There are just over 230,000 fast food establishments in the United States and about 190,000 of those are fast food franchises. That’s almost 200,000 KFCs and Wendy’s and Five Guys and Taco Bell and Arby’s locations. Almost anywhere you travel across America, you’ll find at least one fast food joint. But there’s one state that beats all the others with the highest ratio of fast food stores to population.
Alabama has 6.3 restaurants per 10,000 residents, which makes it the state with the most fast food restaurants in America per capita. Nebraska and West Virginia take the second and third slots respectively with 5.4 and 5.3 restaurants per capita.
According to Datafiniti, who published the study on the fast food industry, states in the South and central U.S. have a higher concentration of fast food than states on the East or West coasts. Vermont has the fewest fast food locations per capita, followed by New Jersey and New York.
There are a couple of reasons why this might be the case. First, public transportation tends to be more available in the larger cities on the two coasts, meaning that fewer people are in cars and using drive-thrus in places like New York City and San Francisco. Second, the South has beloved fast food chains like Whataburger, Sonic, Chick-fil-A, and Zaxby’s, along with more local (but growing) chains like Cook Out, Biscuitville, and Bojangles.
According to the study, McDonald’s and Subway are the major fast food players, with the two chains making up more than a quarter of the total number of American fast food locations. However, more locations don’t necessarily translate to more business: Chick-fil-A is well on its way to being the third largest fast food chain in terms of sales by 2020, even though they don’t have nearly as many physical locations.
Looking at major cities with the most fast food restaurants per capita show that tourist hot spots top the list, with Orlando, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas in the first, second, and third spots.
When you look at smaller cities, though, Texas takes two of the top three on the list. Katy and Humble, both Texas cities just outside Houston, take the first and third spots respectively, while Naples, Florida comes in second.
And here’s a fun fact: Montpelier, Vermont, is the only state capitol without a McDonald’s location.