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Restaurant Business provides actionable information from best-in-the-biz data.
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Photography by Jason Little

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It’s rare that operators make decisions based solely on instinct anymore. “Everything is informed by data,” Darren Rebelez, president of IHOP, told the audience at the Restaurant Leadership Conference last month. When asked if there was still room for “gut” in decision-making, Rebelez said, “We don’t like to lean too much on that anymore.” Instead, he said, the IHOP team leans on experience. “Interpreting that data is really where the experience comes in.”

While data indisputably matters in today’s restaurant space more than ever before, it’s no longer enough just to provide the numbers. In a sea of dashboards and Excel sheets, the value comes from the analysis. It’s why so many restaurant companies, IHOP included, have invested heavily in consumer insights and business analytics teams. It’s also not uncommon for restaurants to have a team of data scientists at HQ. Because having all of the data is pretty useless if it can’t be translated into actionable information.

That’s what we want to be for you, our readers: Your navigators through some heavy industry data. This month, our entire issue is devoted to data. More specifically, it’s dedicated to Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, an annual ranking of the top-grossing chains in the U.S. In this special edition, you’ll see some of the numbers—including an approachable, easy-to-read ranking of the top 250 chains—and you’ll also find much more: a guide to the numbers, from our team of industry experts at RB.

Beyond some of the overarching trends, we’ve provided insights that will resonate across the C-suite, diving into the numbers at the segment, menu type and brand level. We look at fast casual’s continued maturation as well as the influence the biggest QSRs have on the industry. We examine menu segments such as coffee cafes and steakhouses, where innovation on the menu front is helping chains remain competitive. We call out newcomers to the list, as well as those brands rising and sinking quickly, and identify what’s helping or hurting them.

In a time when restaurants are competing against one another as well as outside forces for traffic, it’s crucial to be informed. And when there are so many new partners—technology, delivery, marketing automation and more—trying to embed themselves in restaurant operations, it’s imperative to understand KPIs both when selecting vendors as well as when measuring results. It’s certainly a complex, competitive time to be in the restaurant business, and it’s the forward-thinking brands that are armed with the right data-driven insights that are pulling ahead.

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