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Restaurants are testing new ways to speed the ordering process, replacing humans with machines in various permutations. Staffers Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen decided to check out a few versions of the trend, and came up with a final tally.

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As an urbanist, I've always laughed at how big cities are portrayed in movies—flaming garbage cans in the alleys, steam pouring out of manhole covers and hordes of feral cats lurking around every corner. While every metropolis has its unsavory spots, these fictional vignettes are hilariously off the mark.

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What kind of gym has a “Lunk Alarm” to warn against hard-core body builders? Or a free pizza night for members the first Monday of every month? Or a debut on the New York Stock Exchange complete with purple carpets—the brand's signature color—and “hand chairs” out front to attract tourists? Planet Fitness, the No. 1 company on this year's Fast and Serious ranking. Now CEO Chris Rondeau's charge is sticking to the brand's contrarian nature. “The success is strongly believing in the culture and not wavering,” he says. Read on for his growth philosophy, along with that of 39 more smart franchise leaders committed to building bigger systems, but only in sustainable ways.

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Last year was mixed for stocks on the Franchise Times Scoreboard, as China volatility and an oil drop got investors wary about the future.

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Every Fed day sends jitters around the stock market and has consumers wondering what it means for their next car or home loan. But for franchisees building restaurants with debt, moves by the Federal Reserve can materially change access to capital and fixed finance costs.

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Whether you blame the housing crisis, the millennials or global urbanization, there is a noticeable shift away from the staid suburbs in favor of trendy urban neighborhoods. But, while suburban locations may be down, it may be too soon to count them out completely.