Top 500 Restaurant Chains Show Recovery


The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains saw 4.9% sales growth in 2012, a marked improvement over 2011’s 3.5% and a growth level not seen since 2007, according to foodservice consultancy Technomic.

Sales for these leading chains grew to an estimated $254 billion last year, up by more than $12 billion versus 2011, shows Technomic’s latest annual Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.
Technomic president Ron Paul noted that the overall industry growth rate is encouraging, but added that performance still varies substantially by chain, as chains continue to adapt their value propositions to meet consumer demands and adapt their operations to meet various business challenges. 



More than 60% of the top 500 posted at least nominal sales increases last year (168 saw sales declines, compared to 193 in 2011). Winners and losers appeared in every segment and menu category. These widely-mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners, stresses Technomic.

10 Fastest-Growing Large Chains

Among restaurants with sales over $200 million, the 10 fastest-growing in 2012, across all categories, were: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (2012 sales up 46.5%, to $249 million); Firehouse Subs (+33.5%, to $380 million); Jersey Mike’s Subs (+26.3%, to $348 million); Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers (+26%, to $260 million); Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop (+24.6%, to $1.26 billion); Cheddar’s Casual Café (+23.2%, to $540 million); Buffalo Wild Wings (+21%, to $2.47 billion); Chipotle Mexican Grill (+20.2%, to $2.72 billion); Yard House (+20.1%, to $315 million); and Panda Express (+19.8%, to $1.8 million). Sales for Dickey’s, Jersey Mike’s and Raising Cane’s are Technomic estimates.

In total, the top 10 fastest-growing chains’ sales were $10.3 billion, a 22% increase over 2011. Unit counts grew 15%.

As a whole, limited-service restaurants saw a 5.6% sales bump. The Asian, bakery café and Mexican categories had the largest growth. Segment leaders were Panda Express, Panera Bread (estimated 12.3% growth) and Taco Bell (estimated 8.3% growth). 

McDonald’s’ 2012 sales grew 4.2%, to $35.6 billion. Subway continues to be the second-largest U.S. chain, followed by Starbucks, Wendy’s and Burger King.

The chicken-chain limited-service subsegment also saw above-average sales growth (8.8%). Chick-fil-A’s sale grew 14.1%, to $4.6 billion. 

Fast casual chains also contributed to stronger 2012 performance. Chipotle Mexican Grill, with its 20.2% growth, was a standout.

Full-service restaurants saw sales grow 2.9%, a marginal increase over 2011’s 2.8%.

However, the full-service steak and seafood categories continued to show healthy growth, with increases of 5.9% and 4.5%, respectively. Gains in the steak category were driven by Texas Roadhouse (12.4%) and LongHorn Steakhouse (12%). Among seafood chains, the category leader, Red Lobster, met the average 4.5% growth rate.

The top 500’s international businesses continued to outperform their domestic counterparts in 2012. International sales were up 5.6%, versus the 4.9% U.S. gain. International unit growth was 8.3%, versus 2.2% for U.S. units.

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