2017 Top 500: Lessons from the list shifters

pie five pizzas

Operators can learn from those chains that jumped in the ranks, as well as from those that plummeted. 

Revise the better-for-you definition…often

“We’re seeing the next generation of healthy concepts,” says Tristano. Consumers’ definition of health continues to evolve, and that means operators need to rethink buzzwords and menu callouts to hit on transparency, clean eating, meat-free options and humane treatment of animals to compete with chains like Snap Kitchen and Modern Market that have built concepts around these “cleaner” points. One segment that’s emerging in the better-for-you battle that also has an ethnic spin: Mediterranean, as seen with Verts, Taziki’s and others. “People perceive it as healthy, fresher food,” says Kevin Schimpf, manager of industry research for Technomic.

Offer up convenience

Convenience is still driving occasions, and it’s evolving quickly. Much of the growth has taken place around off-premise, as more brands rethink takeout with mobile order-and-pay platforms, drive-thru and curbside advances, bot-enabled ordering through social media and expanded delivery. But even the dine-in experience is shifting; operators are retooling units, adding more outlets and USB charging stations, and using more at-the-table ordering to make dining in efficient. Sweetgreen and beverage chain Argo Tea, for example, have gone cashless to speed the line for those who pay in-store, while many fast-casual pizza chains have driven a lot of business to their apps. On the horizon: Developments like drones and robots will present new challenges for operators, but they aren’t too far off, Tristano says, and early adopters will benefit while others catch up.

Keep an eye toward other markets

The blurring of segment lines continued in 2016, with grocery, c-store and noncommercial taking share of the foodservice dollar. Prepared foods are getting upgraded, and employers such as Amazon are launching in-house concepts like Amazon Go that offer convenient dining options to staffers. Now, new contenders like meal kit delivery concepts and delivery-only, dining room-free restaurants (aka headless restaurants) are aiming for the same consumers. Snap Kitchen, for example, is more of a hybrid restaurant-convenience store: All food is packaged to go, to be reheated in a microwave, and the model is designed so that guests can order multiple meals for the week all at once. 

Ranking jumpers

Chain Name

2017 Rank

Rank Difference

Pie Five Pizza Co.461+309
Metro Diner463+227
Mission BBQ402+225
Slim Chickens350+194
Modern Market473+194
MOD Pizza213+169
Snap Kitchen458+145
Rock & Brews372+128
Pieology Pizzeria229+116
Smallcakes a Cupcakerie and Creamery430+105
Torchy's Tacos464+98
Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe311+92
Blaze Pizza191+89
Scotty's Brewhouse489+81

Source: Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report

Ranking slippers

Chain Name

2017 Rank

Rank Difference

Elephant Bar Restaurant344-85
Coco's Bakery Restauant302-81
Blimpie America's Sub Shop476-81
Tony Roma's445-78
Texas Land & Cattle Steak House417-76
Red Mango301-59
Dick's Last Resort434-55
Cheeburger Cheeburger462-55
El Chico Cafe403-54

Source: Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report


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