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Most popular chain restaurants in America

  • Most popular chain restaurants in America

    With the advent of Big Data, it's now easier than ever to quantify what people like around the globe. And when it comes to food, Americans seem to have specific opinions. American dining brands have a long and storied history, and whether they're fast food, fast-casual, high-end, or super cheap, U.S. restaurants offer something for almost everyone.

    What's clear about U.S. dining habits is that people love options. Restaurants across America are chock-full of variety, mixing ethnicities, food regions, and cultures into steaming melting pots of (often) fried deliciousness.

    Stacker was curious to learn the most favored dining establishments in America, so we turned to YouGov to find out. The ratings agency surveys people on a daily basis across a variety of areas—such as culture, politics, and business—to determine what people like, dislike, and might have no opinion on. YouGov's overall positive opinion scores represent the percentage of people who had a positive response out of those surveyed, and they are also broken down by generation — baby boomers, Gen X'ers, and millennials. And in case you're dubious about the findings, YouGov has surveyed more than 20 million people online since 2017, so the data set isn't exactly small.

    YouGov investigated the most popular dining brands in the country, and Stacker compiled the list to give readers context on the findings. Anyone reading the list will surely see some favorite eateries and classic go-to restaurants. Here, take a stroll through America's vast and divergent variety of restaurants.

    You may also like: Most fast food-friendly states in America

  • #50. Chuck E. Cheese's

    - Positive opinion score: 47%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 37%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 49%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 55%

    Chuck E. Cheese first opened in 1977 in San Jose, Calif., but the brand took off when it was acquired by ShowBiz Pizza in 1984. The pizza joint was the first restaurant of its kind to combine food, arcade games, and animatronic entertainment. Today, Chuck E. Cheese restaurants can be found all over the United States, where kids of all ages continue to throw big birthday parties at nearly 600 locations.

  • #49. White Castle

    - Positive opinion score: 47%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 47%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 49%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 45%

    Often considered the first fast food chain in the United States, White Castle is a hamburger joint that first opened in 1921 in Wichita, Kan., thanks to a man named Billy Ingram. The burger patties were famous for their square shape and cheap price, at 5 cents apiece. In 2004, the chain brand received a marketing shot in the arm when the movie “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” hit the big screen. Today, there are over 400 franchises across the Midwest and in some parts of the South, as well as a number in the New York metro region and a few in Nevada and Shanghai, though none in its original location of Wichita.

  • #48. Panda Express

    - Positive opinion score: 48%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 40%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 48%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 59%

    Anyone who has been to a mall food court will surely recognize the Panda Express logo, as it's nearly ubiquitous in shopping centers around the United States and beyond. The fast-casual Chinese chain was founded by Andrew and Peggy Cherng in 1983 and is known for its famous orange chicken. In 2016, the chain introduced the Chork, a hybrid of a fork and chopsticks to help less dexterous diners eat rice with a little more ease.

  • #47. Hardee's

    - Positive opinion score: 48%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 49%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 51%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 46%

    First opened by Wilber Hardee in North Carolina in 1960, Hardee's is a fast food chain that's known for its charbroiled hamburgers in thousands of locations across 44 states. When he wanted to expand the franchise, Hardee partnered with a couple of men in 1963 and then proceeded to lose his majority stake in the company during a drunken poker game. Though he was bought out entirely after that, the company name stuck, and Hardee's became a mainstay across the country.

  • #46. Starbucks

    - Positive opinion score: 49%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 38%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 52%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 61%

    The first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1971. The name comes from the first mate in the book “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. When Howard Schultz bought the brand in 1987, the chain eventually exploded into the biggest coffee empire in the world. Today, the company has more than 22,000 locations in nearly every country and sells a variety of sandwiches, pastries, and other goodies, in addition to its coffee products.

  • #45. Quiznos

    - Positive opinion score: 49%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 50%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 52%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 47%

    Founded in Denver by Jimmy Lambatos in 1981, Quiznos is a sub sandwich shop that earned its reputation for toasting its bread. Lambatos sold the business about 10 years later. At its peak, there were upwards of 5,000 locations around the world. The company was recently sold again to a private equity firm that hopes to turn the remaining 800 franchises into the sandwich juggernaut it once was.

  • #44. Ruby Tuesday

    - Positive opinion score: 49%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 51%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 50%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 43%

    Founded in 1972 in Knoxville, Tenn., Ruby Tuesday is a casual dining restaurant with primarily American-style cuisine consisting of fried appetizers, sandwiches, steaks, pastas, and burgers. The name Ruby Tuesday was derived from the Rolling Stones song of the same name, though there are no official ties to the band. Today there are more than 500 locations in America and around the globe. The original founder, Sandy Beall III, left the company in 2012.

  • #43. Golden Corral

    - Positive opinion score: 50%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 50%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 50%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 49%

    Golden Corral's stated mission is to “offer guests real, wholesome foods in a family-friendly atmosphere and at a great value.” Since 1973, when the restaurant opened in North Carolina, the company has done just that. The restaurant itself is a buffet-style eatery with American cuisine that consists of salads, pizzas, fried chicken, pot roasts, ribs, and more. Despite some health-related issues—norovirus and salmonella scares—Golden Corral has more than 400 locations around the United States.

  • #42. Hard Rock Cafe

    - Positive opinion score: 50%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 50%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 53%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 49%

    What started as a small themed restaurant in London in 1971 has since turned into a mega-franchise with nearly 200 cafés, more than two dozen hotels, and multiple casinos all over the world. Two Americans, Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, just wanted a good burger in the U.K., and when they couldn't find one, they started their own company. The cafés are renowned for their extensive collections of rock ‘n' roll memorabilia that hang on every free space in the restaurants, in addition to live music shows at many of the venues. The food generally consists of burgers, fries, sandwiches, steaks, and other American favorites.

  • #41. Waffle House

    - Positive opinion score: 51%
    --- Popularity among Baby Boomers: 50%
    --- Popularity among Gen X'ers: 53%
    --- Popularity among millennials: 53%

    Waffle House is one of the biggest franchises in the United States, consisting of 2,100 locations across 25 states. The first Waffle House launched in Avondale Estates, Ga., where partners Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner opened their restaurant on Labor Day of 1955. Every Waffle House is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and serves reasonably priced waffles (of course), as well as omelets, melts, steak and eggs, burgers, and sandwiches.

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