This annual list of the best diner and breakfast restaurant franchises was revised and updated on February 24, 2021.
Breakfast has been a rising trend in the restaurant world in recent years. As with any restaurant trend, this is partly about the novelty of eating a little differently, but there’s also the real value people get from a good meal before a day’s work. As a result, over 40% of restaurants in regions like the US offer breakfast options, and specialist breakfast and diner restaurants are on the rise. The sector grew by 5% in the five years to 2020.
With many diet plans emphasizing the importance of protein, traditional breakfast foods are a good fit for modern consumers, with cooked breakfasts full of meats and eggs, or porridges and other dishes laden down with nuts, grains, and seeds. For people who don’t feel like cooking, breakfast out is an easy way to get that protein in, and it can brighten the start of the working day through social time. Diners also provide relaxed daytime eating. As a result, 22% of consumers were more likely to visit a full-service restaurant during the day in 2016 than just two years before.
Breakfast food ingredients tend to be cheaper than those for dinner, which means better margins on breakfast menus. Fast food restaurants report profit margins as high as 15% on breakfast items. This can make breakfast and diner style menus a safer bet for a new business.
Taking full advantage of breakfast sales typically includes offering breakfast all day, or at least during all hours of operation, which for many breakfast places is only in the morning or through lunch time. For restaurateurs, this can be an attractive schedule that allows workers to be home with their kids after school.
Breakfast places were hit hard by COVID-19, due to a reduction in the number of commuters and the belt tightening that came with an economic downturn. Major fast food chains reported an 18% year-on-year fall in breakfast business in June 2020, compared with 11% drops for lunch and 12% for dinner.
While 2021 is expected to see a social and economic recovery, with vaccinations and government investment rebuilding something like normal, there is a risk that consumers will be out of the habit of eating out for breakfast. This may be countered by consumers eating out during the day instead of the evening, as a cheaper option, something that restaurants saw during the last recession and which would work in these restaurants’ favor.
Breakfast and diner restaurants used to be limited to the customers who come to them, but the rise of third-party delivery apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub means that breakfast restaurants can cater to people who want a stack of pancakes and bacon but don’t want to leave the house. This helped these restaurants during the COVID crisis, as they could arrange deliveries to their customers. This is likely to remain important in a post-COVID world.
Part of the growth of breakfasts and diners can be attributed to more variety. Grain bowls, pastries, and early morning versions of lunch staples all appeal. But ultimately, it’s the familiar breakfast classics that provide cheap, comforting food, and have made this a successful sector.
The Top Diner and Breakfast Restaurant Franchises of 2021
1. IHOP (International House of Pancakes)
IHOP (International House of Pancakes) is a well-known chain that offers all three meals of the day, but is obviously best known for breakfast and pancakes. Rounding out the breakfast menu are traditional offerings such as French toast, omelets, waffles, crepes, various egg dishes, and all the breakfast sides a person could want.
Many locations are open 24/7, and franchisees have the option to go with a traditional IHOP restaurant or an IHOP Express for non-traditional locations such as casinos, travel centers, universities, and airports.
Founded by Jerry Lapin, Al Lapin, and Albert Kallis in Los Angeles, California in 1958 and franchising since 1960, the number of locations currently stands at around 1,841 (as of December 2019), including locations in all but a handful of states domestically, and about a dozen countries internationally.
Denny’s is fondly remembered by many as a go-to college hangout spot due to the fact that they’re always open, meaning 24/7/365 (including holidays). Breakfast all day is a major draw, and the chain has been offering multiple variations on the Grand Slam breakfast launched back in 1977. There are now eight signature slams on the menu – various breakfast combination platters that are reasonably priced. Additional breakfast offerings include waffles, skillets, and omelets.
A new concept in addition to the traditional restaurant is The Den, a smaller, hipper diner now open on 15 college and university campuses.
Founded by Harold Butler in Lakewood, California in 1953 and franchising since 1963, the number of locations has held relatively steady in recent years and currently stands at 1,679, of which 66 are company-owned and 147 are located outside the US.
3. Huddle House
Huddle House is a chain of 24-hour diners featuring Southern dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but is best known for its breakfast options, which include five different Big House Breakfasts (combination platters), eight signature sweet cakes (pancakes), stuffed hash browns, waffles, French toast, omelets, two-egg platters, and lots of sides.
Huddle House recently purchased the Perkins chain of family restaurants.
Founded by John Sparks in Decatur, Georgia in 1964 and franchising since 1966, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 400 in 2011 to the current total of 336, of which 50 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Perkins is a pancake house that has menus for every meal of the day, but is generally thought of primarily as a breakfast-all-day chain with pancakes, omelets, French toast, Belgian waffles, “Smashers” (a bed of crispy mashed tater tots topped with two eggs and various meats and cheeses), other egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches on biscuits, baked pastries, and a host of other breakfast sides.
Perkins declared bankruptcy in August 2019, closed quite a few locations, and was subsequently purchased by Huddle House.
Founded by Matt and Ivan Perkins in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1958 and franchising since then, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 482 in 2008 to the current total of 290 (down from the previously reported total of 324).
5. The Original Pancake House
The Original Pancake House features some very unique breakfast creations, including its Apple Pancakes (super-sized and loaded with sautéed apples and cinnamon sugar), the Dutch Baby (an air-filled oven-baked pancake with whipped butter, lemon, and powdered sugar), Danish Kijafa Cherry Crepes, oven-baked omelets, and lots of other dishes including other varieties of pancakes, waffles, crepes, egg dishes, and many sides and meats.
Founded by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke in Portland, Oregon in 1953 and franchising soon thereafter, the company website currently lists 141 locations, of which 130 are located in the US (two less than last year), eight in Japan, and three in South Korea.
6. Black Bear Diner
Black Bear Diner is a Western chain of restaurants serving up the comfort foods of yesteryear in locations with a rustic motiff and lots of bear-related décor. Each restaurant also features a one-of-a-kind 12-foot-tall bear carved out of wood by Ray Schulz, along with mural paintings by Colleen Mitchell-Veyna, Steve Fitzgerald, and Gary Fitzgerald.
The breakfast menu is served all day and includes many of the usual suspects such as egg scrambles, omelets, French toast, waffles, pancakes, two-egg combos, Mexican-inspired items, Bear’s Benedicts, plenty of sides, and the chain’s unique Bear Claw pastry made in-house with almond filling.
Founded by Bruce Dean and Bob & Laurie Manley in Mount Shasta, California in 1995 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 51 in 2011 to the last known reported total of 131 (in 2019), of which 48 were company-owned and all were located in the US.
7. Another Broken Egg Café
Another Broken Egg Café has homed in on its target market – Millennials. It presents as a slightly more upscale breakfast experience that “foodies” can appreciate. This is why it also makes a big deal out of its brunch menu, when handcrafted signature cocktails are also available. Its menu is described as Southern-inspired with all kinds of creative twists on classics such as waffles, French toast, pancakes, omelets, scrambles, and benedicts, many of which feature Louisiana seafood and Cajun influences.
Founded by Ron Green in Mandeville, Louisiana in 1996 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 11 in 2008 to the current total of 74 listed on the company website, with another five listed as “coming soon.”
8. Boomarang Diner
Boomarang Diner is a full-service 1950s-style chain of diners that serves breakfast all day with its motto “Not Fast Food, Good Food Fast.” The breakfast menu includes four different breakfast combination platters, four different omelets, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, an eggwich, and several breakfast sides such as hash browns. The company’s approach is to skip all the “corporate mumbo jumbo” and just stick to providing people with proven staples and quality service.
Founded by Charles Degraffenreid in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 2006 and franchising since then, the number of locations has grown to the last known reported total of 55 in 2019, of which 25 were company-owned and all were located in the US (all in Oklahoma, with one in Arkansas).
9. Eggs Up Grill
Eggs Up Grill emphasizes spending time with family and friends during breakfast and lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in an environment of Southern hospitality. The menu features a variety of Southern-style breakfast combo meals as well as eight different breakfast sandwiches, eggs benedict, nine signature omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, and sides such as home fries, bacon, sausage, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, grits, and more.
Founded by Chris Skodras in Pawleys Island, South Carolina in 1986 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has grown in recent years from five in 2011 to the current total of 46 (up from the previously reported total of 35), of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
10. Broken Yolk Café
Broken Yolk Café is a chain of breakfast/lunch restaurants featuring many creative breakfast offerings such as Golden State Benedict (toasted muffin topped with grilled tomato, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce), Tiki Toast (grilled Hawaiian bread topped with fruit), and the Ranchtree Skillet (homefried potatoes sautéed with chorizo, jack cheese, and sunny-side-up eggs). There are six benedicts, six “Morning Glory” health-focused dishes (oatmeal, a wrap, parfait, etc.), French toast, crepes, 10 omelets, three skillets, and nine different south-of-the-border options.
Founded in the Pacific Beach community of San Diego, California in 1979 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations currently listed on the company website is 33 (one less than last year), with another four locations listed as coming soon.
11. Elmer’s Breakfast Lunch Dinner/Egg N’ Joe
Elmer’s Breakfast Lunch Dinner/Egg N’ Joe has two distinct franchise options. Elmer’s Breakfast Lunch Dinner is a full-service homestyle-cooking restaurant that originally gained its reputation as a pancake house back in the 1960s. Egg N’ Joe was rolled out in 2016 to offer the best of the Elmer’s menu in a smaller, more streamlined model open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Breakfast is available all day in both concepts with all the homestyle items expected at a family restaurant – pancakes, French toast, crepes, waffles, hand-rolled omelets, benedicts, skillets, a half-dozen different breakfast combination platters, and several different seasonal breakfast entrées.
Founded by Walt and Dorothy Elmer in Portland, Oregon in 1962 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations currently stands at 29, of which 11 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
12. Famous Toastery
Famous Toastery is centered around the relatively recent trend focused on fancy toast. It aims to be a “better breakfast” chain and presents as more upscale than casual. Everything is made fresh each day and from scratch. The menu has six signature omelets, five signature benedicts, flapjacks, French toast, waffles, huevos rancheros, biscuits and gravy, breakfast sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos, hash, mac and cheese, breakfast pizza, and, of course, avocado toast. During brunch, customers can enjoy wine pairings with featured menu items.
Founded by Brian Burchill and Robert Maynard in Huntersville, North Carolina in 2005 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations peaked at 31 in 2018 and has since declined to 26, of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
13. The Flying Biscuit Café
The Flying Biscuit Café offers lots of Southern-style dishes on its breakfast menu, but has made its biggest impression with its fresh-baked biscuits and grits. Among its other unique offerings you’ll find the chicken sausage patty, turkey hash, a Meggxican wrap, smoked salmon scramble, and several signature omelets. More traditional offerings include pancakes, French toast, and a variety of eggs-and-meat combination meals.
Founded in 1993 and franchising since 2006, there are currently 20 locations (up from the previously reported total of 18), of which four are company-owned and all are located in the US.
14. Lumberjacks Restaurant
Lumberjacks Restaurant is designed around hearty meals like 4-egg omelets, big signature skillets, the Sequoia Breakfast Club sandwich, the Logger’s Breakfast Burrito, Pesto Benedict, and many others. Every location features a 12-foot-tall lumberjack statue, you open the front door with an axe handle, and the interior of each location features rustic lumberjack décor.
Founded by Jeff and Susan Garrett in Redding, California in 2004 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations currently stands at nine, of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. The Egg & I
The Egg & I comes up in online searches as a memoir published by Betty MacDonald in 1945, a movie based on that book made in 1947, and this chain of breakfast/brunch/lunch restaurants (named for the book). The menu is heavy on egg dishes (omelets, benedicts, frittatas, scrambles), huevos rancheros, egg sandwiches, eggs and gravy, skillets and hashes (all topped with two eggs), pancakes, waffles, and French toast.
There used to be as many as 44 locations once upon a time, but now there are only seven locations listed on the company website, all in and around Las Vegas.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.