There are numerous fast food restaurants and even with the economic downturn it seems as if they continue expanding. Here are the top 5 fast food restaurants  ranked by number of sales in the United States. As many fast food chains continue to expand there are still locations that get closed up and shuttered, even among successful fast food chains.

As fast food restaurants continue to grow rapidly with new locations, some of the locations have proven to be a poor business decision so to increase overall profits these underperforming stores are shut down even as new stores are opened up in new locations. With all of the changes some of the biggest chains continue to grow at a rapid pace, especially in newer Countries. Here are the top 5 fast food restaurants in 2012 as ranked by total sales.

1.  McDonald’s

Mcdonalds(108287)Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/golf_pictures/3939315470/

McDonalds was the largest fast food chain in the United States for many years, but has been overtook by Subway. Although Subway now has more locations then McDonald’s in the United States, McDonald’s is still much more profitable. The revenue in 2011 for McDonald’s was astounding and allowed them to continue to be the leader in sales among fast food chains; however their customer satisfaction has took a hit and surveys show that McDonald’s ranks very poorly among consumers for satisfaction.

McDonald’s continues to innovate and create new products that have both a large mass appeal to their customers and a larger profit margin. The economic frailty in the United States has actually allowed McDonald’s to remain successful and money strapped people continue to visit McDonald’s for their low-cost value menu.

2. Subway

SubwayCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominik/6149979016/

Subway may not make as much money as McDonald’s does, they do have more locations and customer satisfaction surveys have shown that Subway is very popular. Subway ranks second in overall sales but they were voted as America’s favorite fast food chain by consumers. Customers flock to Subway for many reasons including the “$5.00 Footlongs”; it is viewed as a healthier alternative to other greasy fast food joints, the easy availability of a Subway location regardless of where you live or travel to, and the variety of sandwiches that can be had.

3. Starbucks

Starbucks(108291)Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/1882938710/

Traditionally many people view Starbucks as simply an over-priced coffee house, but they also sell a lot of food and snacks. Even though the vast majority of their sales are beverages, they still managed to sell enough to put them into the number 3 spot for most revenue for a food chain in the United States. Customer loyalty among Starbucks customers is amazingly high and many of their customers make a daily stop to Starbucks as part of their ritual.

4. Wendy’s

WendysCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calgaryreviews/5557866564/

Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers have consistently ranked in third place as the largest burger chain. McDonald’s is obviously number 1 but Wendy’s was finally able to overtake Burger King and become the second largest burger chain in the United States behind McDonald’s.

Starbucks beat out Wendy’s by 1 and a ¼ billion in revenue. 1 and a ¼ billion in revenue may seem like a lot but in the world of fast food a ¼ billion is very close.  Wendy’s may not be able to overtake Starbucks in sales this year; however Wendy’s continues to expand and a safe pace. Wendy’s may never overtake McDonalds in the amount of total revenue earned but Wendy’s definitely beats McDonald’s in customer satisfaction surveys.

Wendy's also got rid of their plain tasting french fries and moved onto a much better tasting french fry.

5. Burger King

Burger King(108297)Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dahlstroms/5360767942/

The flame broiled Whoppers at Burger King continue to be very popular each year, but same store sales over the previous year dropped at many locations. Many of the stores are outdated and Burger King has been working hard at modernizing many of their locations with the new style of store. Although Burger King Remains a very profitable and successful company overall but the “King” was dethroned by Wendy’s and they snuck ahead of them in sales for the first time. Burger King is working hard to increase same store sales and catch back up to Wendy’s, but they will have a very hard time doing this. Consumers are generally very happy with Wendy’s and the Wendy's fast food chain continues to increase their customer base. Wendy’s has long been a popular spot for senior citizens but their new-found popularity with 18-35 year olds has allowed Wendy’s to siphon off  a lot of business from Burger King. Traditionally the 18-35 demographics preferred Burger King over Wendy’s but this has rapidly changed over the last couple of years and younger people are now eating more at Wendy’s and less at Burger King than ever before.

Innovation

All fast food companies continue to innovate and create new marketing campaigns, new products, and new store designs to help draw customers in. Innovation in the fast food industry continues to increase at a historic rate, especially when one restaurant does something that becomes popular and then the other chains copy the idea and implement something similar.

Although all of the most popular fast food chain restaurants will continue to expand and grow, as mentioned above many under-performing stores will be closed up. Successful fast food restaurants want to continue increasing their profit margins and by closing stores that are losing money and opening up stores in new areas they increase their profit potential while limiting the risks involved in their overall business plans.

Fast food chains constantly need to adapt to changing customer desires such as healthier food that still tastes good, but fast food chains always need to keep long-time customer favorites such as McDonald’s and their Big Mac burger sandwich.

What is your favorite fast food chain? Please leave a comment and share your opinions on which places you like and why you like them.