A fast reality check

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Fast casual has been the must-watch segment of the industry for a decade, with its industry-leading growth, consumer perception-changing quality and innovation, and all that customizable goodness. Our cover tells of its growing pains, but in fact, the segment boosted sales by 8% last year—hardly hard times. Spoiler: The cover story talks more about bolstering fast casual’s strengths than defending its weaknesses.

Those of us who have been watching the industry for a long time are still excited about fast casual and its future. We’re also the same people who can give it a little perspective.

Technomic’s preliminary data for the Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report (which will be final by the time this reaches your mailbox) found that the total sales for all 99 of the fast-casual chains in the Top 500 totaled about $36.5 billion in 2016. McDonald’s sales were $36.3 billion. The segment’s unit count grew to about 26,850 last year, which is a hair over Subway’s 26,744.

This year, for the first time ever, all of the top 10 chains of the Top 500 by systemwide sales are quick service. In last year’s report, Panera Bread jumped up to replace Applebee’s—the last full-service holdout—among the top 10. Panera’s spot was short-lived, thanks to Domino’s and its 14% increase in sales.

Fast casual may be the industry darling. But as the numbers show, there’s good reason to stay excited about quick service, too. 

Today's top stories

1
The Tijuana Flats fast-casual Tex-Mex chain is adding a family meal kit as a delivery option available from all 130 of its branches starting Monday. The $31.99 kit consists of a taco bar in portable...
2
The Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and The Brass Tap casual-dining chains have been sold by Levine Leichtman Capital Partners to another private-equity firm, CapitalSpring. Terms were not disclosed. The buyer,...
3
As operators look for more ways to diversify revenue streams, getting into packaged goods via in-store merchandise or licensing can be an appealing option. Because restaurants are not necessarily set...
4
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5
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6
In my late 20s, there was a wedding boom. It felt like every other weekend, my friends and I were going out to a bar to toast another newly engaged couple over fancy margaritas, smoky Manhattans or...
7
Chipotle has closed its restaurant in Sterling, Va., after at least a dozen people say they were stricken with flu-like symptoms after eating there. The chain is aware of “a small number of reported...
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Chef Bobby Flay’s 17-unit fast-casual chain is using a little-known securities option for small-to-midsized businesses to sell an undisclosed stake to the public for $15 million. The so-called mini-...
9
Chick-fil-A began testing packaged takeout meals yesterday in the chicken chain’s latest effort to bolster both off-premise and family traffic. The brand is calling the four-meal packages “meal kits...
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In a food-obsessed city such as Portland, Ore., chef Gabriel Pascuzzi saw a niche he could fill. He wasn’t overly impressed by the sandwich scene, and he observed the crowds lined up at other chef-...