Restaurants become franchises because their food is so delicious that their popularity fuels an expansion. They’re also a symbol of the American dream, with interesting and triumphant success stories from humble beginnings.
A remarkable aspect of the US’s multicultural population is that restaurants run the gamut of culinary traditions.
Franchises always strive to maintain the integrity of their flagship restaurant’s principles and food so that you can expect consistency wherever you may be in the US or abroad.
There are countless restaurant franchises, from burger joints to family-style restaurants with locations and a fan following around the globe.
Whether you’re looking for a healthy snack, a decadent ice cream cone, or a piping hot pizza, you’re bound to find a franchise that fulfills your craving.
I have compiled the below list of the best restaurant franchises for you to explore, giving you plenty of options for your next breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack run.
Chick-Fil-A is one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the United States. My local Chick-Fil-A constantly has long lines, even though it’s been there for a long time.
This popularity is part of why Chick-Fil-A is a great choice if you’re considering franchising a fast food restaurant.
Chick-Fil-A’s initial franchising fee is $10,000, which is actually very low compared to most others.
The low entry fee means that a lot of people apply, and it’s not as easy to be selected.
The catch, however, is that Chick-Fil-A franchisees are consider restaurant “operators”, not “owners.” This means that you don’t own your location, and you can’t sell it once you want to retire.
The good news is, Chick-Fil-A franchise operators earn an average of around $200,000 annually, which is a great salary!
Chick-Fil-A is famous for its chicken focused menu, with lots of options for kids and adults.
Domino’s Pizza is one of the largest fast-food pizza franchises in the world, with over 17000 locations worldwide.
Domino’s creation story is a charming success story of brothers James and Tom Monaghan taking over a small-town Michigan pizzeria known as DomiNick’s in 1960.
Seeing Domino’s as a side-gig, James sold his half of the business to Tom for the price of a Volkswagen delivery van in 1965.
Little did they know, Domino’s Pizza would become a household name for fast, delicious pizza delivery.
Today, Domino’s offers a relatively low starting franchise fee of $25,000. The average cost to open a Domino’s franchise is estimated to be around $150,000 on the low end, up to $500,000 on the higher end.
Franchise owners have reported great profitability, however, with an average salary of $95,000. Popular franchises make even more!
Domino’s Pizza offers a wide variety of pizzas and crusts along with appetizers, subs, baked pasta, salads, and desserts. I’m a thin-crust fan, so I order their thin-crust Feta and Spinach Pie, cut into squares.
Named for founder Anne Beiler who began selling baked goods at a Pennsylvania farmer’s market stand in 1988, Auntie Anne’s is now a wildly successful chain of baked pretzel and lemonade counters.
Auntie Anne’s uses Beiler’s original, award-winning recipe to create the delectable dough for their freshly baked pretzels.
Over the past three decades, Auntie Anne’s has grown to include over 1200 locations.
To franchise an Auntie Anne’s, the original franchise fee is $35,500. Building fees range from $27,000 to $194,000 depending on various factors, and there are other costs to consider as well.
The menu at Auntie Anne’s features a variety of sweet and savory baked pretzels in various forms, from the classic pretzel shape to bite-sized stuffed nuggets.
The menu also includes a variety of dipping sauces and lemonade variations. I love their Frozen Lemonade to accompany a Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel Dog.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Originating in Destin, Florida, in 1997, Tropical Smoothie Café has expanded to over 1000 franchises in the US.
The founders and owners of Tropical Smoothie Café were already established restauranteurs, which accounts for its rapid expansion over the past 20+ years.
The original franchise fee to open a Tropical Smoothie is $30,000, not considering other costs. The average investment cost total is around $400,000.
As of 2021, the average profitability for Tropical Smoothie franchises was $1,009,803.
Tropical Smoothie Cafés have bright, vibrant, tropical décor and serve multiple varieties of smoothies with a health-conscious philosophy.
They set themselves apart from the competition by offering a full food menu with wraps, sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, and quesadillas.
Both smoothies and food assume a tropical theme, offering flavors and ingredients from Latin America and Southeast Asia.
I thought their Avocolada Smoothie with lime, avocado, pineapple, spinach, kale, and coconut was creative and delicious.
Apart from being the most popular franchise in the world, McDonald’s is also one of the oldest.
Opened in 1940 in California, McDonald’s started as a full restaurant, offering steaks and other American classics.
Owners Richard and Maurice McDonald noticed that their most popular menu items were burgers and fries, so they decided to transform their restaurant into a burger stand.
Over 80 years later, McDonald’s has close to 40,000 restaurants worldwide.
Today, the cost of entry to franchise a McDonald’s is high, but it’s also highly rewarding.
The original franchise fee is $45,000, but the total costs to open a new franchise is estimated to be over 1 million dollars.
That being said, the average McDonald’s locations rakes in approximately $2.7 million each year in sales, and franchise owners are expected to make around $150,000 in salary.
Their menu offers the tried-and-true classics like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, and chicken nuggets.
However, I’m a bigger fan of their breakfasts, namely the Egg McMuffin and their perfectly crispy hashbrowns.
Dunkin Donuts started as a friendly Massachusetts neighborhood coffee and donut shop in 1950, quickly becoming a popular franchise with 100 locations by the 60s.
Today, Dunkin Donuts has 13,000 locations in the US and abroad.
The starting franchise fee to open a Dunkin ranges from $40,000 to $90,000 depending on your location. Total costs are estimated to be around $1 to $1.7 million dollars.
That being said, a franchise owner typically makes $124,000 annually on average, so if you can afford the upfront costs you will have a profitable business on your hands.
Dunkin Donuts has always had delicious coffee, so they capitalized on its popularity by roasting and packaging their beans to sell at grocery stores.
I head to Dunkin for an Iced Macchiato and a Blueberry Cobbler donut if I ever need a pick-me-up.
Del Taco is an Americanized Mexican food stand that started in the 1960s selling 19-cent tacos and 24-cent burgers.
The novelty of a Mexican American fast-food joint launched a rapid expansion of Del Tacos that today have 600 locations in the West, South, and Midwest.
To open your own Del Taco location, you can expect an initial franchise fee of $35,000, with a total investment range from $800,000 to $2 million dollars.
The average Del Taco rakes in $1.62 million in annual sales, however, leaving a good salary for franchisees!
Del Taco’s menu still offers the cheapest deals, dedicating an entire section to under-2 dollar items.
They have added crispy chicken, tostadas, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos to the menu. I love that they make their guacamole to order. It makes for the freshest burritos.
I always go for the Epic Fresh Guacamole Burrito with carne asada, slow-cooked beans, cilantro-lime rice, and pico de gallo.
Opened in 1945 by Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins, Baskin Robbins is a beloved ice cream shop with over 8000 locations in 50 different countries.
To franchise a Baskin Robbins, you’ll have to pay an initial franchise fee of $25,000, but the total investment may range from $94,000 to $200,000 depending on location and other factors.
Franchise units profits range from $420,000 to $1.4 million, so franchise owners are expected to earn somewhere between $84,000 to 280,000, making this a worthwhile investment when managed smartly!
Baskin Robbins was a pioneer in the ice cream flavor industry, owing to the owner’s ingenuity and experimentation with adding different ingredients.
Baskin Robbins based their entire marketing scheme on their flavor diversity with their 31-flavor campaign where they asserted that customers could try a different flavor each day of the month.
Most of us grew up on Baskin Robbins as a special after-school treat.
I still try to find excuses to grab a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip, my two favorite flavors.
Friendlys is a smaller franchise found along the East Coast and founded by the Blake brothers in 1935 as an ice cream shop.
Today, Friendlys has expanded the concept to a family-friendly traditional American restaurant and ice cream shop.
The initial franchise fee for opening a Friendly’s is $35,000, but the total investment may range from $140,000 to $1.9 million depending on various factors.
Profits vary, but one plus is that there is a lot of open territory available for Friendly’s restaurants. They are also under new ownership, with optimistic plans for the future of the business.
They also mass produce their ice-cream flavors, selling pints of their signature flavors online.
Friendlys separates the ice cream shop from the restaurant by providing a separate drive-thru window for ice cream.
I recommend stopping in for a classic Lobster Roll dinner and heading to the ice cream window on your way out. My favorite flavor is the Hunka Chunka PB Fudge.