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, managing to maintain profitable growth over the long term consistently. These companies—listed by descending market capitalization—are the largest restaurant companies in the world. (Note: All numeric figures and rankings updated Jan. 22, 2020)

Key Takeaways

  • McDonald's, which originally sold hot-dogs rather than hamburgers, is by far the largest restaurant company in the world and has a market cap of more than $150 billion.
  • Yum! Brands and Yum China, which was spun off from Yum! Brands in 2016, are among the two biggest restaurant companies.
  • Among coffee chains, Starbuck's and China's Luckin Coffee have the largest market values.
  • Darden Restaurants, Chipotle, and Restaurant Brands are among the biggest players in the restaurant industry as well.

McDonald's

McDonald’s Corporation (MCD) is the largest fast-food restaurant chain in the world, with more than 37,000 locations in more than 115 countries and employing over 200,000 workers. It stands far above the rest with a market value of $159 billion. McDonald’s has staked its claim in the industry through its affordable food and lightning-fast service.

With CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm in 2015, McDonald's took decisive steps to improve its operations, which included re-franchising 4,000 locations and reducing selling, general, and administrative (SG&A) expenses by of $500 million per year. Management also said that the company can increase its franchisee penetration in China to 25%.

Starbucks

Starbucks Corporation (SBUX) is the world's leading coffee retailer, with more than 27,000 stores globally and a $109 billion market cap. The company sells high-quality coffees, teas, and other beverages, along with a variety of fresh food items. 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. The company does not follow a franchise model.

Yum! Brands

Formerly called Tricon Global Restaurants, Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM) is the largest quick-service restaurant company in the world, with more than 43,000 restaurants across 125 countries. The company is known for its franchise chains KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and WingStreet. Roughly 2,800 of the restaurants are company-owned, and the remainder are franchised. Yum! Brands is in the Fortune 500 and has a market cap approaching $32 billion.

Restaurant Brands International

Restaurant Brands International, Inc. (QSR) is the third-largest global quick-service restaurant chain created by a high-profile merger of Burger King and Tim Horton's franchise brands in 2014. The Canadian company was expanded to include Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2017. It now 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 and the New York Stock Exchange. The company's market value is more than $30 billion.

Chipotle Mexican Grill 

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) was created with a simple idea that food served fast did not have to provide the standard—often lower quality—fast-food experience. It has a simple, customizable menu featuring naturally raised and organic products.

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

Chipotle earns more than $5 billion in sales annually, making it the leader in the Mexican food category and a large player in the overall $40 billion fast-food sectors. It operates in more than 2,500 locations and employs 65,000 workers. The market cap is more than $24 billion.

Yum China Holdings

Spun off by Yum! Brands in 2016, Yum China Holdings is a Fortune-500 company that was incorporated in the United States but headquartered in Shanghai, China. It is a publicly-traded company with a $17 billion market cap. It operates 4,400 stores in 1,100 cities across mainland China. It has a workforce of 450,000 employees.

Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI) owns and operates several dining restaurant brands, such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s, and Yard House. Darden has recently implemented a number of structural and operational changes under its CEO, Gene Lee, who took over in 2015. It has more than 1,500 locations and a $13.9 billion market cap.

Luckin Coffee

Based in Xiamen, China, Luckin Coffee (LK) has seen rapid growth since it was founded in Oct. 2017. It has roughly 4,300 outlets in China, and most are small booths that offer pickup and delivery of customer orders. The stock trades in the U.S. and saw an impressive run from May 2019 lows to early 2020, more than tripling in value. The market cap had reached more than $12 billion by late 2019.

Domino's Pizza

Domino's Pizza Inc. (DPZ) is the largest pizza company in the world, with more than 11,600 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. Domino's has also 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 grow global retail sales through a combination of higher same-store sales and new openings. The company underwent a successful rebranding in 2013, which is one of the causes of positive revenue growth since then. The market cap is $11.7 billion.

Dunkin' Brands

Dunkin' Brands Group, Inc. (DNKN) is a holding company with a $6.5 billion market capitalization. It has more than 11,000 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.