The top 10 restaurant companies in the world—from McDonald's to Domino's Pizza—are mostly chain operations. Despite the cyclical nature of discretionary restaurant spending, some companies have positioned themselves to weather all types of economic cycles, maintaining consistent profitable growth over the long term. 

These companies are listed by descending market capitalization and are the largest restaurant companies in the world.

Key Takeaways

  • McDonald's is the world's largest fast-food restaurant company.
  • Yum! Brands and its spin-off, Yum China, operate KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell franchises, among others.
  • Starbuck's and China's Luckin Coffee have the largest market values among coffee chains.
  • Chipotle and Darden Restaurants operate some of the world's largest fast-casual, casual, and fine dining restaurants.

1. McDonald's

  • Founded: 1940
  • Headquarters: Chicago

McDonald’s (MCD) was founded in San Bernardino, California, and is probably one of the most iconic corporations in the world. It has staked its claim in the industry through its affordable food and lightning-fast service, menu items, and strategic marketing.

It is the largest fast-food restaurant chain in the world, with more than 37,000 locations in about 120 countries. McDonald's is also one of the largest private employers and serves almost 70 million people worldwide. As of Mar. 31, 2020, the company had a market capitalization of $122.9 billion. For the 2019 fiscal year, McDonald's $6 billion on revenue of $21.1 billion.

McDonald's took decisive steps to improve its operations, which included re-franchising 4,000 locations and reducing selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) by $500 million per year. Management also said the company can increase its franchisee penetration in China to 25%.

2. Starbucks

  • Founded: 1971
  • Headquarters: Seattle

Starbucks (SBUX) is the world's leading coffee retailer, with more than 30,000 stores globally and a $77.2 billion market cap as of Mar. 31, 2020. The company sells high-quality coffees, teas, and other beverages, along with a variety of fresh food items. For the 2019 fiscal year, the company reported revenue of $26.5 billion.

Starbucks created a reinvigorated food and beverage menu, as well as improved store designs, to improve customer experience. Management also believes the company is well-positioned to adapt to evolving consumer behaviors, thanks to branding that transcends channels with digital, social media, and loyalty programs.

Starbucks is constantly developing a compelling story of domestic growth through new store formats, such as express stores, beverage trucks, and drive-throughs. All of its locations are company-owned because it does not follow a franchise model and doesn't plan on doing so in the foreseeable future.

3. Yum! Brands

  • Founded: 1997
  • Headquarters: Louisville, Kentucky

Formerly called Tricon Global Restaurants, Yum! Brands (YUM) is the largest quick-service restaurant company in the world, with more than 50,000 restaurants in 150 countries. The company is known for its franchise chains KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and WingStreet. The majority of the company's locations are franchised, with roughly 2,900 locations being company-owned. Yum! employs more than 34,000 people around the world.

The company is part of the Fortune 500, taking the 494th spot in 2019. The company had a market cap of $20.6 billion as of Mar. 31, 2020. It earned $1.3 billion in net income on $5.6 billion in revenue for the full year ending 2019.

4. Restaurant Brands International

  • Founded: 2014
  • Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Restaurant Brands International (QSR) is among the largest global quick-service restaurant chains. It was established by a high-profile merger of Burger King and Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons in 2014 worth $12.5 billion. Following its purchase of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2017, the company operates more than 25,000 locations and employs 6,000 people. 

It is 51% owned by Brazilian investment company 3G Capital and shares trade on both the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The company's market value was roughly $12 billion as of Mar. 31, 2020. In 2019, the company reported net income of $1.3 billion on revenue of $5.6 billion.

5. Chipotle Mexican Grill

  • Founded: 1993
  • Headquarters: Newport Beach, California

Chipotle (CMG) was founded in Denver with a simple idea—that food served fast did not have to provide the standard, often lower quality, fast-food experience. The restaurant was one of the first fast-casual dining chains. It has a simple, customizable menu featuring naturally raised and organic products.

The company has more than 2,500 locations in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, and Germany, and employs more than 64,000 people. McDonald's became a major investor in the company when it was founded but fully divested itself in 2006.

Sourcing from local ranchers and farmers gives Chipotle Mexican Grill more influence with suppliers than its larger competitors.

Chipotle earned $5.6 billion in sales in 2019, making it the leader in the Mexican food category and a large player in the overall $40 billion fast-food sectors. The market cap was more than $18.2 billion as of Mar. 31, 2020.

6. Yum China Holdings

  • Founded: 2016
  • Headquarters: Shanghai

Spun off by Yum! Brands in 2016, Yum China (YUMC) is a Fortune 500 company incorporated in the United States but headquartered in Shanghai. It operates 9,200 locations in 1,300 cities across mainland China. It has a workforce of 450,000 employees.

Yum China is publicly-traded with a market cap of $16 billion as of Mar. 31, 2020. The company reported revenue of $8.8 billion and a net income of $713 million for the full year of 2019.

7. Darden Restaurants

  • Founded: 1938
  • Headquarters: Orlando, Florida

Darden Restaurants (DRI) owns and operates several casual and fine dining restaurant brands including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s, and Yard House.

The company implemented a number of structural and operational changes under its chief executive officer (CEO) Gene Lee, who took over in 2015. Darden has more than 1,500 locations and a $6.6 billion market cap as of Mar. 31, 2020. The restaurant chain reported sales of $8.5 billion in 2019 and also added 39 new restaurants during the year.

8. Luckin Coffee

  • Founded: 2017
  • Headquarters: Beijing

Based in Xiamen, China, Luckin Coffee (LK) has seen rapid growth since it was first established. The company reported more than 6,500 locations in China, most of which are small booths that offer pickup and delivery of customer orders.

The stock trades in the U.S. on the Nasdaq and saw an impressive run from May 2019 lows to early 2020, more than tripling in value. The market cap reached about $6.9 billion as of Mar. 31, 2020. In November 2019, the company reported third-quarter revenue of $208.9 million.

9. Domino's Pizza

  • Founded: 1960
  • Headquarters: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Domino's Pizza (DPZ) is the largest pizza company in the world, with more than 16,000 stores. Domino's offers a wide range of choices for pizza products, such as traditional hand-tossed pizza, Brooklyn-style pizza, and pizza with crunchy, thick crusts.

The company underwent a successful rebranding in 2013, which is one of the causes of positive revenue growth since then. Domino's increased its margins with complementary items such as oven-baked sandwiches, pasta, boneless chicken and wings, chocolate cakes, and soft drinks. Management's long-term growth plan is to increase global retail sales through a combination of higher same-store sales and new openings.

As of Mar. 31, 2020, the company's market cap is $12.7 billion. Domino's reported net income of $400.7 million on revenue of $3.6 billion.

10. Dunkin' Brands

  • Founded: 2004
  • Headquarters: Canton, Massachusetts

Dunkin' Brands Group (DNKN) is a holding company best known for owning and running coffee chain Dunkin' Donuts and ice cream and cake shop Baskin Robbins. It has more than 12,000 Dunkin' Donuts and 7,800 Baskin-Robbins franchises around the globe. Mainly known as a doughnut and coffee chain, Dunkin' Donuts has expanded its service and menu items, such as adding breakfast sandwiches, bakery sandwiches, and frozen and iced beverages.

Franchisees own all the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins locations, providing an annuity-like stream of royalties to Dunkin' Brands Group. Each restaurant provides average cash returns of almost 20%, which should attract a large base of new franchise owners. Dunkin' Brands believes that it can double the number of its U.S. stores from 8,300 to 17,000.

As of Mar. 31, 2020, the company had a market capitalization of $4.4 billion. Revenue for the full year of 2019 came in a $1.4 billion, with net income reported of $242 million.