In the spring of 2020, restaurant owners, franchisees and food service workers around the country faced the challenge of their lives. While too many eateries closed, others managed to survive — and some new restaurants even opened their doors for the first time. Today, restaurants are seeing customers return and revenues pick back up — particularly in the fast food sector. In fact, many fast food statistics show the industry is alive and thriving.
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Fast Food Industry Analysis:
COVID-19 hit the foodservice industry harder than most. Nation’s Restaurant News reported that 10% of restaurants in the U.S. closed permanently since March of 2020. As of 2021, however, things are starting to look up again. The same article reported that the restaurant closure rate is slowing, and cited a statistic that nearly 90% of restaurants that remained open have good odds of staying open.
The fast food industry in particular is experiencing a notable rebound, fueled in part by rebrands, digital modernization, drive-throughs and national expansion. In fact, some experts say that the pandemic has actually thrust fast food brands onto a fast-track of innovation.
Here are 15 statistics indicating that the fast food industry is really on the rise.
1) Fast Food Revenue in the US is $278 Billion (source)
Fast food restaurants in the U.S. earned $278.6 billion in revenue in 2021. Led by market heavy-hitters such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, and Chick-Fil-A, the industry has adapted to the changing times and clearly continues to attract customers despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
2) There are 194,395 Fast Food Restaurants in the U.S. (source)
Fast food restaurants abound in the U.S. In 2019, there were approximately 194,395 quick service restaurants in the country, from ice cream parlors to pizza delivery joints to carry-out sandwich shops to, of course, major franchises like McDonalds.
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3) McDonald’s Owns 39,000 Locations (source)
McDonald’s sells its iconic menu in more than 119 markets worldwide, with more than 39,000 locations. It’s followed by Starbucks, which has a brand value of $47.7 billion compared to the McDonald’s chain’s $129.32 billion. Mashed.com reported that McDonald’s sells about 75 hamburgers every second!
4) 37% of U.S. Adults Consume Fast Food Every Day (source)
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, about a third of American adults eat fast food on any given day. That’s over 84 million people who reported that they had eaten fast food in the past 24 hours.
5) One Third of Children Eat Fast Food on a Daily Basis (source)
Like adults, 36% of youths between the ages of 2 and 19 consume fast food daily. Although younger generations have emphasized healthy eating, many children and adolescents continue to consume a majority of their daily calories from fast food. That percentage decreased from 14.1% in 2003–2004 to 10.6% in 2009–2010 — but then shot back up to 14.4% in 2017–2018.
6) 30% of Fast Food Restaurants are Offering Healthier Items on Kids’ Menus (source)
Popular fast food chains have made strides in the past 15 years, improving kids’ menus with more healthful options such as fruit and non-fried vegetables. By 2015, 30% of the restaurants were offering healthier options. Now the trick is to get the kids to choose the apples and not the fries!
7) A Fast Food Meal is 37% of Your Daily Calories (source)
While fast food may be an easy option when you’re in a rush, its nutritional content is definitely lacking. On average, a fast food meal is worth 37% of your daily calorie intake. It makes up 42.6% of your carb intake for the day, 33.6% of daily fat, and 15.4% of daily protein. That’s roughly 3 chicken tenders at KFC and maybe a sip of soda if you’re lucky.
8) 39% of People are Opting for Healthier Fast Foods (source)
According to a 2016 survey, 39 percent of respondents stated that healthy options play a major role when choosing a quick-service or fast-food restaurant. Restaurants like Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A have been lauded for their organic choices and use of low trans-fat ingredients.
9) McDonald’s Is Making Healthier Food (source)
In 2015, McDonald’s made a pledge to stop serving chicken raised on human antibiotics by 2017. The FDA has been cracking down on farmers and ranchers to reduce the use of antibiotics when raising livestock. Though this is a huge step for McDonald’s, they’re still behind the times, as Panera and Chipotle began shifting away from antibiotics over a decade ago.
In addition, McDonald’s has stopped serving buns made with high fructose corn syrup, and begun to limit the use of artificial preservatives in its food. Whether these ingredient changes are driven by the FDA or a shift in consumer needs, the chains are doing what it takes to stay competitive within the fast food market.
10) The Average Menu Item Is 12% Lower in Calories Than It was in 2013 (source)
The caloric content of a fast food meal is actually lower than it was in 2012. In 2013, fast food restaurants decreased their menu items’ calories by 12%, a 60-calorie average.
McDonald's kickstarted this movement in 2013, by making a pledge to improve their menu in 20 of the largest markets. This makes up 85% of their total sales (source). Though they announced that the menu changes would be finished by 2020, it's apparent that they’ve already made a huge impact on improving the fast food industry.
11) 3,450,120 People Worked in the Fast Food Industry in 2020 (source)
The fast food industry employed 3,450,120 people as of May 2020. Most of those workers live in California and Texas — that’s 384,890 and 380,090 fast food workers, respectively.
12) Plant-Based Food Market Retail Sales Grew 11% from 2018-2019 (source)
More restaurants are starting to accommodate vegan fast food options. In the U.S., retail sales of plant-based foods increased 11 percent from 2018 to 2019. This resulted in the plant-based market value hitting $4.5 billion.
13) Customers Continued Ordering Fast Food During COVID-19 (source)
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, customers continued going out for fast food. According to a survey, 88.5% of restaurant-goers cited pickup/drive-thru as their most common way of acquiring fast food. On the other hand, only eight percent of respondents said they commonly dined at fast food restaurants’ alternative seating areas.
14) Chipotle’s Digital Sales Grew over 200% During COVID-19 (source)
Fast food restaurants invested heavily in digital over the past year. Chipotle’s digital sales exploded to 216% during the second quarter of 2020 as compared to 2019, accounting for 61% of sales. While some restaurants are reopening in-person dining, digital pickup orders are still driving business.
15) Sonic’s Drive-Up/Drive-Through Model Saw Average-Unit Volume Increase to $1.6 million (source)
Drive-up and drive-through restaurants were hotter than ever, during a time that restaurant guests weren’t keen on dining in. Sonic was already primed for this business. And in the past year, restaurant chains like Pizza Hut and Chipotle got wise, redesigning a portion of stores with dedicated digital pick-up lanes dubbed “The Hut Lanes” and “Chipotlanes,” respectively.
Fast Food in 2021
The fast food industry is shifting rapidly, to accommodate how consumers choose to dine out now. Despite some speed bumps in 2020, the fast food industry has invested heavily in digital ordering, faster pickup, and updated menus that cater to today’s dining public. With this booming industry winning the business of over 50 million Americans daily, fast food is sure to continue on pace into the foreseeable future.