In the last year, Chick-Fil-A became the third largest restaurant chain in America.
McDonald’s still holds onto the number one spot, reporting a 1.14% increase in year-over-year revenue last Q3, but competitors like Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, and even Starbucks are opening hundreds of new restaurants annually.
As an expense management company, we were curious if the dietary habits of our business customers reflected these trends. So we did some research.
Most popular restaurants for businesses
We analyzed 1.1 million transactions from the last year using Merchant Category Codes (5812 and 5814) to filter for restaurants.
When we ran our initial analysis, Starbucks was the clear favorite—winning 32 of the 50 states. While this was an impressive majority, it’s no surprise that businesses drink a lot of coffee.
So we wanted to dig a little deeper.
We opted to exclude coffee shops from our list to see where most businesses went to purchase meals (though, who hasn’t counted coffee as a meal, really?).
Here’s what we found:
Looks like the Fast Food Nation lives up to its name.
While McDonald’s may seem like more of a consumer meal, businesses in half of the country made the most purchases at the Golden Arches.
Chick-Fil-A was the second most popular restaurant, and an obvious southern favorite.
Panera was the primary representative for fast casual dining, preferred by only 20% of states (22% if you include New York’s top choice, Sweetgreen).
Even with a couple of regional outliers—Hardee’s in North Dakota and Little Caesars in Oklahoma—fast food meals seem to be the go-to for businesses.
(Our data also supported the rising popularity of delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats, though we didn’t include them in this comparison.)
Average spend at restaurants
We were also curious how much businesses spent on average at each restaurant. So we took our top 10 restaurants (by transaction count) and found the average cost of a single transaction:
Single transaction amounts were the lowest at McDonald’s—averaging only $6.56 per visit. This amount could reflect the cost of a cheap breakfast on a business trip, or the low cost could indicate that McDonald’s is competing as a favorite coffee shop.
Transaction costs also averaged under $10 at Burger King, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell. From our top 10 business restaurants, Panera had the highest average transaction cost at $40.04.
The cost discrepancy here is obviously more than just the cost of an individual meal. It seems possible that business customers choose fast food when they’re eating alone, but step it up when they’re eating with others.
Note: For Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia, we defaulted to the most popular restaurant in that region to protect our customers’ privacy.