When it comes to opening a restaurant, it's a cutthroat industry with lots of competition, rules and regulations - and a lot of people-pleasing. Coming up with unique dishes that will taste amazing and will guarantee a large, regular customer base is a challenging endeavor. Plus, trying to stay above water and make a profit with one restaurant is quite an adventure. However, if the culinary cards are played right, there's an opportunity to turn your family restaurant business into a chain; a recognized name, operating in several locations. That is, in fact, how most of the world’s most popular restaurants began.
It's a common lament the world over - but particularly from our European friends - that the world is becoming 'Americanised', and it's true that many of the most popular chain restaurants to hit international expansion are US-based. It seems that the world has embraced the American cuisine - even when they’re trying to pull off Asian dishes or Ozzy cuisine. It might be a surprise to some of our readers that some of the most popular American chain restaurants have a strong presence in the Middle East and Latin America, so should you be an American seeking a “taste of home” while you’re traveling internationally, your national favourites are never too far away. Or if you’re from another country and wondering what the Americans are eating nowadays, you can likely find out first-hand by popping into a local chain diner. Of course, given how delicious some of these foods are, it's no surprise that the restaurants are so popular - or that the Americans are so morbidly obese.
When people think of popular chain restaurants, they might think of fast food chains like McDonald’s or Subway, but those fast food restaurants are now such banal multinational conglomerates that we didn't see fit to put them on the list. Instead, we've compiled a list of the ten most popular chain restaurants - restaurants where you sit down and dine over delicious food, rather than through a drive-thru or a takeaway service. Some of the restaurants on the list may surprise you, as it proves there’s apparently no such thing as a country immune to Americanisation - at least when it comes to the U.S. conquering the international dining industry.
10 P.F. Chang’s - $942.6 Million
P.F. Chang's has a value of $4.48 million per restaurant location around the world - including the Middle East, Canada, South America, and the Philippines. The restaurant was founded in 1993 with the first location opening in Scottsdale, Arizona. As of July 2012, the chain was no longer publicly held as Centerbridge Partners purchased the chain in a $1.1 billion dollar deal. The restaurant specializes in Chinese-American dishes and owns the chain franchise, Pei-Wei. In the United States alone, P.F. Chang’s has made over $924 million in sales and is one of the largest Asian-themed culinary establishments.
9 LongHorn Steakhouse – $1.22 Billion
With a value of $3.01 million per restaurant, LongHorn Steakhouse was founded in 1981 and specializes in grilled chicken, steak, and seafood. Primarily a casual dining establishment with a Western/Texan theme, LongHorn is a part of Darden Restaurants and has over 350 locations in 35 states, headquartered in Orlando, Florida. Internationally, LongHorn Steakhouse has locations in the Middle East and Latin America. With their recent expansion - adding a lunch menu that includes soups and salads - LongHorn Steakhouse opened their doors to more money-making opportunities.
8 Texas Roadhouse - $1.53 Billion
Is it hard to imagine that a restaurant called “Texas Roadhouse” would be even remotely successful outside the state of Texas? Probably, unless you’re in the Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or the United Arab Emirates. Texas Roadhouse was founded in 1993 by Kent Taylor in Clarksville, Indiana and primarily serves steak with a Western theme. The restaurant has over 400 locations in the United States and several other chains in the Middle Eastern countries mentioned - making $4.09 million each. Texas Roadhouse has a total of $1.5 billion in system-wide sales. If you like peanuts, steak, and margaritas, Texas Roadhouse is the place to be.
7 The Cheesecake Factory - $1.6 Billion
The Cheesecake Factory is one of the largest upscale casual dining restaurants to have come out of the United States. The restaurant was founded in 1978, and only started their international expansion in 2012 with three locations in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. By 2016, the restaurant hopes to expand further in Bahrain, Qatar, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Each restaurant location makes about $10.1 million a year, far outstripping the previous entries on our list despite limited international expansion. With their fine entrees and multiple choices of cheesecake, The Cheesecake Factory is the go-to place for holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. Recently, Forbes names the restaurant chain as one of the best 100 companies to work for.
6 T.G.I. Fridays - $1.82 Billion
T.G.I. Fridays was founded in New York City in 1965. It was one of the first casual dining restaurants to open an international franchise - launching in Birmingham, England in 1986. The restaurant chain is privately owned by the Carlson hospitality company and while the individual restaurants have a lower value than some of our previous entries - each restaurant has an average value of $3.3 million - it's one of the most widespread food chains in the world. T.G.I. Fridays has locations in Latin America, France, the U.K. and Ireland, and the Netherlands - just to name a few. Certainly, T.G.I. Fridays raised the bar and set the standard for chain restaurants that have their sights on international expansion.
5 Outback Steakhouse - $2.39 Billion
This Ozzy themed restaurant is one of the largest casual dining chains in restaurant history with a value of $3.10 million per restaurant. They're owned by Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. who also own Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Chris Sullivan founded this restaurant chain in 1988 in Florida, and today they have over 1200 locations internationally with locations in Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America. And although Outback had a rough beginning with its Canadian cousins, which saw the closure of nine Ontario locations, they later reopened chains in Niagara Falls and Edmonton.
4 Red Lobster - $2.54 Billion
Bill Darden and Charley Woodsby founded Red Lobster in 1968 in Lakeland, Florida. In 1970, General Mills acquired Red Lobster and helped the chain grow significantly - it went on to open its first international chain in Canada. In 1995, General Mills released Red Lobster from their contract and the restaurant joined the Darden Restaurants Corporation. Along with Canada, Red Lobster also has locations in Qatar, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. But what makes Red Lobster so profitable besides their cheddar biscuits? In 2012, Red Lobster went through a major menu revamp that now includes non-seafood items so that they can appeal to a wider audience. Each location makes around $3.74 million per restaurant.
3 Chili’s Grill and Bar- $3.56 Billion
This popular chain restaurant was founded in 1975 by Larry Lavine. Chili’s is a part of Brinker International, Inc. located in Dallas, Texas, and they happen to also own the restaurant Maggiano’s Little Italy. With over 1,200 restaurant locations and international locations in 33 countries valued around $2.79 million per restaurant, Chili’s has seen a total gross of $3.56 billion. Contributing to Chili’s popularity around the around the world is their wide variety of food from pizza, to burgers, to wraps. No matter what you’re in the mood for, it seems that Chili’s has it.
2 Olive Garden - $3.65 Billion
Despite seeing declining sales in 2013, Olive Garden still holds the number two spot for the value of $4.55 million per restaurant and over $3.65 billion in total sales. The chain is owned by Darden Restaurants and was founded in 1982. The restaurant specializes in Italian-American cuisines such as pasta, chicken, salads, and seafood. While the menu items are pricey, it doesn’t stop the chain from maintaining their 800+ locations all over the world. According to Darden Restaurants, the majority of the international locations are in the Middle East and Latin America, and they're hoping to soon open a series of chains in Asia.
1 Applebee’s - $4.5 Billion
With over 1800 locations in the United States, Applebee’s is a casual dining restaurant headquartered in Glendale, California. Applebee's is owned by a company called DineEquity, created in 2007 after IHOP acquired Applebee’s. Just in US sales alone, Applebee’s has seen over $4 billion dollars in total and the numbers keep climbing - each restaurant is valued at an average of $2.39 million. The Americanized casual dining restaurant currently has international chains located in the UAE, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, Qatar, and Mexico. And in every country listed, there are several restaurants; indicating that Applebee’s has the potential to keep on conquering the culinary world.