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Sales Performance: Restaurant Franchises

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Restaurant – Bakery, Café & Deli

By Callie Evergreen

Though 0.4 percent growth doesn’t seem significant at first, Paris Baguette was the only franchise in the bakery/ café/deli category that didn’t see a drop in sales last year. The large brand with 3,924 units posted $2.7 billion in systemwide sales last year, second only to Panera Bread at $5 billion. Mark Mele, chief development officer of Paris Baguette, largely attributed those metrics to keeping stores open when competitors closed, taking advantage of third-party delivery apps and having freshly baked goods every day. Paris Baguette also began wrapping every product in plastic during the pandemic, which “was a whole change to the way we did business, but I think we learned from that,” Mele said. “We never really stopped, we still offered everything we offered, just in a different way. For us, packaging was a big deal.” McAlister’s Deli fell 6.2 percent in sales but opened 12 restaurants, while Jason’s Deli had the largest dip in sales of 35.8 percent.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
3854Paris Baguette0.4% 2,722 3,924
186205Schlotzsky's Bakery Café-5.2% 304 333
115127McAlister's Deli-6.2% 674 481
2025Panera Bread-15.6% 5,000* 2,119
231232Newk's Eatery-17.1% 188* 110
155155Einstein Bros. Bagels-21.2% 410* 703
276269La Madeleine-30.5% 117 86
158134Jason's Deli-35.8% 400* 253
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
259298L&L Hawaiian Barbecue-0.4% 140 207
190200Famous Dave's-17.7% 275* 125

Better Burgers

By Nick Upton

A lot of people ate indulgent burgers in 2020, but quality and off-premises capabilities pushed the leaders ahead of the pack. Those in the better burger segment, which largely couldn’t lean on drive-thrus, were able to grow sales 2.7 percent overall. Five Guys remained the leader as it added 4.3 percent to sales, growing to $2.2 billion overall. The biggest list jumper, however, was Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes. The company rose 48 spots on the list to land at No. 347. Mike Sebazco, vice president of operations, said the first move was to tell the corporate team there’d be no pay cuts or layoffs. That removed some worry and turned the focus to supporting franchisees. “What the pandemic showed us in March was that we were not an easy brand to buy from. We were hobbyists on curbside and on third-party delivery, but that immediately became a way of life,” said Sebazco, who oversaw a major shift in off-premises operations and digital ordering. The brand was among many that chased once-ina- lifetime (hopefully) tactics like grocery offerings. He said a grocery clerk even came in to buy beef because he couldn’t get it from his employer. They weren’t all hits, but the “game of whack-a-mole” on product and profitability did land here and there. To solve the soggy fry problem of delivery, the team created a chip offering, which will stick around. Mooyah groceries won’t, but it’s part of what Sebazco is most proud of: pushing economics for franchisees at a time of complete chaos. “We were very sensitive of the economic model for our brand, if franchisees aren’t making money, it’s not a place we want to be, and we were there in 2017,” said Sebazco. “We set a goal early on that we need to get everyone to the other side of this.”

Better Burgers     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
4662Five Guys4.3% 2,275* 1,670
347395MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes3.4% 58 83
267292BURGERFI-8.5% 133 117
280306Fatburger-11.8% 111 182


Laura Michaels

There’s just something about lukewarm hollandaise sauce on a quickly cooling plate of eggs Benedict that isn’t appealing. Breakfast and brunch franchises had a harder time making the switch to curbside and delivery channels last year given the reality that most breakfast food doesn’t travel well. Or at least it didn’t. Improvements in packaging are leading to a better offpremises experience for breakfast brands, and most quickly stood up or greatly enhanced digital ordering platforms last year to combat sales declines. Overall, it wasn’t enough to impact the segment, which with its 34.2 percent drop was the hardesthit among restaurants. Eggs Up Grill managed to add $8 million to its top line, though CEO Ricky Richardson said online ordering was historically an afterthought. “Now we’re running almost four times the amount of sales outside the four walls.” At IHOP, while “off-premises sales really took off,” said President Jay Johns, sales fell by $1.2 billion.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
392462Eggs Up Grill27.2% 39 46
314326Another Broken Egg Café-17.9% 80 71
242227Huddle House-31.7% 167 306
207199Black Bear Diner-33.0% 225 143
5950Denny's-34.9% 1,888 1,650
4743IHOP-35.0% 2,253 1,772
399391Broken Yolk Café-38.0% 37 31

Casual Dining

By Nick Upton

Social distancing and casual dining do not mix. There weren’t many bright spots for the casual dining segment last year. Every single concept was down double digits and more than 150 locations shut down. It was among the hardest-hit segments on the Top 400. In all, the segment was down $2.3 billion in sales. The dismal results come after years of declines. There was some innovation around curbside and delivery, but that only served to stop the bleeding. Applebee’s was an early innovator of curbside delivery, but ended the year with an estimated decline of 24.8 percent. Chili’s launched virtual brand Just Wings, which grew to a $150 million business for company- owned locations. That helped Chili’s finish with only a 12.4 percent sales decline. At the bottom is The Melting Pot—there’s just no delivering the experience of a hot container of fondue. Sales for the brand sank 33.8 percent. Casual dining is pushing to recover, but it’s a painstaking process.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
3136Chili's-12.4% 3,507 1,610
329340Roy Rogers-17.9% 74 46
116113Steak 'n Shake-19.4% 665* 556
3433Applebee's-24.8% 3,270* 1,711
8279Red Robin-33.1% 1,050* 546
271249The Melting Pot-33.8% 124 97


By Nick Upton

Even as Chicken Little’s fears came true, the segment still grew. Overall, chicken brands added nearly $1 billion in sales. That’s a seemingly paltry 1.8 percent, but that’s on top of a 10.6 percent jump last year. Chick-fil-A rose to No. 8 on the overall list as it grew the top line by 11.2 percent, to $14.1 billion. KFC retained its No. 3 spot even as it dipped by 5.8 percent. The top sales grower, Slim Chickens, exploded by 36.8 percent to $166 million as the concept added 15 locations through 2020. CEO Tom Gordon said when others had heads down, Slim Chickens was vocal and transparent. “We were not afraid of talking about COVID from the beginning. We talked about how our employees would be in masks and our parking lots and drive-thrus were open,” said Gordon. Shifting entirely to off-premises service was a major undertaking, but new technology and a rework of the drive-thru process, made a “dramatic improvement” for delivery times and throughput.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
244310Slim Chickens36.8% 166 105
205253Golden Chick25.3% 230* 198
1932Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen17.0% 5,143 3,451
237280Chicken Salad Chick14.2% 175 176
229268Lee's Famous Recipes11.6% 190 130
89Chick-fil-A11.2% 14,100* 2,610
7395Church's Chicken6.2% 1,287 1,562
5268Zaxby's4.3% 2,003 906
181208Chester's3.2% 319 1,276
7189Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits3.0% 1,374 758
33KFC-5.8% 26,289 25,000
386423Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken-7.7% 40 29
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
357439Aroma Joe's40.3% 51 73
255319Scooter's Coffee38.8% 146 325
301 The Human Bean36.6% 91 113
249297Biggby Coffee10.5% 157 243
Hot Dog     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
320394Nathan's Famous30.8% 76 228
371432Dog Haus 18.6% 45 43
178215Wienerschnitzel16.8% 327 330


Callie Evergreen

The Mexican restaurant category, which was up 7.6 percent in overall sales in 2019, took just a mild hit in 2020. Only Pancheros Mexican Grill saw an increase of sales of more than 1 percent, coming in at 1.4 percent— and that’s despite a slight drop in unit count. The smaller brand ranked No. 317 and posted $77 million in systemwide sales with 66 units. Rodney Anderson, founder and president of Pancheros, credits the brand’s growth to its investment in an online and mobile presence, which resulted in loyalty sales increasing 92 percent over the past two years, he said. “We also brought back our delicious LTO shrimp offering to diversify our menu that is hugely popular and kept our fans coming back,” Anderson said. Leading the category with $11.7 billion in sales in 2020 and 7,427 restaurants is No. 11 Taco Bell. El Pollo Loco (No. 89), Del Taco (No. 94) and Qdoba Mexican Eats (No. 96) also fall within the top 100 franchises.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
317359Pancheros Mexican Grill1.4% 77 66
257294Costa Vida0.9% 145* 94
94112Del Taco0.8% 857 596
169186Taco John's0.0% 375 389
1112Taco Bell-0.3% 11,745 7,427
89107El Pollo Loco-1.7% 880 479
96105Qdoba Mexican Eats-8.5% 825* 741
264279Tijuana Flats-9.8% 139 125
125126Moe's Southwest Grill-23.0% 563 682

Off Premise Pizza

By Nick Upton

When your day goes south, there’s always pizza delivery for dinner. When your whole year goes south, well, you just get a lot more pizza. That was certainly the case for offpremises pizza. The segment grew to $39.6 billion through 2020 as the world got slice after slice. Overall, the segment grew by 4.8 percent even as it shed 458 locations. The giant Domino’s grew by $1.8 billion alone—that’s a 12.6 percent jump and another incredible growth year for the brand that took the No. 6 spot on the list. In fact, only Pizza Hut reported a sales decline in 2020, and it was a doozy. Now No. 10, sales for Pizza Hut dropped $945 million. A big winner was Marco’s Pizza. It grew sales by 28.4 percent to $807 million and added 47 locations through 2020. Co-CEO and President Tony Libardi said as the world was looking for pizza, the company’s community engagement was a big differentiator. The pandemic, he said, “shined a light on the fact that we are a hyperlocal, community-focused business. Each and every one of our franchise owners takes pride in their business and the impact they have in their community,” he said. Giving to front-line medical workers, teachers or hosting birthday party parades demonstrated that community involvement. He said lightning-fast innovation also made it easier for those warm and fuzzy feelings to translate to sales. “The pandemic forced leaders to be aggressive versus conservative when it comes to innovation. By assembling a task force committed to the future, we were able to remain one step ahead,” said Libardi.

Off Premise Pizza     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
99133Marco's Pizza28.4% 807 1,003
2640Papa John's15.1% 4,186 5,400
67Domino's12.6% 16,106 17,644
212245Donatos Pizza12.5% 221 168
337389Toppers Pizza9.6% 65 67
362416Vocelli Pizza7.8% 50 87
334381Pizza Factory6.7% 68 100
98120Papa Murphy's5.3% 808* 1,326
2229Little Caesars3.3% 4,725* 5,361
374422Cottage Inn Gourmet2.2% 45 53
148177Hungry Howie's Pizza0.5% 442 538
278311Ledo Pizza0.0% 115 107
108Pizza Hut-7.3% 11,955 17,639
Pizza - Fast Casual     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
142163MOD Pizza-4.7% 470* 491
185182Blaze Pizza-22.0% 305 341

QSR Burgers

By Nick Upton

Last year was a great time to eat your feelings, and a lot of people ate a lot of burgers. At either end of the QSR segment, however, there were some dramatically different outcomes. Three key factors stand out: offpremises prowess, high-quality options and location. Within the segment, there was a notable push for higher quality—or at least higher-quality perceptions. Brands like Freddy’s, with sales up 20 percent, beat the quality drum all the time, so when consumers flush with stimulus money went out, they trended toward the “plus” end of QSR. Freddy’s also benefited from suburban locations, key for many brands when offices shut down and the lunch daypart cratered. Much of the segment has drive-thru prowess, but even speed leader McDonald’s ended the year down $6.8 billion. Sonic Drive-In saw results from years of tech innovation and was in the right place at the right time, said President Claudia San Pedro of the 21.2 percent sales growth. “The newage term is curbside but we’ve been doing it for decades. The fact that our model delivered a highly personalized experience and the ability to connect with that carhop person when you couldn’t connect with many people was key,” she said. San Pedro also pointed to menu diversity. As habits changed, Sonic had an option for snacks, drinks, ice cream or feeding the family for dinner. Having all those options in the company app that launched in 2018 was a major source of orders. Marketing to highlight the channel and menu options drove awareness and traffic. “If you looked at the trends, people weren’t going to work or school. We saw declines in breakfast and lunch. That’s where we were able to adapt our new product news and reinforce the variety of menu items,” said San Pedro.

QSR Burgers     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
1728Sonic Drive-In21.2% 5,680 3,526
117150Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers20.0% 643 388
5571Culver's Butterburgers & Frozen Custard10.6% 1,986 782
92115Checkers/Rally's7.7% 860* 847
2538Arby's7.1% 4,253 3,524
3958Whataburger5.6% 2,698 844
2842Jack In The Box4.8% 3,673 2,241
232256Farmer Boys Hamburgers3.9% 187 99
1314Wendy's3.6% 11,339 6,828
11McDonald's-6.8% 93,317 39,198
182192The Krystal Company-10.8% 318 287
54Burger King-12.6% 20,038 18,625
5360Hardee's-16.7% 2,000 2,178
6566Carl's Jr.-25.0% 1,500 1,652
Rice Bowls     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
342424Teriyaki Madness41.2% 61 90
261 WaBa Grill5.7% 140 192

Sit Down Pizza

By Nick Upton

Overall, the dine-in pizza business declined by roughly $400 million, driven largely by the $355 million freefall at Boston’s Pizza. The Canadian pizza and sports bar chain was beset by cross-border supply chain issues, the loss of most of its beverage business and an almost complete lack of sports. Other brands spent 2020 catering to a major shift to offpremises. “When the shutdown occurred, we lost 25 percent of sales overnight,” said Chris Britt, co- CEO of Mountain Mike’s Pizza. “We had really two head scratching weeks. We were doing all the scenario analysis, but by the third week in, our sales turned positive and from there it was a rocket ship.” Luckily, the brand had completed a major app update that allowed for easy digital ordering and spurred franchisees to onboard all the third-party delivery platforms. Prior to the pandemic, about 30 percent of the system was online; that quickly shot to 100 percent. Round Table and Rosati’s each managed to drive sales upward, Round Table by 12 percent and Rosati’s by 5.5 percent.

Sit Down Pizza     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
221255Mountain Mike's Pizza13.3% 206 228
160195Round Table Pizza12.0% 394 415
197229Rosati's Pizza5.5% 253 153
245263LaRosa's Pizzeria-5.6% 164 65
9596Boston Pizza-29.8% 835* 439
230220Pizza Ranch-30.1% 189 210

Snacks and Treats

Callie Evergreen

Who could’ve guessed health-focused brands would stay trendy during a global health crisis? Clean Juice, which grew sales 26.1 percent in 2020, led the charge in the overall struggling snacks category, as shown by the numbers to the right. Clean Juice CEO Landon Eckles said “thirdparty delivery has really been a big part of the business for us,” and accounts for 10 to 15 percent of weekly sales across the system. Tropical Smoothie Cafe followed with 19.7 percent in sales growth, and pastry brand Kolache Factory moved to No. 400 this year with a 10.7 percent sales increase. “We spent a lot of time on advertising and emailing customers, letting them know we’re the perfect grab-and-go food,” said Dawn Nielsen, COO of Kolache Factory. Duck Donuts and Smoothie King also saw an uptick in sales—10.2 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. The treats side, meanwhile, only dropped 0.3 percent, with $8.2 billion in sales last year, making for a combined overall snacks and treats category of $25.5 billion, down 7.7 percent from 2020.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
398466Handel's Ice Cream26.5% 37 62
381454Clean Juice26.1% 41 104
356425Bahama Buck's22.4% 52 106
112139Tropical Smoothie Café19.7% 690 914
299354Bruster's Real Ice Cream16.3% 92 190
318371Marble Slab Creamery14.3% 76 365
400451Kolache Factory10.7% 36 55
380433Duck Donuts10.2% 42 99
2127Dairy Queen4.0% 4,910 7,105
135165Smoothie King2.6% 497 1,303
5064Baskin Robbins-1.0% 2,090 7,741
311345Nekter Juice Bar-5.2% 82* 148
1517Dunkin'-6.1% 9,448 12,619
151161Jamba-13.3% 430 834
234237Kona Ice-15.0% 180 1,335
163169Cold Stone Creamery-16.6% 391* 1,230
1821Tim Hortons-18.3% 5,488 4,949
284303Great American Cookies-21.9% 105 380
196194Cinnabon-27.3% 256 1,648
391399Pretzelmaker-29.4% 39 234
279259Wetzel's Pretzels-36.2% 113 332
146128Auntie Anne's-36.3% 449 1,928
Sports Bar     
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
252304Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar13.3% 152 43
3339Buffalo Wild Wings-13.9% 3,275 1,276
192191Twin Peaks-26.7% 262 78
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
4145Outback Steakhouse-21.4% 2,625* 980
136116Ruth's Chris Steak House-37.7% 495* 149


By Beth Ewen

Three double-digit sales growers stand atop the sub sandwich category, with Capriotti’s up 25.9 percent, Jersey Mike’s up 19 percent and Primo Hoagies up 16 percent. Penn Station East Coast Subs pushed sales up 5.2 percent. But with overall sales in the category down in double digits, you know the rest of the story will be bad. Indeed, Firehouse Subs crept up 1.7 percent and Cousins Subs a slim 1 percent. But Jimmy John’s declined 8.6 percent, to $1.9 billion; the prior year it saw a 1.7 percent decline. Subway declined 14.9 percent, to $13.7 billion. Potbelly and Charleys Philly Steaks also posted doubledigit declines. Back to the positive side of the ledger, Nicholas Papanier Jr., CEO of Primo Hoagies, said the basics are key but not so easy to execute. “Franchisee profitability, and customer satisfaction, and cleanliness of the stores. There’s a million options to get a sandwich now,” he said.

RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
303366Capriotti's25.9% 90 130
6388Jersey Mike's Subs19.0% 1,595 1,854
341404Primo Hoagies16.0% 61 81
217244Penn Station East Coast Subs5.2% 212 310
91111Firehouse Subs1.7% 869 1,185
340387Cousins Subs1.0% 61 96
5765Jimmy John's-8.6% 1,925 2,705
96Subway-14.9% 13,700* 37,005
180173Potbelly Sandwich Shop-28.4% 320* 446
172159Charleys Philly Steaks-29.0% 355* 629
RankLast Year RankFranchise ConceptSales Growth % Global Sales ($M) Total Units
5682Wingstop28.8% 1,951 1,538
377434Epic Wings13.9% 43 24
352384East Coast Wings & Grill-12.2% 55 34
270295Buffalo Wings & Rings-12.7% 124 82
336350Hurricane Grill & Wings-17.6% 68 49