The Most Popular Fast Food Chain The Year You Were Born

Perhaps one of the most American things in the world is fast food. No matter what your favorite chain is, pretty much everyone in the US, and many people abroad, have eaten fast food at some point in their life, and for good reason. Delicious, reasonably-priced food that you can get without even leaving your car? That's the dream. Seriously, fast food is a beloved part of American culture, and different chains offer many different cuisines, with there being something for everyone.

While it might seem like certain fast food chains have been as popular as they are forever, that's not actually true. And in fact, all well-known fast food chains have gone through different waves of popularity over the years, typically because of new menu items, prices, or locations. To look back at the history of different fast food chains is to see that people have always loved the convenience of fast food, but for changing reasons, depending on the times. So, read on to find out the most popular fast food chain the year you were born, because it's pretty interesting.

McDonald's took over from 1950 to 1960

Perhaps the most unsurprising item on this list is McDonald's. To this day, McDonald's remains one of the most popular — and ever-present — fast food chains. But back in the 1950s, the now ubiquitous chain was just starting to take off, and people everywhere finally got a taste of what a fast food burger experience looked like.

Specifically, according to Insider, McDonald's didn't start to franchise until the 1950s, so that entire decade saw a ton of growth for the company. Additionally, the 1950s was huge for McDonald's in terms of new menu offerings like milkshakes, and people flocked to the restaurants. Clearly, this entire decade was all about the golden arches.

From 1960 to 1964, KFC shook things up

If you didn't already know the interesting history of KFC, then you might be pretty fascinated by how it all began. According to the KFC website, it started "in a Kentucky gas station way back in 1930 when Harland Sanders first started cooking for hungry travelers." But it wasn't exactly super popular when it kicked off.

In fact, it wasn't until 1960, when KFC already had 200 locations, that the fast food chain really started to gain traction. What's more, by 1963 there were at least 600 locations across the United States, according to Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. Throughout the 1960s, the fast food chicken chain cemented its popularity, which continues to today. So, if you were born between 1960 and 1969, then KFC was probably where everyone you know went for a great, fast, and cheap meal.

From 1964 to 1969, Hardee's were everywhere

Though the popular burger joint Hardee's (also known as Carl's Jr. in some places) actually first opened in 1960, it took some time for the chain to become super popular. Specifically, Hardee's totally took over the world of fast food by 1964, because the chain was franchising like crazy, and there seemed to be no stopping it.

According to Hardee's website, the first Hardee's opened in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1960 as fast food burger drive-through. However, as Taste of Home reports, it wasn't until 1964 that Hardee's was all anyone could talk about. Seriously, by 1969, there were almost 200 new Hardee's locations all over the world. Yes, the world. The Hardee's website reported that there were already Hardee's in international cities such as Heidelberg, Germany. In the late 1960s, Hardee's was the best fast food had to offer.

From 1969 to 1971, this burger joint was all the rage

One of the most popular fast food chains in the late 1960s and 1970s was one you might not have even heard of before. Burger Chef, much like McDonald's and Burger King, was obviously known for its burgers, but it might have burned too bright to last as long.

According to Eat This, Not That!, Burger Chef used to be the most popular fast food joint during the 1970s, second only to the behemoth that was McDonald's. Seriously, Burger Chef was quite impressive back in its day, with offerings like double cheeseburgers and special sauces. But before they stopped being so popular in the 1980s, Burger Chef was all anyone wanted, and according to TIME, the restaurant, which was even featured in the hit TV show Mad Men, hit its peak in 1971 when it had 1,200 locations. Eventually, Burger Chef went out of business, but before that, it was seriously impressive.

Between 1972 and 1979, Taco Bell was all anyone could think about

If you were a 1970s baby and have an obsession with Mexican food, then that might just be because Taco Bell was the most popular fast food chain the year you were born.

According to Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Taco Bell started franchising in 1964, and it didn't take long until it was just about the most popular fast food chain out there. Specifically, it really took off in the 1970s, as it had already expanded to 673 locations by 1975. But that's not all that made Taco Bell the place to eat during the 70s. As HuffPost reports, one of the chain's most popular menu items ever launched in 1970 and had people obsessed with the meal in itself. Yes, the Enchirito, the enchilada-burrito combination, was in Taco Bells all over in 1970, making the decade the chain's most successful.

In 1980, Wendy's hit a huge milestone because people loved it

Just like McDonald's or Burger King, Wendy's has been a mainstay in the fast food business for years. It might not be as popular as other joints, but it's still pretty beloved, and there was one year in particular when Wendy's was super popular. Yes, for anyone born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wendy's was probably where everyone was headed for a burger.

Wendy's founder Dave Thomas introduced the first drive-thru window in November 1970, meaning that Wendy's basically revolutionized fast food that year. So, it's not surprising that throughout the decade that followed, Wendy's gained a huge new surplus of followers. And 1980, in particular, was a big year for the establishment. Specifically, according to the Wendy's website, the fast food chain opened its 2,000th location that year, capping a decade when Wendy's was the most popular fast food joint in the country, according to Insider.

Burger King really was popular between 1981 and 1984

If you've ever thought to yourself that McDonald's and Burger King just seem too similar, you'd be right. After all, Burger King was originally started in 1953 because the founders were so inspired by McDonald's. However, Burger King always wanted to set itself apart and was originally called Insta-Burger King because it had the rights to a unique grill called the Insta-Broiler. Obviously, this set it apart and had people flocking to the establishment making it super popular in the 1950s, but that's not all.

According to Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Burger King launched its infamous "Battle of the Burgers" ad campaign in the early 1980s, and it definitely worked. Burger King was the most popular fast food chain for a while, from about 1981 to 1984, while its commercials played on the televisions of families across the nation, and fans of quality burgers got there as fast as they could.

Dominos fought for the top spot in 1985 and 1986

These days, Domino's is just one of many national fast food pizza chains offering fast delivery and pickup (and some secret menu items). Yes, you could get Domino's or myriad other pizza joints for dinner any night of the week, and while Domino's still nabs the top spot on many lists, it's definitely not as memorable as it was in the mid-1980s, when the chain seemed to take over the country.

According to the Domino's website, the fast food chain actually became the "fastest-growing pizza restaurant" in all of the United States by 1985. So, if you were born in 1985 or 1986, dinner from a newly built Domino's might have been consumed by your family for pizza night. 

In 1987, Dairy Queen had new items and became truly beloved

Dairy Queen is known for its down-home meals and delicious ice cream treats, but it wasn't always as big as it is now. According to Delish, Dairy Queen had been around for a while when the 1980s rolled around, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that it became a super popular hangout for teenagers. This was likely because the chain launched their beloved Blizzard soft-serve creation in 1985 (and it sold 175 million units in one year), followed by an acquisition of Orange Julius in 1987. Between the Blizzard, Orange Julius, and all the delicious menu items, it's no wonder that Dairy Queen was so popular in the late 1980s. By 1989, two years after its expansion, Dairy Queen reached top status in the country. So, if you were a 1987 baby, Dairy Queen was definitely making news as one of the most popular fast food chains around.

In 1988, this chicken establishment moved out of malls

Despite its controversial political affiliations, there's no denying Chick-fil-A is seriously popular among a large portion of the population. But when it first opened, it was a small operation. Chick-fil-A was actually only in mall food courts for a while, until it opened its first stand-alone establishment in 1986. After that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

After it opened more stand-alone locations in 1987 and 1988, it's no wonder that Chick-fil-A became more and more popular. By this point, the fried chicken establishment had already perfected its chicken sandwich recipe, so obviously, people flocked to it. For sure, if you were born in 1988, then your parents were probably obsessed with Chick-fil-A, which was no longer just a mall food court option.

In 1989, this California favorite branched out

One of the most popular burger chains out there today is definitely In-N-Out, with its classic style, delicious burger offerings, and reasonable prices. But in 1989, it was one of America's most popular fast food chains, and it really got people talking.

According to the In-N-Out website, the fast food chain was actually launched back in 1948 in California. And while it had plenty of customers, it wasn't until 1989 that the chain introduced its own merchandise store to really prove just how popular it was. Additionally, it had only recently expanded to 50 locations all over California in 1988, so it's no wonder people were obsessed with In-N-Out by 1989, and if that's your birth year, and especially if you were born near or in California, it was likely all anyone could talk about.

Starbucks took over customer loyalty in 1990

If you've ever found yourself in need of a caffeine boost and quick, you've probably dashed to the nearest Starbucks a few times (or every day, no judgement!). But the chain's early days really saw a ton of growth, and for a year at least, it was the most popular joint around.

According to Insider, the most popular fast food chain in 1990 wasn't even really a question, and it wasn't even food. Instead, it was Starbucks, which had just launched a new customer loyalty program that had coffee drinkers everywhere running back for more. 

Starbucks expanded to include over 3,500 more stores from 1990 to 2000, and it all started with that loyalty program. Additionally, according to the Starbuck website, 1991 was the year that the coffee chain expanded its headquarters, signaling that the establishment truly had seen a ton of growth. Starbucks just can't stop, and it definitely didn't in 1990.

McDonald's dessert and other menu items made it truly popular by 1995

It probably shouldn't be too surprising that McDonald's has long been the most popular fast food chain out there, and its reign has dragged on for years. Specifically, the early and mid- 1990s were huge for McDonald's, with more and more international locations of the chain opening worldwide and a new menu item being introduced that continues to be popular today.

In 1993, McDonald's opened its first McCafe in Australia, the international location proving just how popular the establishment was everywhere. But then, in 1995, McDonald's finally launched its famous McFlurry, according to the McDonald's website, and menu additions like the McFlurry might be why it's remained the most popular fast food joint since 2000.

Pizza Hut came out swinging from 1995 to 1997

Much like Domino's, Pizza Hut has also become incredibly popular and almost synonymous with an easy, convenient, and delicious dinner. But while the chain launched all the way back in 1958, it took a few decades for it to become the powerhouse it is today, and it's all because of one menu change.

According to the Pizza Hut website, 1995 was a big year for Pizza Hut as it launched a new, fan-favorite menu item that might have changed the course of pizza history. Specifically, Pizza Hut came out with its Original Stuffed Crust, which apparently "set company sales records" in record time. The stuffed crust you know and love today made Pizza Hut the most popular fast food chain from 1995 to 1997, when the excitement over the new innovation eventually wore down. 

Still, Pizza Hut had a pretty great run for a while, there, and if you were born during that time frame, there's a good chance Pizza Hut was on your parents' minds. 

Chipotle made big moves in from 1998 to 2001

There's probably not a person out there who hasn't had, or at least heard of, Chipotle. The popular fast food chain might not be your typical fast food joint, but it is seriously delicious, and convenient. But, it took a while for it to catch on.

According to CNBC, it was in 1998 that Chipotle really got the push it needed in terms of expansion. That's because in 1998, Chipotle got a huge key investor when McDonald's invested over $360 million into the franchise. Because of that, the fast food chain expanded even further and got even more popular between 1998 and 2001. As more people discovered Chipotle, more people came back for more delicious burritos and bowls with a Mexican twist.

Subway dominated in 2002

Despite all the other fast food chains of the times not really making the effort to advertise themselves as being healthy, Subway did just that and found plenty of success along the way. Specifically, shortly after hiring the infamous Jared Fogle as a spokesperson for the chain in 2000, making the claim that Subway's sandwiches had helped him lose 200 pounds, Subway really took off.

According to Britannica, Subway actually became the biggest fast food chain restaurant in all of the United States in 2002. That's no small feat, and if you were born that year, then Subway was definitely the most popular fast food joint of the year. After all, they were everywhere, and they were known to be healthy and delicious (though today, there might be some doubts). Who could be mad at that?