chain restaurants show better performance in 2011
Technomic recently released its annual listing of the top 500 chain restaurants, and the performance of full-service restaurants in 2011 outpaced the sales level seen the previous year. In aggregate, the full-service chain market grew 2.8%, with a number of chain operator segments showing renewed vigor. As in the past several years, the chain restaurant market grew faster than the industry as a whole, indicating that the independent restaurant is still struggling and trying to survive in what remains a challenging environment in which to operate.
In terms of growth pockets, the seafood and steak categories showed resilience, with increases at the chain players of 5.2 and 5.1%, respectively. Red Lobster, the category leader among seafood restaurants, outperformed the average with a 6.2% sales increase. Among steak chains, LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse drove sales with increases of 13.1% and 9.2%, respectively.
The varied menu/bar and grill segment still leads in terms of total sales volume within casual dining, and chains in this segment grew 2.8%. Major players generated some positive growth, but the real news in this segment is growth of some of the up-and-coming “polished” casual chains that continued their growth trends from last year. Players such as Seasons 52 (57% growth), Twin Peaks (35% growth), Tilted Kilt (33% growth) and Yard House (22% growth) continued unit expansion and achieving strong growth. Buffalo Wild Wings, now generating more than $2 billion in annual sales, shows that larger chains still can achieve double-digit growth as well (20% growth).
Overall, there still remains a great deal of variability in the sales growth achieved by the top 500 chains, and we’re not to the point that the “rising tide” of strong industry growth is lifting all players. An evaluation of the top 10 full-service growth chains shows that having a differentiated concept with a true value proposition (that is not based solely on price) can drive consumer interest, traffic and, ultimately, sales volume:
Top 10 Fastest Growing Full-Service Chains With Sales Over $200 Million
U.S. Sales ($MM)
% Sales Change
% Unit Change
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
Buffalo Wild Wings
Joe’s Crab Shack
Cheddar’s Casual Café
Brio Tuscan Grille
Miller’s Ale House