When Wendy’s and McDonald’s went chain shopping

Restaurant Rewind: The burger giants once swelled their portfolios to include everything from pasta concepts to burrito chains. Here's why they ultimately pared back down to burgers.

The restaurant industry has seen more pendulum swings than some clock stores. Right now, the business is in a shrink-the-menu mode, a place it’s been about every 10 or 11 years. Give it a bit, and the trend is likely to swing back to expanding bills of fare in hopes of sporting at least one item for everybody.

The same pendulum effect is visible in the portfolio strategies of the industry’s largest players. Chili’s parent Brinker International has pared back its holdings to two brands after operating many times that number in the past.  In little more than four years, Arby’s franchisor has grown to include seven franchise chains encompassing 30,000 restaurants.

It's a to-and-fro Wendy’s and McDonald’s know well, having gone from one brand to a broad collection and then back down a lone operation in less than a decade.  Few remember today that McDonald’s owned a coffee chain called Aroma, and was once the parent of Chipotle. Wendy’s owned part of a chef-driven pasta chain and a European-style bistro concept.

In this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, RB’s retrospective podcast, Editor-At-Large Peter Romeo looks back at those expansion binges and the concerns that powered them. The broadcast also examines why the two giants decided ultimately to abandon the approach.

Restaurant Rewind is available from Spotify or where you get your podcasts.

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