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New Top 500 chain ranking shows cracks in the status quo

A just-released ranking of restaurant chains by sales volume shows a changing of the guard underway, with giant quick-service concepts, long the dominant forces of the industry, being successfully challenged by concepts that emphasize innovation and quality rather than price.

In releasing the Top 500 ranking this week, Chicago researcher Technomic Inc. stressed the success fast-casual upstarts are having as a group in stealing sales from reigning behemoths. Fast-casual brands within the Top 500 finished 2014 with a 12.8 percent increase in sales over the prior year’s tally, an acceleration from the early years of the decade.

Three of the 15 top-finishing chains on the list fit into the fast-casual sector: Starbucks, which bumped out Subway to become the nation’s second-highest-grossing restaurant brand; Panera Bread Co., at Number 11; and Chipotle, the poster concept for the segment, at Number 15.

The segment’s “winning formula of high-quality menu items in upscale settings, with high-touch service at prices between fast food and casual dining,” will keep fast-casual driving much of the industry’s sales growth for years to come, said Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano.

Also finishing strongly in the ranking were what Technomic has dubbed QSR plus, quick-service restaurants that have borrowed some of fast casuals’ tricks while keeping prices in the gap between fast-food and fast-casual. A standout example of that emerging segment, according to Technomic, is Chick-fil-A, Number Eight on this year’s list.

Greater emphasis on quality has also become a rallying cry for Domino’s (Number 13), Sonic Drive-Ins (Number 14) and Arby’s (Number 22).

Among the upsets noted by Technomic was the demotion of Subway, the industry’s largest chain in terms of number of restaurants, to the Number Three slot in the sales rankings. Technomic has attributed this slip to the rise of chains touting what they say is a sandwich of superior quality to what Subway sells, such as Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike’s.

The highest-ranking full-service chains on the list were Applebee’s (Number 10) and Olive Garden (Number 16), both of which are in the midst of turnaround efforts.

McDonald’s, another brand trying to rejuvenate itself, continued to top the list with 2014 systemwide sales of almost triple the intake of Starbucks.  

Rank

Chain Name

2014 U.S. Sales ($000)

% Change

2014 U.S. Units

% Change

1.

McDonald's

$35,447,000

-1.1%

14,350

0.5%

2.

Starbucks

12,688,920*

8.2

12,107

5.7

3.

Subway

11,900,000*

-3.3

27,205*

2.9

4.

Burger King

8,640,100*

1.6

7,142*

-0.2

5.

Wendy's

8,512,821*

-0.4

5,750

-0.7

6.

Taco Bell

8,200,000

5.1

5,921

2.6

7.

Dunkin' Donuts

7,176,400

6.4

8,082

5.3

8.

Chick-fil-A

5,782,207

14.4

1,887

6.3

9.

Pizza Hut

5,500,000

-3.5

7,863

0.2

10.

Applebee's

4,574,716*

1.3

1,870

0.5

11.

Panera Bread/Saint Louis Bread Co.

4,366,447

5.7

1,809

6.1

12.

KFC

4,200,000

0.0

4,370

-2.7

13.

Domino's

4,124,936

9.2

5,067

1.6

14.

SONIC Drive-In

4,099,447

5.0

3,517

0.0

15.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

4,049,100*

27.6

1,755

11.6

16.

Olive Garden

3,618,000

-1.3

838

1.2

17.

Chili's Grill & Bar

3,541,937*

1.7

1,266

0.0

18.

Buffalo Wild Wings

3,242,042*

16.7

1,052

7.6

19.

Little Caesars

3,231,900*

5.3

4,025*

3.0

20.

Dairy Queen/Orange Julius

3,208,147

7.5

4,517

-0.5

21.

Jack in the Box

3,191,233*

2.4

2,253

0.0

22.

Arby's

3,177,000

4.7

3,226

-1.3

23.

IHOP

3,013,738*

6.6

1,579

1.0

24.

Papa John's

2,673,854*

7.6

3,250

1.3

25.

Outback Steakhouse

2,491,000

1.3

753

-2.0

26.

Denny's

$2,447,000

5.4%

1,596

-0.2%

27.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

2,433,600

11.6

1,870

5.7

28.

Red Lobster

2,426,400*

-0.5

670

-1.2

29.

Panda Express

2,279,740

14.6

1,729

7.6

30.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

2,211,332

4.2

634

1.4

31.

Hardee's

2,040,700*

5.1

1,847

5.6

32.

Texas Roadhouse

1,894,826*

9.7

438

5.5

33.

Whataburger

1,801,070

13.4

774

2.1

34.

Cheesecake Factory, The

1,782,667*

5.6

176

4.1

35.

Golden Corral

1,734,519

-3.4

500

-0.2

36.

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches

1,729,000*

17.9

2,132

18.3

37.

TGI Fridays

1,597,500*

-1.5

512

-2.8

38.

Carl's Jr.

1,500,800*

4.1

1,188

2.7

39.

LongHorn Steakhouse

1,441,000

9.4

473

6.3

40.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews

1,421,100*

7.1

489

3.8

41.

Zaxby's

1,257,529

17.2

660

10.6

42.

Ruby Tuesday

1,218,800

-4.0

693

-5.8

43.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

1,208,296

6.2

1,163

3.8

44.

Culver's

1,035,687

14.4

528

6.7

45.

Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'N Biscuits

1,033,208

12.0

619

7.8

46.

Waffle House

974,700*

2.5

1,720*

1.2

47.

Bob Evans

962,713

-0.4

564

0.4

48.

Steak n Shake

943,000*

6.7

541

2.9

49.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

883,046

-2.5

213

0.5

50.

Church's Chicken

861,347

0.7

1,168

-3.0

51.

Hooters

$848,800*

2.5%

367*

1.9%

52.

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse

845,569

9.1

156

6.8

53.

Papa Murphy's Pizza

843,000*

8.1

1,433

2.7

54.

El Pollo Loco

729,516

10.9

415

3.5

55.

Carrabba's Italian Grill

714,000

0.6

243

1.3

56.

California Pizza Kitchen

713,900*

3.7

219

1.9

57.

Logan's Roadhouse

713,007*

0.7

261

0.8

58.

Qdoba Mexican Grill

684,046*

12.5

637

3.2

59.

Cheddar's Casual Cafe

668,030

8.9

157

4.7

60.

Krispy Kreme

659,593

6.1

278

9.4

61.

Del Taco

655,537

5.3

547

0.0

62.

Tim Hortons

636,500*

8.0

884

2.9

63.

Perkins Restaurant & Bakery

623,600*

-0.5

391

0.0

64.

Wingstop

622,400*

15.2

658

11.0

65.

Bonefish Grill

622,000

8.6

206

6.2

66.

Long John Silver's

618,800*

-1.0

1,225*

-2.0

67.

Jason's Deli

617,300

4.0

253

2.0

68.

Boston Market

606,200*

0.9

455

-1.1

69.

In-N-Out Burger

584,600*

4.7

301

3.4

70.

Moe's Southwest Grill

571,314

14.7

581

10.0

71.

Ruth's Chris Steak House

556,437*

4.7

123

1.7

72.

Firehouse Subs

552,407

24.7

850

17.7

73.

Baskin-Robbins

544,000

5.9

2,484

0.7

74.

White Castle

529,300*

-0.8

391

-2.0

75.

Old Country Buffet/HomeTown Buffet

526,000*

-3.0

193

-5.4

76.

Jersey Mike's Subs

$523,317

30.2%

857

20.2%

77.

O'Charley's

517,800

2.9

214

0.5

78.

Jamba Juice

512,737*

-0.4

806

0.4

79.

Einstein Bros. Bagels

508,900*

5.7

755*

4.9

80.

McAlister's Deli

504,500

9.9

337

5.0

81.

Captain D's Seafood Kitchen

499,949

4.5

511

-0.2

82.

Famous Dave's

494,707*

-0.1

186

-4.1

83.

Auntie Anne's

493,500*

10.3

1,190

10.3

84.

Quiznos

488,200*

-19.6

1,200*

-16.6

85.

Noodles & Company

454,844

11.3

439

15.5

86.

Checkers Drive-In Restaurants

450,000*

5.3

507

2.8

87.

Joe's Crab Shack

432,969

-3.3

139

2.2

88.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit

426,200*

28.8

474

28.1

89.

Yard House

425,600

15.0

56

16.7

90.

CiCi's Pizza

419,000*

-10.3

434

-9.0

91.

Krystal Company

408,257

1.1

355

1.7

92.

Round Table Pizza

399,500

5.7

435

-0.2

93.

Maggiano's Little Italy

391,200

4.0

49

8.9

94.

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina

390,100*

3.3

148

0.7

95.

Friendly's

384,000

-5.7

280

-17.4

96.

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers

381,200*

20.1

215

21.5

97.

Capital Grille, The

380,000

9.3

55

5.8

98.

Cold Stone Creamery

366,514

-0.7

945

-4.5

99.

Chuck E. Cheese's

365,000*

-4.9

545*

0.6

100.

Corner Bakery Cafe

355,675

10.1

184

15.7

*Technomic estimate
© 2015 Technomic Inc., Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report B-2

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