Consumers' favorite chains 2016
Fast casual reigns as the darling of the restaurant industry, with much attention focused on build-your-own concepts such as Chipotle or Blaze Pizza. While customization is expected to grow 22.3 percent according to Technomic, non-DIY fast casuals still are scoring well with consumers. In fact, four of consumers’ five favorite fast-casual chains have traditional menus. It’s the quality message that wins over guests, especially when it comes to sandwiches. Firehouse and others are growing while Subway is losing ground, falling from second place to third among all chains, as a measure of sales, for the first time this past year.
#1 Firehouse Subs
Parent: Firehouse Subs
HQ: Jacksonville, Fla.
Firehouse has stayed near the front of many industry trends, says CEO Don Fox. In addition to focusing on quality ingredients and adding an array of cold deli-style sandwiches to its lineup of hot options, it put calorie counts on menus well in advance of the federal mandate. To further ease the customer experience, Firehouse launched a mobile app in August that includes ordering and payment, an in-app game and loyalty rewards. Beacons, too, are in test to help the brand learn more about its customers. Going forward, says Fox, “We think we have the ability to make Firehouse Subs an even more convenient choice.”
Service and hospitality: 72.6%
Appearance and ambiance: 57.4%
Food and beverage: 58.0%
Convenience and takeout: 65.0%
#2 McAlister's Deli
As consumer demand for off-premise dining surges on, McAlister’s parent, Focus Brands, plans to keep its concepts in lockstep. Focus now is testing delivery via Postmates in select markets, with the goal of uniting all its brands under one delivery house in all high-density markets by early 2016.
#3 Jersey Mike's Subs
The hot-and-cold sandwich chain spent the year expanding—both in terms of menu offerings and unit count—with openings in Utah and New Mexico, bringing the chain’s reach to 41 states.
#4 The Habit Burger Grill
With a price point on the lower end of the fast-casual scale, this fast-growing newcomer to the list differentiates itself with charbroiled (vs. flat-top) burgers—which feed its social media pages with a stream of food porn—and made-to-order salads that win over the health-conscious crowd.
#5 Moe's Southwest Grill
Moe’s new president and head of marketing aim to further push the Mexican chain’s quirky, irreverent image. For instance, it turned its annual Free Queso Day giveaway into a social media event, inviting fans to post using a #FreeQuesoRocks hashtag and download a Quesopalooza playlist.