11,000 restaurants in 80 countries. The company employs 750,000 people who serve more than a billion "finger lickin' good" chicken meals each year.

6
Wendy's

­ Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's -- named for his daughter -- in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. In 1970, Thomas introduced the drive-thru window to his customers, an innovation that allowed them to purchase food without leaving their cars. The chain's passion for customer service and quality products has remained unchanged throughout the years. Today, with an annual income of $3.7 billion, Wendy's has more than 9,900 restaurants and 58,000 employees.

7
Domino's Pizza

­ Brothers Tom and James Monaghan started the first Domino's Pizza in 1960 in Ypsilanti, ­Michigan, when they purchased a pizza store called DomiNick's for $500. A year later, Tom became the restaurant's sole owner when James traded his share of the business for a Volkswagen Beetle. Tom renamed the store Domino's Pizza and it soon became one of the world's leading pizza chains with more than 8,000 stores in 50 countries. Serving in excess of one million customers a day, Domino's employs more than 140,000 people and brings in an annual income of $1.4 billion.

8
Taco Bell

­Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California, in 1962. In 1964, the first franchise was granted, and in 1969, Taco Bell went public on the stock market. Every year since 2001, company sales have increased 6 percent, and today, sales total more than $1.8 billion. Taco Bell maintains more than 6,000 restaurants worldwide, employing 143,000 workers.

9
Arby's

Founded in Ohio in 1964 by Forest and Leroy Raffel, the name Arby's is a play on R.B., an abbreviation for Raffel Brothers and also for roast beef, the restaurant's specialty. Always ahead of its time, in 1991 Arby's became the first fast-food chain to introduce a light menu, adding three sandwiches and four salads, all of which were under 300 calories and 94 percent fat free. In 1994, the chain banned smoking in all of its restaurants. Arby's currently employs more than 82,000 people at 3,500 stores worldwide and brings in $1.8 billion annually.

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS:

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen

 

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