Top 23 Burger Franchises: AUV, Costs & Stats (2023)

If you’re considering getting into the burger restaurant industry, buying a franchise can be a great option. Yet, which franchise should you choose? There are a number of burger franchises you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons.

In this article we are giving you our top 13 picks of the best burger franchises in the US.

For each we’re giving you the key financials: the average initial investment cost and Average Unit Volume (AUV). Also, if you want to dig deeper, you’ll find the links to our complete review for each franchise below.

FranchiseUS franchised unitsInvestmentAUVNet worthLiquid capital
McDonald's12,7751,908,0003,328,000500,000500,000
Burger King7,0541,243,0001,216,0001,500,000500,000
Wendy’s5,5351,375,0001,791,0001,000,000500,000
Sonic Drive-In Restaurants3,3231,467,0001,617,0001,000,000500,000
Jack in the Box2,0552,196,0001,756,0001,000,000250,000
Hardee's1,5501,759,0001,148,0001,000,000300,000
Carl’s Jr.1,0181,860,0001,420,0001,000,000500,000
Five Guys911511,0001,203,000500,000250,000
Checkers and Rally’s568838,0001,040,000750,000250,000
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers3911,453,0001,793,0001,000,000400,000
Johnny Rockets127868,000969,0001,500,000500,000
BurgerFI92821,0001,135,0001,000,000500,000
MOOYAH82634,000841,0001,000,000500,000

McDonald’s

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
12,775$1,908,000$3,328,000

McDonald’s is a global fast-food franchise that is best known for its burgers, fries, and other menu items. The company was founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California, and is currently headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

McDonald’s started franchising in 1955, and since then, the brand has expanded to become one of the largest franchisors in the world.

As of 2021, there are over 39,000 McDonald’s restaurants in over 100 countries, with more than 13,000 of those locations in the United States. Of those 13,000 locations in the US, roughly 95% are franchised.

McDonald’s has been known for its consistent branding and menu offerings, as well as its iconic marketing campaigns such as the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle. Despite facing increased competition in recent years, McDonald’s remains a popular choice for consumers looking for quick and convenient meals. The brand has also been actively working to incorporate healthier options into its menu in response to changing consumer preferences.


Burger King

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
7,054$1,243,000$1,216,000

Burger King is a leading American multinational fast-food chain restaurant known for its signature hamburger and related fast food treats.

the chain was founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle Matthew Burns, then known as Insta-Burger King.

The chain store serves hamburgers, French fries, soft drinks, milkshakes, and desserts. Additionally, it offers whopping chicken sandwiches, non-beef items such as chicken and fish, and vegetarian offerings, including salads and meatless sandwiches.

Burger King started franchising in 1954 under the Burger King Corporation, headquartered in Miami, Florida.Today, it has more than 19,250 units in over 100 countries worldwide, including 7,000 in the US alone.


Wendy’s

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
5,535$1,375,000$1,791,000

Wendy’s is a leading international fast-food chain with over 7,000 stores in the US and 30 countries worldwide.

It serves chicken sandwiches, French fries, salads, and desserts like the ice cream-based Frosty in addition to its famous old-fashioned hamburgers, which are square and made of fresh ground beef patties served on circular buns.

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, the food chain was founded by Thomas Dave in 1969.

Wendy’s franchising journey began in 1972 when LS Hartzog became the company’s first franchisee. Today, the chain store is the third-largest hamburger fast-food restaurant in the world after Burger King and MacDonald’s.


Sonic Drive-In Restaurants

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
3,323$1,467,000$1,617,000

Founded in 1953, but incorporated in 1990, Sonic Drive-In is an American drive-in fast food chain restaurant. Currently, the brand is owned by Inspire Brands.

The restaurant chain offers French fries and hamburgers along with chili dogs, corn dogs, onion rings, soft drinks, milkshakes, slushes, floats, and sundaes. The company has 3,551 outlets operating in the United States but has no international presence.


Jack in the Box

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
2,055$2,196,000$1,756,000

Jack in the Box is an American fast food restaurant chain known for its signature “Jumbo Jack” burger and a waffle breakfast sandwich.

Headquartered in San Diego, California Jack in the Box was founded in 1951 by Robert O. Peterson.

It serves a variety of chicken tenders and French fries. Also, it offers hamburgers, cheeseburger sandwiches, and international-themed foods such as tacos and egg rolls.

Jack in the Box began franchising in 1982 under the brand name Jack in the Box, Inc. Today, it has grown steadily and has more than 2,100 stores in the US and globally today. The vast majority of these stores are franchise-owned (1,940 in 2021).


Hardee’s

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
1,550$1,759,000$1,148,000

Hardee’s franchise is an American fast-food chain with more than 1,720 locations located throughout the Southeastern and Midwestern United States.

The chain store was founded in 1960 by Wilber Hardee, with its headquarters in Greenville, North Carolina.

It is best known for its 100% Black Angus Thickburger sandwiches, hand-breaded chicken tenders, made-from-scratch biscuits, and other related quick-serve menu items.

Hardee’s started its franchising journey in 1961. Today, the chain is operated by CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc. (“CKE”) which is headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee.

The chain has also expanded massively since its founding. As of today, Hardee’s franchise has over 3,800 franchised and company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 43 foreign countries.


Carl’s Jr.

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
1,018$1,860,000$1,420,000

Carl’s Jr. is an American fast-food restaurant chain best known for its iconic charbroiled burgers. It has locations in North and South America, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and Africa.

The chain store was founded in 1941 by Carl Karcher and his wife Margaret in Los Angeles, California.

It serves hamburgers, chicken, French fries, sandwiches, desserts, salads, nachos, milkshakes, burritos, coffee, and breakfast wraps.

Its franchising journey began in 1984 and is franchised by the parent company, CKE Restaurant Holding Inc. Currently, Carl’s Jr. has more than 1,672 units in the US and 28 countries worldwide.


Five Guys

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
911$511,000$1,203,000

Five Guys is an American fast-food chain that is best known for its bulky hamburgers, loaded French fries, hot dogs, and thick milkshakes.

It was founded in 1986 by Janie and Jerry Murrell, with its first restaurant in Arlington County, Virginia. Jerry, alongside the couple’s four sons, Jim, Matt, Chad, and Ben, were the original “Five Guys.”

Five Guys serves hamburgers with Kraft American cheese, hotdogs, grilled cheese, and vegetable sandwiches, as well as fresh-cut French fries. In addition, it offers milkshakes with traditional vanilla and strawberry flavors.

The Five Guys franchising journey began in 2003, and within 18 months the chain had sold over 300 units. It is a subsidiary of Five Guys Enterprise LLC, with its headquarters in Lorton, Virginia.

Today, Five Guys is one of the fastest-growing fast-food restaurants, with over 1,500 locations in 16 countries as of today of which 1,390 in the US alone.


Checkers and Rally’s

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
568$838,000$1,040,000

Checkers & Rally’s is an American restaurant chain synonymous with its double drive-through concept.

It was formed after the 1999 merger of two separate companies, Checkers and Rally’s. Checkers was founded by Jim Mattei in 1985 (operating in the Southeast) and Rally’s by Jim Patterson (operating in the Midwest) in 1986.

Both Checkers and Rally’s offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fish, hot wings, French fries, milkshakes, and cold beverages.

Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, the chain is a subsidiary of Oak Hill Capital Partners. It began franchising in 1991, and as of 2022, it has more than 800 locations in 28 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia.


Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
391$1,453,000$1,793,000

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers is a leading fast-casual restaurant chain headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. 

Launched in 2002 by Scott Redler and two entrepreneurial brothers, Billy and Ray Simon, this restaurant chain is famed for its tasty steakburgers, frozen custards, French fries, milkshakes, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and soft drinks. 

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers began franchising in 2004 in Hutchinson, Kansas. 

As of 2023, Freddy’s Frozen Custard had 420 units in the US of which 391 franchised-owned.


Johnny Rockets

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
127$868,000$969,000

Johnny Rockets is an American fast-casual restaurant chain with 1950s-inspired decor and fun for diners of all ages. Its main menu includes fresh hamburgers, rocket dogs, fries and tots, classic milkshakes, and malts.

The chain was founded in 1986 by Ronn Teitelbaum, with its first location in Los Angeles, California. The chain began franchising in 1987, and today has more than 340 independent locations in the US and 26 countries around the world.

It is owned and franchised by FAT Brands Inc., headquartered in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, along with Round Table PizzaMarble Slab CreameryGreat American Cookies and Pretzelmaker.


BurgerFI

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
92$821,000$1,135,000

BurgerFi is an American fast-casual restaurant chain headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The chain was founded in 2011 by John Rosatti in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida.

It serves burgers, veggie burgers, fried chicken tenders and sandwiches, fries, onion rings, salads, hotdogs, custard desserts, beer, and wine.

BurgerFi started franchising in 2011 and currently has more than 120 franchised and corporate-owned restaurants in the US.


Mooyah

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume
82$634,000$841,000

MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes is an American fast casual restaurant chain known for its hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs, soft drinks, and shakes. 

In addition, it offers “lifestyle burgers” for Keto, Paleo, low-calorie, vegetarian, or gluten-free diets.

The chain was founded in 2007 in Plano, Texas, by American veterans Rich Hicks and Todd Istre, where it is headquartered.

MOOYAH began franchising in 2007 and currently has 82 locations in the US.


Whataburger

Whataburger is a fast-food restaurant chain based in San Antonio, Texas, that specializes in hamburgers. Its menu features hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries and milkshakes.

Whataburger was founded in 1950 by Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton, who opened the first location in Corpus Christi, Texas. His goal was to make a burger big enough for customers to hold it with two hands and exclaim, “What a burger!” when they tasted it, which led to the iconic name, Whataburger.

Owned by BDT Capital Partners, the brand is distinctively identified by its A-framed orange-and-white-striped-roofed buildings that accommodate drive-thrus and larger dining rooms, quality ingredients, expanded menu and commitment to freshness, spanning its growth to over 10 states across the country.

Whataburger began franchising in 1953 when the first non-founder location opened in Alice, Texas and today the brand has over 830 locations with 127 franchises in the US.


Smashburger

Smashburger is a chain of fast-casual hamburger restaurants that is synonymous with its signature 100% Certified Angus Beef Burgers, grilled in an open kitchen. In addition, its menu features a variety of chicken, turkey, or black bean entrées, salads, signature sides and hand-spun shakes.

Smashburger was founded in 2007 in Denver, Colorado. Its vision was to make memorable burgers and lead the next generation of burger lovers. 

Today, Smashburger continues to grow, with on average 20 new locations opening every year, and continues to deliver convenient service, restaurant-quality presentations and bold and memorable tastes.

Smashburger began franchising in 2008, and as of 2022, it had 85 franchises in the US plus 134 company-owned and 26 international locations.


Fatburger

Fatburger is a fast-casual hamburger restaurant chain headquartered in Beverly Hills, California. It offers burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, sides, buffalo express wings and soft drinks.

Fatburger was founded in 1947 by Lovie Yancey as Mr. Fatburger before she removed the “Mr.” and remained with Fatburger in 1952. Fatburger became famous for its 100% pure lean beef, freshly ground, grilled to perfection and built-to-order served on a toasted sponge-dough bun. 

Fatburger began franchising in 1990 and by the end of 2022 it had 104 franchises in the US and 89 international locations, with 70% of the locations owned by franchisees.

Fatburger is owned by FAT Brands Inc., which also owns its sister brand, Buffalo Cafe, which serves chicken wings. The brand offers franchisees the opportunity to cobrand with Buffalo Café, giving them complementary and multiple ways to boost profitability.


Wayback Burgers

Wayback Burgers, formerly known as Jake’s Wayback Burgers, is a chain of fast-casual restaurants headquartered in Cheshire, Connecticut. The chain’s menu features hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, cheese dogs, salads, milkshakes and more.

Wayback Burgers was founded in 1991 in Newark, Delaware. The restaurant began expanding in the 2000s opening international locations and changing its name to Wayback Burgers in 2010.

It began franchising in 2009 and currently has 131 franchises in the US and 25 international locations.

Today, Wayback Burgers is a leading franchise in the fast-casual dining industry, offering not only honest, delicious and uncomplicated food but also an evolving culture and valuable guest service, giving its guests, franchisees and partners more reasons to belong to the brand’s commitment.


Farmer Boys

Farmer Boys is a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in farm-fresh salads, burgers, sandwiches, kid’s meals and refreshing drinks. It is headquartered in Riverside, California.

Farmer Boys was founded in 1981 by the Havadjias brothers. Their idea was to source the freshest ingredients directly from local farmers and purveyors whenever possible. It became known for its stacked sandwiches, award-winning burgers and hearty breakfasts, giving its clientele the difference between farm-fresh and fast foods, and with that it has grown to have a dozen locations in California and Nevada over the years.

Today, it is a uniquely positioned fast-casual concept that provides convenience and great franchise opportunities through dining, takeout for people on the go, drive-thrus and delivery options. Farmer Boys began franchising in 1997 and had 67 franchises and 32 company-owned locations in the US by 2021.


Elevation Burger

Elevation Burger is a chain of fast-casual restaurants that specializes in organic hamburgers. In addition, it serves French fries, tenders, sandwiches, milkshakes, ice cream and soft drinks.

Elevation Burger was founded by Hans Hess in 2005 in Virginia. The idea was conceived by a family that could not find a good restaurant offering organic fast food, so they decided to establish their own. This marked the birth of a premium organic burger chain that offers 100% organic, grass-fed beef burgers. 

Today, Elevation Burger is a fast-growing organic concept that, in line with its slogan, “ingredients matter,” sources the highest quality ingredients, inclusive of 100% grass-fed organic beef patties, fries cooked in heart-healthy olive oil and cage-free chicken.

Elevation Burger began franchising in 2008 and currently has 15 US franchises and 20 international locations. It is owned by FAT Brands, headquartered in Beverley, California, alongside franchises such as Fatburger and Buffalo’s Cafe, to name just a few.


CaliBurger

Headquartered in Woodland Hills, California, CaliBurger is a fast-food restaurant chain famous for its California-style burger. Its menu also features West Coast-style fries, burgers and milkshakes.

CaliBurger was founded in 2011 and began franchising in 2013 and by 2015 it had succesfully opened four franchises in the US.

The brand’s mission was to bring California culture closer to its guests by using the highest-quality beef, buns baked fresh, top-grade chicken, hand-selected vegetables, zero trans-fat oils, sauces made in-house and hand-mixed shakes. Its restaurants offer top-of-the-line food service technology with the Cali Vibe and made-to-order Cali-style foods that are always prepared in open kitchens.

Today, Caliburger takes pride in its culture and continues to position itself in the fast-casual industry as a futuristic franchise, giving its franchise owners an opportunity to own and be part of its revolutionary technology and fresh, made-to-order menu to create and deliver a unique and unforgettable dining experience to their guests.


The Counter Custom Burgers

The Counter Custom Burgers is an innovative burger restaurant changing people’s perception of burger places with its hand-made, custom burgers. 

Founded in 2003 by Jeff Weinstein, the casual dining restaurant offers countless burger combinations and burger catering services for birthday parties, pillow fights, binge-watching, anniversary celebrations, tailgating and any other party. The menu includes sandwiches, fries, starters, beverages and milkshakes. 

The casual dining restaurant is headquartered in Arizona and started franchising in 2005.

Today, The Counter Custom Burgers operates 32 locations, with 21 franchise locations spread across the US.


Burger 21

Burger 21 is an innovative fast-casual burger restaurant that believes in the power of reinvention.

The casual restaurant serves uses various the best recipes and ingredients to make crave-able, chef-inspired burgers and creates the perfect spot for friends and families to enjoy a delicious treat.

The brand’s menu includes 21 burger varieties, signature shakes, fries, fresh salads, kids’ meals and cookies. 

Founded in 2010, the Florida-based company has become one of the leading fast-casual restaurant chains in the US, franchising since 2011. Today, Burger 21 has spread its services to many parts of the country, operating in over 23 franchised locations, with 19 locations franchised in the US.


BGR Burgers

BGR-Burgers Grilled Right is a fast-casual restaurant chain offering a unique dining experience with burgers grilled to the perfect temperature. 

The restaurant serves flame-grilled, award-winning gourmet burgers, fries and other foods.

Everything on the menu is made to order, ensuring every customer only gets the freshest ingredients every time they visit the restaurant. 

The fast-casual dining restaurant was founded in 2008 by Mark Bucher and started franchising in 2010. Today, BGR-Burgers Grilled Right is headquartered in Washington and operates over 10 franchised units in the US and Canada.

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