Emerging Brands

5 huge restaurant chain trends

Here are the types of concepts that restaurant entrepreneurs and investors are betting will be big in the next few years.
Big chain trends
Eatertainment chains are booming, such as the soon-to-be-public Pinstripes. | Image courtesy of Pinstripes.

Investors in restaurant chains are always looking for the next big thing. For better or for worse, they jump onto trends in a bid to capture a concept that will generate a return over the next five to 10 to 20 years.

These trends are all over Restaurant Business Online, and particularly in our recently published Future 50 ranking of up-and-coming growth chains. So, after examining that ranking and our own coverage in recent months, I decided to present five of the biggest trends in restaurant chains right now.

(For more, check out our Future 50 ranking.)


This is almost impossible to ignore right now. First, pickleball concepts are everywhere. As RB Executive Editor Lisa Jennings points out, there is an arms race of sorts to create a brand that will take advantage of the rapidly growing sport of pickleball. That includes Chicken ‘N Pickle, which grew by 51% last year. But there are all kinds of eatertainment concepts right now, including the soon-to-be-public bowling eatertainment concept Pinstripes.

Drive-thru beverages

Six of the 50 chains on the Future 50 ranking serve coffee, mostly from drive-thru-only locations. Drive-thru coffee, including the publicly traded Dutch Bros, the not-publicly-traded Scooters and existing chains moving into drive-thru such as Caribou Coffee and Biggby Coffee, are also making their presences felt. And let’s not forget the drive-thru “dirty soda” chain Swig. Apparently, consumers can’t be bothered to get out of the car for their beverages these days.


Dutch Bros is leading a generation of drive-thru coffee chains. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Breakfast-and-lunch chains

We’ve long been a fan of these new family dining concepts, led by First Watch, that are not open after 2 p.m., effectively remaining open when they’re busiest, and closed when they’re not. A lot of chains are getting in on the act right now. As a result, nine of the 50 chains on the ranking are “midscale” or family dining concepts, including breakfast concepts such as Breakfast Republic and Huckleberry’s.


Doughnuts are low-key hot right now, particularly experiential concepts serving an innovative new take on the product. Duck Donuts, the Pennsylvania-based chain, has been on our Future 50 for the past couple of years. At the top of the ranking is Mochinut, the rapidly growing concept featuring mochi donuts, a fusion of doughnuts and Japanese mochi. There are plenty of other chains making noise in this space, such as the Texas-based Shipley Do-Nuts.


Shipley Do-Nuts has more than 300 locations. | Photo courtesy of Shipley Do-Nuts. 


There was some debate about the fifth chain at RB World Headquarters—there are several chicken chains on the Future 50, for instance. But tacos as a specific menu item continue to explode in general. For instance, earlier this month we found out that investors from Blaze Pizza, Dog Haus and Gus’s BBQ decided to create a taco concept. There is Tacombi, the rapidly growing chain of taco shops with some Danny Meyer money. There is the rapidly growing Tacos 4 Life, not to mention Velvet Taco, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Torchy’s Tacos. Danny Trejo has his own taco concept.  

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Why Wingstop isn't afraid of Popeyes' chicken wings

The Bottom Line: The fast-casual wing chain says its sales improve when another brand pushes the product. Here’s why that might be.


Mendocino Farms masters a meaty Philly cheesesteak sandwich—without the meat

Behind the Menu: The fast casual uses a mushroom-based meat alternative for its Philly Shroomsteak Sandwich, a new menu item targeted to flexitarians, not just vegans.


Pay hike for couriers shakes up food delivery in NYC

Customers are paying more, and couriers are working less. What it all means for restaurants is still unclear, but some fear it could get ugly.


More from our partners