Over the last decade and a half, the number of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) operating in the United States grew by nearly 20%—from roughly 285,000 establishments in 2000 to over 340,000 in 2015. And, changes in the U.S. foodservice industry found the number of QSRs grew even more during the Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, according to an examination produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (ERS), Washington, D.C.
In comparison, the number of full-service restaurants remained essentially unchanged during 2000-2015. These differing growth rates resulted in QSRs taking the majority spot. In fact, as of 2015, QSRs accounted for 54% of all restaurants nationwide. Fifteen years earlier, QSRs accounted for just under 50% of the nation’s restaurants.
A significant driver of QSR growth was the emergence of the fast-casual restaurant, which accounted for 2.9% of QSRs in 2000 and expanded to 10.8% by 2015. Prominent fast-casual chains were largely responsible for fast-casual restaurants’ growing number of establishments and thus grew their share of QSR sales.
Growth in QSRs did not unfold uniformly in all regions of the country. Many urban counties, especially those in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, experienced growth in QSRs during 2000-2015 that exceeded 30%, a significantly higher rate than the 20% national average. A large portion of new QSRs in urban counties were fast-casual eating places.
For rural counties, the story is more mixed. While some rural counties experienced growth in QSRs during 2000-2015, others sustained losses, especially in the central United States, consistent with patterns of rural-urban migration. For instance, in many of the agriculture-dominated rural counties of the West North Central United States, population fell and the number of QSRs dropped by 30 points to 87.5%. Few QSRs in rural counties were fast-casual restaurants, and these establishments tended to offer more traditional quick-service menus focusing on hamburgers and pizza. In most urban and rural counties in 2015, QSRs restaurants accounted for the majority of restaurants.