Even as Americans become more health conscious, burger franchises remain a significant part of the restaurant industry. The franchise burger business is huge, with more than $122 billion in annual sales in the United States according to IBISWorld market research.
There seems to be a burger franchise in nearly every town. New trendy establishments are making inroads among established burger brands. Some brands offer multi-week training programs or bootcamps for entrepreneurs who want to open their own restaurants. In short, there are now more options than ever for entrepreneurs who want to open a burger restaurant — and the support to go along with it.
Popular Burger Franchise Opportunities
If you see a potential McDonald’s, Burger King or other option in your future, here are 30 burger franchises you might want to consider.
McDonald’s is perhaps the biggest name in this niche and one of the biggest franchises in the world. The affordable menu makes it popular and accessible in nearly any market. McDonald’s offers specialty burgers and often tests new food concepts. The company also has an established process for getting a new restaurant up and running. This includes a $45,000 initial fee. The total initial investment ranges from $1,008,000 to $2,214,080 for franchises.
2. Burger King
Burger King is another of these franchises that is known around the country and the world. The restaurant is not limited to red meat. Burger King has wide offerings, including multiple chicken burgers, chicken nuggets, veggie burgers, fish sandwiches and onion rings. In addition to the instant name recognition, franchise owners get access to proven training and support. Burger King also offers non-traditional franchises, like stores attached to shopping centers and airports. The fee for franchises is $50,000. The full initial investment ranges from $333,100 to $3,398,600. The franchise agreement also tacks on additional royalty fees of 4.5% of revenue.
Wendy’s offers franchising opportunities throughout North America. The company, known for its square patty, was founded back in 1969 by Dave Thomas. Wendy’s has since become one of the most recognizable names in fast food. Its menus have choices that include chili, baked potatoes and salads. The franchising fee is $50,000. The initial investment usually ranges from $2 million to $3.5 million.
A & W restaurants provide a classic American menu and experience, including hot dogs and root beer. Restaurants feature drive-thru and drive-in service. In addition to standard training and support, the company also offers a large restaurant supply co-op for supplies and ingredients. The fee for the franchises is $30,000. The investment ranges from $269,000 to $1.2 million.
5. Red Robin
Red Robin offers a dine-in experience for customers. But its menu is full of classic American favorites including milk shakes. The company has been around since 1969. So it’s one of the biggest names in casual dining burger restaurants. The fee for the franchises is $35,000. The initial investment is estimated between $1,865,000 and $4,115,000.
Culver’s is a burger eatery known for its fresh ingredients and hospitality — and its famous Butter Burger. The company originated in the Midwest, but currently has many U.S. markets available for new franchises. Culver’s provides training, equipment assistance, and mentorship to franchisees. The fee for the franchise is $30,000. A franchisee should have between $350,000 and $600,000 to get started.
Hardee’s is a popular franchise founded by Wilbur Hardee in Greenville, North Carolina in 1960. Hardee’s fast food restaurants are especially common along highways and attached to gas stations and service centers. As such, franchisees can start their own standalone place or merge it with another operation. The company is mainly looking for multi-unit developments. The initial franchise fee is $25,000. The initial investment ranges from $1,454,000 to $2,083,000 per location.
8. Five Guys
Five Guys is a fast-casual dining franchise that’s especially popular in cities and busy locations like train stations and shopping centers. Five Guys is known for its quality ingredients and straightforward menu. Offerings are fairly limited, but you can gussy up your hamburger with cheese or bacon, and get Kosher style hot dogs. And oh, the fries! The fee for a franchise is $25,000. The initial costs range from $306,200 to $641,250.
9. Sonic Drive-In
Sonic provides a classic drive-in experience, along with a drive-thru at most locations. The recipes, style, and service options make it stand out in a crowded market. It also offers Coneys and hot dogs. With more than 60 years in business and national advertising campaigns, the brand has considerable recognition. The initial fee is $45,000. The startup costs range from $361,900 to $978,700.
Checkers operates both the Checkers and Rally’s brands. The company offers classic drive-thru service with a racing decor theme. Checkers is also known for its relatively affordable initial investment and contactless service model. The fee for a franchise is $30,000. The startup costs range from $254,000 to $1,431,000.
11. Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box serves a full range of items, but focuses mainly on burgers. Though it’s a nationally recognized brand, the company still has markets available in most states. There’s a $50,000 initial fee per location. The total costs to get started range from $1,651,500 to $2,638,000.
12. Steak ‘N Shake
Steak ‘N Shake is an old fashioned style casual dining eatery. The company is currently offering potential franchisees the opportunity to convert existing company-owned stores into franchise locations. You just need $10,000 to get started. Since the stores are already established, there’s less work and investment involved in getting started.
Fuddrucker’s is known for its extensive menu and quality ingredients. The company was born out of a desire to create the world’s best burger. Currently, the company is looking for franchisees who are interested in developing multiple units. The fee for the franchises is $35,000 per unit. The initial costs range from $495,000 to $1,565,000.
Fatburger is a fast-casual burger chain that operates 24/7. The company has a long history that dates back to the 1950’s. The brand famous for having some of the bigger burgers around, Fatburger offers both U.S. and international opportunities around the world. The company also offers co-branding opportunities with sister brand Buffalo’s Cafe.
15. Carl’s Jr.
Carl’s Jr. is a popular fast-food chain that’s run by an international restaurant company. Innovative offerings include turkey burgers. They’re currently looking for franchisees interested in opening at least three units. Restaurants can be freestanding or attached to other businesses like gas stations. The franchise fee ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 per store depending on the number of units you plan on opening. The total initial investment ranges from $1.6 to $2.12 million per unit.
BurgerFi offers chef-inspired hamburgers made with Angus beef and fresh toppings. BurgerFi uses ground beef patties that are antibiotic-free. The chain is also known for being eco-friendly and pushing the envelope of the burger concept by offering alternatives like chicken and meatless burgers. The fee for the franchises is $37,500. The total upfront costs range from $613,600 to $987,250.
17. Farmer Boys
Farmer Boys offers farm to table sandwiches, breakfast items, and more. The chain currently operates in California and Nevada. The company provides training, research, development, marketing and ongoing support once you get up and running. The fee for a franchise is $45,000. And the upfront costs range from $1.3 to $2.2 million.
18. Hamburger Mary’s
Hamburger Mary’s is a franchise opportunity for those who want to inject some personality into their new business. The original restaurants were designed to be open-air cafes. But there are also locations with dance floors and rooftop seating. The initial fee to get started is $50,000. And the total upfront costs range from $25,000 to $1 million.
The Smashburger chain of fast-casual burger restaurants specializes in food with fresh ingredients, including turkey burgers. The company has grown quickly since its initial launch in 2007. It now has locations in 38 states and 9 countries. The fee for a franchise is $40,000. The initial startup costs range from $743,130 to $1,404,535.
20. Johnny Rockets
Johnny Rockets is both a restaurant and an experience. In addition to the menu full of classic food like hamburgers, fries, and shakes, locations feature retro decor and servers who dance and sing. These franchises are especially popular in locations with a lot of tourist activity. Franchisees with hospitality experience are preferred. The initial fee is $25,000. The total upfront investment ranges from $600,000 to $1.1 million.
21. BUILT Custom Burgers
BUILT Custom Burgers offers a fast-casual business model. Customers get to design their own gourmet burgers using Angus beef and other fresh ingredients. And locations even offer catering for special events. Getting started requires a $40,000 up-front fee. The total upfront costs range from $368,000 to $982,000.
22. Big Smoke Burger
Big Smoke Burger falls into the “better burger” category. The company uses gourmet ingredients and allows customers to customize their burger. The company is based in Canada but offers both single and multi-unit opportunities throughout the U.S. as well. The fee for a franchise is $35,000. The investment ranges from $184,500 to $417,500.
Mooyah was founded by Rich Hicks and Todd Istre in Plano, Texas in 2007. The restaurant chain specializes in crafting quality burgers. But they also offer other food items like fries and shakes. Also part of the “better burger” segment of the industry, Mooyah features fresh American beef. The company offers turkey and veggie burgers, a growing trend in the burger segment. But the Mooyah’s main focus is on creating a fun and family-friendly guest experience for its customers. The up-front fee is $40,000. The total investment ranges from $403,750 to $639,100.
24. Elevation Burger
Elevation Burger is the country’s first organic burger chain. It uses fresh, organic food including meat from grass-fed cows. And even the fries are made with olive oil instead of vegetable or canola oil. The fee for a franchise is $50,000 per location, with deals sometimes available for those developing multiple units. Upfront costs range from $408,500 to $821,500.
25. Wayback Burgers
Wayback Burgers is one of the fastest-growing chains in the fast-casual burger market, with more than 500 contracted locations and 160 currently operating throughout the U.S. The business specializes in burgers, potato chips and milkshakes. And the brand is known for being simple, honest and humble. The initial fee is $35,000. The total investment usually ranges between $350,000 and $450,000.
26. Drifter’s Hamburgers
Drifter’s focuses on doing a few things really well, instead of trying to do everything. Founded in 2008, the company is relatively new in the industry. It specializes in creating quality food instead of offering endless discounts to get customers through the door. The initial fee is $30,000 for the first location and $25,000 for any subsequent locations. The total costs range from $105,000 to $500,000.
27. The Counter
The Counter Custom Built Burgers offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to really get creative with burger options. The restaurant features award-winning burgers with unique ingredients and innovative flavors. The fee for a franchise is $35,000. The initial investment ranges from $724,133 to $1,939,750.
28. Good Stuff Eatery
The first Good Stuff Eatery opened as a family-run operation in Washington D.C. in 2008. The restaurant now has a handful of locations ranging from Chicago to Cairo. The growing business allows you to choose from a variety of different locations and build a restaurant that is right for you. The initial fee is $50,000. The total investment ranges from $1 million to $1.3 million.
Caliburger’s goal is to bring its Southern California style burgers and fresh-cut fries to people around the world. The company’s ideal franchise candidates are willing to take on multiple units and enthusiastic about sharing California style burgers. The initial franchise fee is $30,000. The total costs range from $292,000 to $774,000.
30. Burger 21
Burger 21 restaurants feature chef-inspired burger creations along with a contemporary styled atmosphere. It’s a fast-casual style chain with chef-inspired menu items. Franchising fees range from $27,000 to $40,000. The total upfront costs range from $428,000 to $1.1 million.
Some hamburger franchises have been left our list. For example, Dairy Queen, while serving burgers at some of its locations, is more known for its soft serve ice cream. Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steak Burgers is another fast grower we didn’t have room to cover. Meanwhile, 50’s style Cheeburger Cheeburger has only 17 locations in the U.S.
Franchise vs Chain: What is the Difference?
A chain is a group of stores or restaurants run under a single brand name. Locations in a chain can be owned by one corporate owner — or by individual franchisees. The term chain is often used interchangeably to refer to both types of ownership. Here is the difference:
- One company ownership of all locations – One company owns the brand name and also owns and operates all individual locations.
- Franchise-owned locations – A franchise, on the other hand, is a specific type of ownership arrangement. In this arrangement, one company (the franchisor) owns the brand name, but individual locations are actually independent businesses owned and operated by franchisees. Franchisees are business owners who sign a franchise agreement with the brand owner. Franchisees pay various fees and in exchange get the right to operate a location under the brand name.
Most consumers see chains and franchises as the same. It’s understandable. All restaurants have the same logo. The menu is the same. Even the interior decor may be the same. That’s why most Americans use the term “chain” to refer to all. However, it’s the ownership structure that sets a franchise apart.
Here’s a case in point — is In-N-Out Burger a franchise or a chain? It’s certainly a chain — it’s among the most iconic burger chains in California. However, if you’re interested in a franchise for In and Out Burger, you’ll be disappointed. An In and Out Burger franchise does not exist, because all locations in this hamburger chain are privately owned by the parent company.
How Much is a Burger Franchise?
A burger franchise costs between $100,000 and $3 million. Those costs vary depending on the location, popularity of the brand, and size of the restaurant. For example, a well known fast food restaurant in a popular city is likely to cost more than a small drive-thru associated with a relatively new brand.
Is a Burger Franchise Better than an Independent Restaurant?
As a business owner, you will get more assistance and have less risk of failure with a franchise compared with starting your own restaurant from scratch. However, it also may be more costly and you will have to give up some control.
- Advantages: From an investment standpoint it’s less risky to invest in a franchise because you get the advantage of a tried and proven system, as well as branding and marketing support. Franchise owners also get assistance with choosing real estate and location — and in restaurants that counts for a lot. A franchise is more easily scalable. Many franchisees operate multiple units.
- Disadvantages: With a franchise comes a loss of some independence and control. A franchise owner must follow the system set up by the franchisor. You cannot decide to go your own way. Your ability to add different offerings, source ingredients from other vendors or simply try new things will be limited. There are also fees and royalties to pay.
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