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Top Restaurant Franchises

Convenient Spark

by Nicholas Upton

Getting a sandwich got a little easier in 2019. One of the biggest trends affecting the space was the continued expansion of digital and convenient options to grab a sandwich, bagel or quick lunch. Panera continued to lead in the digital transformation of the segment, and the company edged toward $6 billion in sales with the greater efficiency. The company grew sales by 4.5 percent and units expanded by 2.8 percent as convenient channels helped every location do a little more. The fastest grower, McAlister’s, continued down the same path as it added technology and brought more convenient ways for customers to grab and go. There’s a stark contrast between those that are pushing toward digital initiatives and those that are lagging. The top three companies in the segment have all invested heavily in technology beyond a loyalty program and are taking more market share from customers as they also get more attention from prospective franchisees.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1127McAlister's Deli 719 6.0%
225Panera Bread 5,925* 4.5%
3232Newk's Eatery 227 2.6%
4269La Madeleine 169 -1.1%
5155Einstein Bros. Bagels 520* -2.4%
6197Corner Bakery Café 350* -4.1%
7134Jason's Deli 623 -4.8%
8205Schlotzsky's Bakery Café 320 -4.9%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1298L&L Hawaiian Barbecue 141 9.9%
2200Famous Dave's 334* -8.0%
3179Dickey's Barbecue Pit 415* -9.8%

Little by little

By Laura Michaels

Collectively, better burger franchises aren’t poised to overtake their QSR counterparts in total sales anytime soon, but the segment did grow topline revenue by 6.4 percent in 2019, even as two brands didn’t pull their weight. Five Guys is in the top position with its 11.1 percent growth, which translates into a $217 million boost to push the brand past the $2 billion mark. The company also increased its unit count by 54 and moved up four spots to No. 62 overall. BurgerFi and Fatburger were the only other gainers in the segment, up 6.6 percent and 3 percent, respectively. For Fuddruckers and Smashburger, meanwhile, 2019 meant another year of sales declines. Smashburger took a particularly big dip, down almost 12 percent or $38 million. That’s after a 7.8 percent decline in 2018.

Better Burgers    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1374Wayback Burgers 66 14.7%
262Five Guys 2,181 11.1%
3292BURGERFI 145 6.6%
4395MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes 57 5.4%
5306Fatburger 126 3.0%
6236Fuddruckers 215* -6.5%
7216Smashburger 280* -11.9%

Positive overall

By Callie Evergreen

Restaurants in the casual breakfast segment all showed positive sales growth in 2019, with the sector growing 3.4 percent. Redding, California-based Black Bear Diner reached double-digit sales growth at 15.3 percent, on par with its 15.8 percent growth in 2018. The brand’s unit count also grew by 15 percent with the addition of 18 locations. Denny’s and IHOP continue to lead the category in terms of sheer size. Only Huddle House shed units, down six of them from 2018 for a total of 336 locations in 2019. Another Broken Egg Café added two units in 2019 and grew systemwide sales by $8 million.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1462Eggs Up Grill 31 36.4%
2470The Flying Biscuit Café 29 19.6%
3199Black Bear Diner 336 15.3%
4391Broken Yolk Café 59 15.1%
5326Another Broken Egg Café 98 8.8%
650Denny's 2,900 3.6%
7392Elmer's Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner 59 2.3%
843IHOP 3,464 2.2%
9227Huddle House 245 0.6%

Dwindling interest

By Nicholas Upton

Traditional casual dining continued the slow decline seen in years past. Overall, the segment shed $293 million in sales as it shuttered 136 locations in 2019. But for the companies that re-tooled, retrenched and tweaked operations, there was a glimmer of growth and easing declines for some. The Melting Pot went through a rebranding in 2018 and got to positive sales in 2019. And Chili’s, which has been retooling and closing underperforming locations for years, was the No. 1 growth brand with 1.7 percent sales growth. The two top brands, however, represent the only sales growers in a segment with some notable declines. Applebee’s shed $160 million in sales and 50 locations; Red Robin lost $25 million in sales and 35 locations; and sales at Steak ‘n Shake declined $175 million as it also closed 16 locations. The traditional casual dining segment joined subs as the only two restaurant segments that lost sales and locations in 2019.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1449Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse 34 2.9%
236Chili's 4,004 1.7%
3249The Melting Pot 187 0.5%
4340Roy Rogers 90 -1.3%
579Red Robin 1,570* -1.6%
633Applebee's 4,350* -3.5%
7113Steak 'n Shake 825* -17.5%

Chicken is King

By Nicholas Upton

The chicken segment continued its hot streak in 2019. For the third year in a row, it was the best performing restaurant category in the Top 200+. In all, the category added more than $4.8 billion in sales—that’s a lot of chicken. Chicken Salad Chick had the highest sales growth for the year. CEO Scott Deviney said the company’s 39.6 percent sales growth was a flywheel of 16 quarters of same-store sales pushing advertising and solidifying the brand’s reach. “It’s a culmination of building the foundation every year brick by brick so we could open restaurants and support more growth,” said Deviney. Every company grew significantly, a rarity among restaurant categories. At the low growth end, Church’s still added $12 million in sales and the giant KFC grew sales by 6.3 percent to $27.9 billion. But it was Chick-fil-A that added the most sales, growing by $2.2 billion, according to FDD research. That puts the chicken juggernaut in the mix with just three other brands that grew by more than $2 billion.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Global Growth %
1280Chicken Salad Chick 153 39.6%
2310Slim Chickens 121 25.5%
39Chick-fil-A 12,680* 21.2%
432Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen 4,397 17.8%
5423Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken 44 12.8%
668Zaxby's 1,920* 7.9%
7253Golden Chick 183 6.7%
83KFC 27,900 6.3%
9208Chester's 309 4.0%
1089Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits 1,334 2.7%
1195Church's Chicken 1,212 1.0%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1319Scooter's Coffee 105 32.3%
2439Aroma Joe's 37 29.8%
3445PJ's Coffee of New Orleans 35 11.9%
4297Biggby Coffee 142* 7.4%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1446Vitality Bowls 35 49.8%
2488SoBol 23 39.4%
3367CoreLife Eatery 71 28.4%
4251Freshii 184 7.4%
Hot Dog    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1432Dog Haus 38 10.1%
2215Wienerschnitzel 280 4.5%
3476Hot Dog on a Stick 27 -3.2%
4394Nathan's Famous 58 -7.4%

Hotter than before

By Tom Kaiser

The Mexican portion of the franchised restaurant space has been a bright spot for years. While subcategory giant Taco Bell looms large, with nearly 7,400 global locations, brands further down in the Top 200+ are posting impressive sales gains, led by Costa Vida’s 10.6 percent systemwide revenue boost, bringing it to No. 294 overall. Qdoba, too, posted a solid 6 percent increase. After moving the headquarters to San Diego from Denver, Qdoba President Keith Guilbault said the brand’s momentum had been so positive that it was exploring a potential sale of the business before the pandemic scuttled those plans—at least temporarily. New to the ranking, Rusty Taco debuted at No. 471 with just 33 units, but an impressive 14.3 percent increase in sales. Only two brands, Moe’s Southwest Grill (No. 126) and Baja Fresh (No. 322), saw fewer total sales for the year.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1471Rusty Taco 29 14.3%
2294Costa Vida 144 10.6%
312Taco Bell 11,784 9.3%
4105Qdoba Mexican Eats 901 6.0%
5359Pancheros Mexican Grill 76* 5.6%
6112Del Taco 851 4.0%
7107El Pollo Loco 895 3.0%
8186Taco John's 375 1.4%
9126Moe's Southwest Grill 731 -0.5%
10322Baja Fresh 104 -7.9%

Pizza night every night

By Laura Michaels

The pizza category blew by the $40 billion mark in 2019, fueled largely by the off-premises players, which accounted for $37.5 billion of the total, a boost of 4.4 percent in 2019. The sit-down side, meanwhile, suffered a 3.3 percent decline, dragged down by UNO Pizzeria & Grill and Round Table Pizza, which were both hit by double-digit sales decreases. One sit-down concept bright spot was Mountain Mike’s and its 10.9 percent growth, which President and COO Jim Metevier said was driven in part by digital investments, including a new consumer facing website. The brand is also the official pizza of the San Francisco 49ers, from which it “got a lot of traction in Q4.” For carryout and delivery brands, Hungry Howie’s is the sales growth leader at 7 percent. Domino’s comes in next at 5.9 percent growth, followed closely by Pizza Hut at 5.6 percent. Both brands maintained their respective No. 7 and No. 8 overall rankings. At Hungry Howie’s, CEO Steve Jackson attributed the systemwide revenue growth to brand standardization efforts in the works over the past several years, along with a focus on data analysis to understand and reach customers. “A light bulb went off. The pizza category has more information on their customer than anyone else,” he said. “We have your name, your address, what you eat and when you eat it.”

Pizza - Buffet    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1220Pizza Ranch 270 6.7%
2342Pizza Inn 88 1.1%
Pizza - Fast Casual    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1163MOD Pizza 493* 23.3%
2182Blaze Pizza 391 14.5%
3443Pie Five Pizza 35 -22.1%
Pizza - Off Premise    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1474Romeo's Pizza 27 35.4%
2177Hungry Howie's Pizza 440 7.0%
37Domino's 14,300 5.9%
48Pizza Hut 12,900 5.6%
5311Ledo Pizza 115 3.6%
629Little Caesars 4,575* 2.8%
7245Donatos Pizza 197 2.4%
8133Marco's Pizza 628 1.0%
940Papa John's 3,636 -0.5%
10381Pizza Factory 64 -3.9%
11120Papa Murphy's 768 -5.1%
12389Toppers Pizza 60 -8.9%
Pizza - Sit Down    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1255Mountain Mike's Pizza 182 10.9%
2229Rosati's Pizza 240 4.4%
3263LaRosa's Pizzeria 173 4.0%
4478DoubleDave's Pizzaworks 26 0.0%
596Boston Pizza 1,190* -0.4%
6238UNO Pizzeria & Grill 208* -10.3%
7195Round Table Pizza 352 -19.3%

Sizeable portion

By Laura Michaels

QSR brands continue to dominate the burger category, with $157.3 billion of its $160.2 billion in sales. That not only makes the QSR burger segment the largest of any in restaurants, it has the most sales of any in the Top 200+. (Retail is next, at $133.4 billion.) The likes of Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s continue to grow systemwide sales anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent, while regional brands are making themselves known with double-digit increases. Culver’s leads the pack with 13.9 percent growth, followed closely by Freddy’s at 12.9 percent, a flip of the previous year’s sales leaders. At Freddy’s, CEO Randy Simon said “a combination of comp sales increases, a little bit of new unit development and a price increase” helped push the system’s topline revenue to $536 million. The brand’s unit count grew 13 percent with the addition of 42 restaurants, which Simon attributed to existing operators continuing to build. Elsewhere in the segment, A&W and Sonic each moved the sales needle, up 5.6 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. Arby’s grew sales 2.2 percent, to nearly $4 billion, but slid two spots to No. 38 overall.

QSR Burgers    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
171Culver's Butterburgers & Frozen Custard 1,795 13.9%
2150Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers 536 12.9%
34Burger King 22,921 6.0%
4317Runza 107 5.9%
558Whataburger 2,556 5.8%
6189A&W Restaurants 371 5.6%
728Sonic Drive-In 4,687 5.4%
81McDonald's 100,178 4.2%
914Wendy's 10,944 4.1%
1038Arby's 3,972 2.2%
1166Carl's Jr. 2,000 1.9%
12256Farmer Boys Hamburgers 180 1.9%
1342Jack In The Box 3,505 1.1%
1460Hardee's 2,400 -2.2%
15115Checkers/Rally's 798 -3.2%
16192The Krystal Company 357 -5.6%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1145Captain D's 562 3.1%
2180Long John Silver's 401 -13.2%
Sports Bar    
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1304Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar 134 21.7%
2318Glory Days Grill 105 13.0%
3191Twin Peaks 358 4.5%
4411Arooga's Grille House & Sports Bar 49 0.3%
539Buffalo Wild Wings 3,804 0.2%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1116Ruth's Chris Steak House 795* 1.7%
245Outback Steakhouse 3,340* 0.5%
3417Rodizio Grill 46 -1.2%
4312Ponderosa Steakhouse 112 -10.6%

Subs in style

Callie Evergreen

Why do sandwiches always seem to taste better when someone else makes them for you? Sandwich chains were slightly on the rise again with a gain of $127 million in sales in 2019, coming back from a 4.4 percent sales decline after losing $1 billion and shedding nearly 2,000 restaurants in 2018. Despite a 0.6 percent decline in sales, the mega sandwich brand Subway is still the frontrunner in terms of size with $16.1 billion in systemwide sales, while its nearest competitor, Jimmy John’s, sits at $2.1 billion. Jersey Mike’s Subs continued its growth from $1.1 billion in sales to $1.3 billion in 2019, while Jimmy John’s and Potbelly Sandwich Shop both trended down in sales and units. Firehouse Subs added 35 units and grew by $48 million.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
188Jersey Mike's Subs 1,340 16.7%
2404Primo Hoagies 53 11.8%
3159Charleys Philly Steaks 500* 7.3%
4366Capriotti's 71 7.2%
5111Firehouse Subs 855 5.9%
6387Cousins Subs 61 1.9%
7244Penn Station East Coast Subs 202 0.9%
86Subway 16,100 -0.6%
965Jimmy John's 2,105 -1.7%
10173Potbelly Sandwich Shop 447* -2.8%

Treat yo' self

By Callie Evergreen

Kona Ice led the snacks and treats segment in sales growth at 27.5 percent, which CEO Tony Lamb attributed largely to the mobile concept and being able to back off when they started expanding too quickly. Unit growth increased by 7.1 percent as the brand added 86 franchised trucks, specializing in Hawaiian-style shaved ice. “We have a 6 percent food cost and 10 percent labor cost. Those are some crazy good numbers, and it’s allowed us to have that extreme business model in being philanthropic and community-minded,” Lamb said. “We’re the only guy in our industry to have nearly 1,300 mobile franchises.” Tropical Smoothie Café follows Kona in sales growth at 22 percent, posting $577 million in sales, with similarly sized Smoothie King at 10.9 percent, Cinnabon at 6.1 percent, Dunkin’ at 5.2 percent and Wetzel’s Pretzels at 3.9 percent. Jamba, acquired by Focus Brands in 2018 and with some work to do, took a sales hit of 2.9 percent or $15 million.

RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1454Clean Juice 33 82.1%
2139Tropical Smoothie Café 577 22.0%
3345Nekter Juice Bar 87 15.3%
4452Planet Smoothie 33 11.0%
5165Smoothie King 484 10.9%
617Dunkin' 10,063 5.2%
7259Wetzel's Pretzels 177 3.9%
8433Duck Donuts 38 2.5%
9128Auntie Anne's 705 2.0%
10437Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies 37 1.1%
1121Tim Hortons 6,716 -2.2%
12161Jamba 496 -2.9%
13460Juice It Up! 31 -6.3%
14451Kolache Factory 33 -9.7%
15399Pretzelmaker 56 -15.0%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
1237Kona Ice 212 27.5%
2354Bruster's Real Ice Cream 79 7.7%
3194Cinnabon 353 6.1%
4307Rita's Italian Ice 126 5.7%
5427Fosters Freeze 42 4.5%
627Dairy Queen 4,720 3.8%
7169Cold Stone Creamery 469 2.3%
864Baskin Robbins 2,112 1.9%
9425Bahama Buck's 43 0.2%
10303Great American Cookies 37 -17.8%
12371Marble Slab Creamery 67 -24.9%
RankRank '20Franchise Concept Global Sales ($M) Sales Growth %
182Wingstop 1,515 20.1%
2384East Coast Wings & Grill 62 16.2%
3295Buffalo Wings & Rings 142 8.8%
4483Buffalo's Cafe 25 3.1%
5434Epic Wings 38 0.0%