Can Starbucks really top McDonald's as the world's most valuable restaurant chain?

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Can Starbucks overtake McDonald's as the world's most valuable restaurant chain?

Nomura analyst Mark Kalinowski thinks it's inevitable. Kalinowski named Starbucks his top restaurant stock for 2017 in a report released on Tuesday.

"It is only a matter of time before Starbucks overtakes McDonald's as the largest market cap restaurant stock, although likely not in 2017," said Kalinowski, who CNBC called one of Wall Street's top analysts. (Kalinowski also claims to be the only person in the country to have visited all 250 of the nation's top restaurant chains, according to his LinkedIn profile.)

But does his prediction hold water?

According to Bloomberg, Starbucks stock actually fell 7.5 percent last year, as growth seemed to slow. But many analysts like Starbucks' potential for growth. The world's reigning king of coffee currently has a goal of opening 37,000 cafes by 2021. (As of September 2016, McDonald's operated 36,615 locations worldwide.)

"Well beyond 2021, we would not be surprised to see Starbucks exceed the 50,000-store level," said Kalinowski.

There are, however, a few factors that could change the game.

For one, Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz recently announced that he's stepping down next year, to focus on building the company's premium brand, Starbucks Reserve.) Since Schultz is the heart and soul of the company, that could be disastrous. (Don't you remember what happened the last time Schultz stepped down?)

I've also written recently about some notable changes in strategy for McDonald's, including its attempt to beat Starbucks at its own game, by upping its coffee game. If McDonald's can win more moms and dads by delivering a similar experience to Starbucks, all while keeping the kids occupied, things will get interesting.

But hey, competition's always good for the consumer, right?

May the best company win.

RELATED: 10 best Starbucks deals

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10 best Starbucks deals
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10 best Starbucks deals

1. Reduced-Price Refills

If you need another pick-me-up even after you've just finished a coffee, you can get another at Starbucks and avoid paying full price. Whether you ordered a standard coffee of the day or an espresso drink, you can get a second cup of coffee for just 50 cents by hanging on to your original cup — no receipt needed.

According to Kendal Perez, a savings expert for Coupon Sherpa, you can also receive 10 cents off your original coffee order by bringing your own mug or tumbler.

"You have to be in the store (not the drive through) and cannot leave and then come back to receive this perk," said Perez. "Starbucks Rewards members (green and gold levels) receive free refills on brewed coffee and tea purchases, too."

2. Rewards Program

If you frequent Starbucks, sign up for its rewards program to score free drinks, food and other Starbucks merchandise, said Perez.

Start by downloading the Starbucks app and preloading it with cash, or pick up a gift card. You can then pay with your app to earn stars with every purchase. Rewards members start at "green" level status, which earns them free in-store refills, plus member events and offers. Load $10 or more in the Starbucks app using Visa Checkout, and you'll get a $10 eGift.

3. Starbucks Email List

Joining Starbucks' email list can be a useful, money-saving deal in more than one way. First, when you sign up for the email, you get 10 percent off your next order. Second, you can utilize the email list to stack rewards, said savings expert Teri Gault.

“Sign up for emails," she said. "When they have a challenge or Dash, enter it for more star rewards."

4. Seasonal Offers

Starbucks promotes seasonal offers such as Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Sweet/Treat Receipts and buy-one-get-one holiday drinks, said Perez.

"Between April 5 and April 11 of this year, for example, Starbucks offered any bakery item for $1 to customers who purchased something prior to 2 p.m. and returned after 2 p.m. with their receipt. During the last weekend in May, they offered 'buy three, get one free' drinks after 2 p.m. And they typically offer BOGO free on holiday drinks between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. for three days in mid-November," she said.

5. Free Add-ons

It might seem trivial, but you can save money by skipping the flavor at the counter and opting for the free flavor add-ons thatStarbucks offers, said Kerry Sherin of Offers.com. There, you can score flavors like cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla.

“Starbucks offers free half-and-half, cream, sugar and several spices, making it easy to spice up an inexpensive brewed coffee into a cinnamon-cream coffee for free,” said Perez.

6. Birthday Freebie

Like other stores and restaurants, Starbucks will celebrate your birthday with a freebie. “Any drink of any size is free toStarbucks Rewards (green and gold level) members,” said Perez.

7. Splitting a Venti

A good way to save at Starbucks is to go big — then split. When visiting Starbucks with a friend, order a venti — the 20-ounce large size — and split it between both of you. Ask the barista for two small cups; with the two cups, split the large drink between the both of you and then modify your coffee as you see fit.

You can do this with any drink Starbucks has, so if you’re trying to save a few bucks with someone, this is a great way to do it, said Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. "In the end, you’ll pay about $5 for the venti Frappuccino instead of $8 to $9 for two talls," he said.

8. Americano

James said ordering an Americano is one of the best ways to get your caffeine fix on the cheap.

“It's simply hot water poured over two freshly pulled espresso shots. If you want even more caffeine, don’t order an extra shot of espresso for your tall Americano,” he said. “Instead, order a ‘grande Americano in a tall cup,’ and get the extra shot cheaper by doing so. You’ll get three shots of espresso, instead of two, and pay less overall.”

9. Free Samples

Starbucks has a little known policy in which you can sample anything at Starbucks if you just ask, said Gault.

"They'll probably tell you to go ahead and take a seat, and they will bring it to you first, as they will make a tray of tasters for everyone in the store when they cut into that muffin. So, if you just want a coffee but want a little bite, it's free," she said.

"You can also ask to sample new Chile Mocha, or any other coffee drink. They have to make a whole one, so they'll do the same," Gault added.

10. Starbucks Online Deals

You don’t need to go into a brick-and-mortar Starbucks to score deals. The online Starbucks store is offering free shipping on any order of $75 or more, said Brenton Shelton of FatWallet. Also online, Starbucks is offering 5 percent off any order for existing customers when you use coupon code 5OFFSEPT16.

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Who's your predicted winner, Starbucks or McDonald's? Let us know in the comments.


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