If you’ve been dreaming of opening a restaurant, you may have come across franchising in your research. While the risk of opening a restaurant isn’t quite as dire as you may think, buying a food franchise mitigates much of that risk. By entering the franchise’s established framework, you’ll benefit from the business’s name recognition, business model, training, management support, extensive network of vendors, and positive reputation. In exchange, you’re responsible for your location’s daily management and operations—in other words, the nuts and bolts of running a business that motivated entrepreneurs are hungry for.
There are hundreds of food franchise opportunities up for grabs, so in this article, we’re highlighting just 14 of the most promising options to look into this year. These food franchises range from full-service restaurants to specialty stores to grab-and-go establishments. But what they all have in common is incredible (and in some cases legendary) brand strength, a proven support system for their franchisees, and many years’ worth of successful franchising experience. Some of these franchises offer financial incentives for certain qualifying members, such as veterans or people who own several franchise locations.
14 food franchise opportunities
Listed in no particular order, the following 14 companies are some of the most promising food franchises you can join this year. We’ll tell you a little bit about each business, as well as the startup costs required to own a piece of each of these wildly popular businesses.
Keep in mind that franchisees are responsible for additional franchise fees on top of the initial franchise cost. For a full breakdown of franchise fees, you can refer directly to the information available on the franchisor’s website.
Initial franchise fee: $25,000
Estimated total initial investment: $94,350 to $402,200
Since their beginnings in 1945, Baskin-Robbins has become one of the best-known ice cream shops in the world thanks to their revolutionary “31 flavors” ethos, which ostensibly allows devotees to try a new flavor every day of the month. Now, the franchise boasts almost 2,500 locations domestically and over 7,500 storefronts worldwide.
If you’re interested in buying a Baskin-Robbins franchise, you’ll need to meet their minimum requirements. Financial requirements vary according to your location and the type of Baskin-Robbins store you’re interested in buying (either a traditional storefront or a non-traditional location, like a kiosk). But at a minimum, you’ll need to have $100,000 in liquid assets and $200,000 net worth per unit. When you apply, Baskin-Robbins will also evaluate your resume to ensure you have sufficient relevant experience. If you meet their requirements, they’ll send along a franchise disclosure document (FDD) for your consideration.
2. Auntie Anne’s
Initial franchise fee: $30,000
Estimated total initial investment: $199,475 to $385,100
The best part of going to an airport is being met with the smell of freshly baked pretzels—courtesy of that Auntie Anne’s kiosk you’re heading to as soon as you get through the security line. And thanks to their popularity—both in the United States and the 25+ countries where the pretzel chain is located—Auntie Anne’s franchise locations made $538,175 in average net sales in 2018.
To join the Auntie Anne’s network, you’ll need to have prior business experience, and experience in the restaurant industry is preferred. Auntie Anne’s also favors people with demonstrable customer service skills and who align with the company’s philanthropic values. Numbers-wise, the ideal candidate has $100,000 in liquid capital and a $300,000 net worth. To find out more, you can request more info about owning an Auntie Anne’s franchise either by text, email, or phone.
3. Papa John’s
Initial franchise fee: $5,000
Estimated total initial investment: $300,000
In an effort to recruit more franchisees, the award-winning pizza chain Papa John’s offers new store owners several financial incentives, including new ovens for each store, reduced royalty fees for the first six years of operation, a $3,000 food credit (where applicable), a $5,000 marketing budget, and—last but certainly not least—an entirely waived franchise fee. These incredibly generous incentives help make Papa John’s one of the lowest-cost franchises on this list.
That said, applicants are still beholden to certain financial requirements in order to open a pizzeria. At a minimum, Papa John’s franchisees need to have $75,000 in cash or liquid assets, a net worth of $250,000, and the ability to secure up to $275,000 in outside financing. Papa John’s also expects their franchisees to have prior management experience, preferably in the restaurant or retail industries.
4. Taco Bell
Initial franchise fee: $25,000 to $45,000
Estimated total initial investment: $525,525 to $2.8 million
Founded in 1954, Taco Bell is one of the oldest and most popular Mexican-inspired fast-food restaurants in the world—and with over 7,000 restaurants located across the country, there’s a good chance you can pursue a franchise opportunity with the chain in your area.
Unfortunately, Taco Bell doesn’t make much information about owning a location as readily available as many other companies do. You can easily request more information, however, by filling out an application online. You’ll need to indicate how much you have in liquid assets, whether you have prior business and quick-service restaurant experience, and whether you currently own a multi-unit franchise, which implies that Taco Bell evaluates these metrics to determine franchisee eligibility.
Initial franchise fee: $45,000
Estimated total initial investment: $1.4 million to $2.7 million
It’s safe to say that Colonel Sanders is one of the most recognizable icons in American fast-food culture—which checks out, considering that an estimated 185 million Americans see a KFC commercial once a week. Clearly, buying a KFC franchise means you’re backed by an incredibly strong business model and a well-established support system.
It makes sense, too, that KFC considers several variables—both quantitative and qualitative—when evaluating a potential franchisee’s eligibility. The six major factors KFC evaluates in their franchise applicants include “multi-unit operations experience, financial qualifications, personal and financial reputation, motivation and commitment, culture and brand fit, and growth mindset,” among other factors. KFC has among the more rigorous financial qualifications, too: At a minimum, applicants need a net worth of $1.5 million and $750,000 in liquid assets, though these requirements will vary (i.e. be higher) depending on your ownership level.
Initial franchise fee: $45,000
Estimated total initial investment: $1 million to $2.2 million
We don’t have to tell you that McDonald’s is the most popular fast-food restaurant in the world—so if you’re interested in buying a fast-food franchise, it makes sense to set your sights here. About 90% of McDonald’s in the U.S. are owned and operated by franchisees; and, according to the company, McDonald’s has the largest number of women and minority franchise owners in the fast-food industry.
In order for your application to be considered, you need to have at least $500,000 in accessible, liquid capital. And if your application is approved, you’ll need to undergo pretty intensive training before completing your purchase. Training is typically done over the course of 12 to 18 months on a part-time basis.
Initial franchise fee: $40,000 to $90,000 (fee varies depending on your state)
Estimated total initial investment: $95,700 to $1.5 million
You’d be hard-pressed to find a town in the Northeast that doesn’t have at least one Dunkin’. There, “Dunkies” is more than a place to get coffee and a cruller; it’s basically a religion. That said, Dunkin’ operates over 12,400 locations in 41 states and 46 countries, so you certainly don’t have to live on the East coast to find a Dunkin’ franchise opportunity.
The initial investment required to buy a Dunkin’ franchise can be pretty steep. Like most franchisors, Dunkin’ doesn’t offer financial assistance outright, but they can ease some of the financial burden through development incentives for certain franchisees, such as those who plan to open several restaurants. They also offer a 20% discount off the initial franchise fee for veterans who purchase a Store Development Agreement for up to five stores.
8. Pizza Hut
Initial franchise fee: $25,000
Estimated total initial investment: $357,000 to $2.2 million
With 18,431 units under their belt, Pizza Hut is the largest pizza company in the world. (Another fun fact? The very first product ever ordered online was a Pizza Hut pizza.) At a minimum, prospective Pizza Hut franchisees need to have $700,000 in net worth, $350,000 in liquid assets, and a strong credit report. Applicants will also need to present Pizza Hut with a financial plan detailing how they’ll grow their location.
If you’re approved, Pizza Hut will provide comprehensive training and marketing support, as well as support in opening your location. They don’t provide financing, but Pizza Hut is listed in the SBA registry, which means Pizza Hut franchisees can receive expedited financing through the SBA if their loan application is approved.
Initial franchise fee: $30,000
Estimated total initial investment: $1.3 million to $2.4 million
As “America’s Diner,” Denny’s is one of the country’s best-loved fast-casual restaurants. They have amazing opportunities for franchise owners, too—in fact, one of their most successful owners, Dawn Lafreeda, started out as a server at the restaurant.
If you’re inspired to become a Denny’s success story in your own right, you’ll first need to have $500,000 in liquid capital and $1 million in net worth—a pretty tough threshold. That said, Denny’s does provide incentive programs for certain franchisees. For instance, franchisees opening six restaurants in new and emerging markets can save up to over $1 million in reduced rates and fees.
10. Ben & Jerry’s
Initial franchise fee: $18,500
Estimated total initial investment: $200,300 to $504,300
Other than being the mastermind behind such beloved ice cream flavors as Cherry Garcia and Phish Food, Ben & Jerry’s is one of the most philanthropic franchises in the country. Their Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, for instance, is an employee-led organization that aims to engage in local community work and support grassroots social justice organizations and movements. Buying a Ben & Jerry’s franchise is a unique opportunity for similarly aligned business owners to flex both their entrepreneurial skills and their passion for social justice.
It makes sense that Ben & Jerry’s lists social consciousness and a dedication to running an ethical business as two of their eligibility requirements. Among these and other factors, franchisees also need to have at least two years of management experience under their belts, a strong credit history, a minimum net worth of $350,000, and $100,000 in liquid assets. Ben & Jerry’s also prefers that their franchisees have a college degree or higher, though this isn’t necessarily a make-or-break element of your application.
11. Edible Arrangements
Initial franchise fee: $20,000 to $30,000
Estimated total initial investment: $173,660 to $373,450
Edible Arrangements is best known for their floral fruit arrangements, but the company is expanding their offerings into other sweet treats, including CBD products and smoothies. That’s just one aspect of a comprehensive growth and expansion plan, which also includes redesigning their stores, opening more locations in new territories, and amping up their franchise support system.
In order to become an Edible Arrangements franchise owner, you need to have $250,000 in total net worth and $80,000 in liquid assets. To submit an initial application and request more information about owning an Edible Arrangements franchise, you can fill out a quick questionnaire on the company’s franchise website.
Initial franchise fee: $30,000
Estimated total initial investment: $181,900 to $340,400
Currently, Cinnabon operates locations in all but three states across the country. They do have plans to bring their business to those cinnamon-bun-deprived states, however, and they’re relying on franchise owners to help them do it.
If you want to be the first to bring a Cinnabon to Vermont, Maine or Rhode Island, or if you just want to make more cinnamon buns available to more people in your state (because there’s no such thing as too many cinnamon buns), owning a Cinnabon franchise is the way to do it. To qualify, you’ll need to have at least $120,000 in liquid capital and $300,000 in total net worth at a minimum, among other eligibility requirements. You can inquire about buying or building one of several types of Cinnabon venues, including a full bakery, co-brand store, kiosk bakery, or co-brand kiosk bakery.
13. Dairy Queen
Initial franchise fee: $45,000
Estimated total initial investment: $1 million to $1.8 million
At 80 years old, Dairy Queen is the most established restaurant on this list and a powerhouse in the fast-food landscape, both in America and beyond: Currently, DQ operates over 6,800 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, and 27 countries internationally.
For your franchisee application to be considered, you need to have at least $400,000 in accessible, liquid capital per unit, and at least $750,000 in total net worth for a single unit (multi-unit net worth requirements are higher). If you don’t personally have prior restaurant management experience, you can hire or partner with someone who does. You can get in touch with DQ’s franchising team to find out more about their requirements, as well as the process involved in opening and managing a franchise.
14. Cold Stone Creamery
Initial franchise fee: $10,000 to $27,000
Estimated total initial investment: $53,200 to $468,775
Cold Stone Creamery may not (yet) be as iconic as DQ and Baskin-Robbins, but the 32-year-old ice cream shop is quickly growing: Currently, they operate over 1,000 locations in the U.S. and almost 30 countries worldwide, and they’re introducing an initiative to open hundreds more locations over the next few years.
Interested franchisees will need to have at least $100,000 in liquid capital and $250,000 in total net worth. But Cold Stone Creamery also makes this list for their accessible initial franchise fee, which may be as low as $10,000.
The bottom line
Whether you’re considering one of the 14 food franchise opportunities we highlighted here or another franchise opportunity you’ve come across, it’s important to understand how to evaluate which of those franchises is the right fit for you.
The first step is to look closely at each franchise’s investment requirements and whether you’re financially capable of those investments. If you’re not, look into whether the franchise offers financial incentives, as well as your qualifications to seek outside franchise financing. And although all the food franchises we mentioned have strong brand recognition and solid reputations, it makes sense to own a franchise whose target demographic aligns with your particular area to get the most bang for your buck.
Perhaps most importantly, you have to like and trust your potential franchisor. Request all available informational materials, evaluate their training and support systems, reach out to other franchisees in their network, and ask questions liberally. Read their franchise agreement carefully—you should also run this past an attorney. Remember, there are both advantages and disadvantages of franchising, but if you do your research and weigh the pros and cons, you can find the perfect food franchise opportunity for you.