Now we get serious. Fast food is big business, and with tipped dining in decline, as well as the growing desire for people to get their meals quickly, and on the go, the top ten is a high accolade. We are now almost entirely dealing in brands who have large global presences. But because of the size, the risk and the stakes are both higher. With the exception of Panda Express, most of the names here are looking at a longer space to the floor beneath them, if they were to tumble, than the ceiling above them.
Prior rankings from the 2015 club: #20 – 16, #15 – 11
Check out 2014 list
#10. KFC (+8)
You want to know what’s saving KFC from complete dissolution, and what bounced them back above Chick-fil-a? The world market. They can’t fall much more in the esteem of America, but on the international scene, KFC is still the global fast food chicken brand to beat, with 18,000 international locations. That’s a lot. There’s some soul-searching they need to do to right the ship in America, but they still have a plush cushion established underneath them.
#9. Starbucks (+4)
In only their second year permitted into the ‘fast food’ category, Starbucks has already cracked the top ten, and they’re not exactly looking over their shoulder. 22,000 locations, and the figure that really matters: 16.4 billion. As in billion. In yearly revenue. That dwarfs almost every contender except McDonald’s. More than that, Starbucks’ coffee shop hang-out vibe sets the bar for what every other coffee shop emulates or reacts against. Right now, people seem to not care that their food choice is limited to what flavor of muffin they prefer, or that they’re paying $4-7 for what is essentially hot, caffeine injected water.
#8. Taco Bell (-3)
Talk about identity crises. McDonald’s isn’t the only one suffering. Taco Bell used to be synonymous with value. Dirt cheap, grade F ground beef, sold by the bucket in a taco shell for the change in your cushions. A haven for college students and bad late night decisions. But now there are breakfast, yes, breakfast options at Taco Bell. And gone are the sub-one dollar days. You’ll pay more, but whether the taste has risen with the cost is more debatable.
#7. Panda Express (+9)
Alright, I admit it. Perhaps I’ve been a little high on Panda Express, ever since I discovered them for the first time in California, about ten years ago. But the numbers don’t lie. We’re talking about a restaurant who has matched Wendy’s in yearly revenue (2 billion), at less than a third of their size. Predictions are holding true—cornering the franchised Chinese fast food market has insulated Panda from the sort of suffocating competition fast food burger chains are gasping under.
#6. Dunkin Donuts (+6)
Dunkin’ is banking on the location saturation model, which is a good safety net, but not a great long term plan. There may be cracks appearing in the brand distinctives as more and more chains are entering the breakfast and coffee fray, something that used to be fairly untroubled territory for DD to occupy. However, with 11,000 branches, and the fact that Americans still love sugary dough in bulk quantities, they are still on a good track.