The best of the best, the top of the class. Sadly, contrary to bottom half of the top ten, most of these are decaying powerhouses. All of the top five have secured their position because of decades of success, but the game has changed underneath them, and all of them, with the exception of Subway, are spinning on their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong. This does not mean these five are going anywhere anytime soon. All have deeply established heritages and a massive global reach, but they are almost all dealing with poor customer perception, and they keep hoping they can right the ship with minor adjustments without needing to press the reset button.
This year’s full list: #20 – 16, #15 – 11, #10 – 6
#5. Burger King (+3)
The king mascot is back, creepy crown, smile, and all. Is that supposed to help? Burger King is in the top 5 almost by default: with 13,000 global locations, there’s not much bigger out there. But their solutions feel like a pat on the back and encouraging word to someone who’s bleeding out. I know it’s hard to change directions when you get to this size, but are they even trying?
#4. Wendy’s (-3)
Wendy’s claimed the number one overall spot in 2014, and were number three in 2013, but things are trending the wrong direction for Wendy’s. Like other members of the burger chain big 3 (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King), they seem to have lost steam and lost relevance. It’s like watching a hall of fame basketball player, at the end of his career, trotting out the same moves, tricks, and shots he’s done all his life. Some of them still go down, but he’s no longer having an impact on the game.
#3. Pizza Hut (+4)
Pizza Hut gives the top 5 more reason for optimism, or at least less severe failure. Papa John’s is closing the gap on the biggest global pizza chain, but the Hut claims an international recognition and acclaim which will take a long time for anyone else to challenge. Plus, the pizza fast food market is a little friendlier playground than some of the other fields. People are recognizing better group value in pizzas, and with the supplement of their Wing Street, Pizza Hut is able to present a respectable variety.
#2. McDonald’s (-0)
For the last two years straight, McDonald’s has hardly been able to see their name in print without seeing it associated with more negativity and further decline. During that time, they’ve switched out CEOs, hired a new head chef, shuttered thousands of stores, and tried to start from the ground up. Nothing seems to be working. Excepting the one silver lining of a positive reception of their all-day breakfast, which became available this November, their trajectory looks like one continuous downward spiral. It’s hard to redirect a company pulling in 28 billion in revenue. There’s too much money on the line for them to fail in a few short years. But it feels like McDonald’s has farther to fall yet before they hit bottom, and can begin moving up.
#1. Subway (+10)
Congratulations to Subway on their first year ever to claim the number one spot. The real question is why would Subway ever be out of the top 5, let alone ten? In 2013, it was ranked 4th. I don’t know what last year’s reviewer was thinking, but despite Jared’s scandal, which was efficiently quieted, Subway is the biggest brand which actually has its act together, which leaves them poised to dictate the terms everyone else will be reacting to. So far that looks like speed, customization, healthy options, simplicity, and lots of locations. Subway now has over 44,000 stores in 110 countries. When it comes to playing the international brand recognition game, no one is keeping up. McDonald’s, their closest competition, has 36,000 locations, and Subway only passed them in the last five years. That means Subway’s rate of growth is actually increasing each year, so there’s a good hope for them to repeat in 2016.