Ranking: Top USA

The power of the big chains

The pandemic hit large and small gastroplayers in America differently.
IMAGO / agefotostock
The pandemic hit large and small gastroplayers in America differently.

With sales down 8.2 percent, the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains appear to have gotten off relatively lightly in the 2020 pandemic year. But a look at the details of the 2021 Technomic Chain Restaurant Report shows that many companies were hit much harder.

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The 500 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. generated $304.1 billion in revenue in 2020, down $27 billion from the previous year. But the burden was unevenly distributed: While smaller chains and independent restaurants struggled to survive, the industry's biggest players fared much better.

Growth despite crisis

In the face of closures and other pandemic-related restrictions on on-site dining, drive-thrus, delivery services and digital offerings became increasingly important in 2020 for consumers who like to eat away from home. The leading restaurant chains were on hand to meet these changing consumer needs. Eighteen QSR players and seven fast-casual chains in the top 50 U.S. restaurant chains actually saw an increase in sales. Nearly half of the top 50 opened new establishments. QSR chains in particular benefited from their established drive-thrus and delivery structures.

A tour de force for casual dining

But the majority of players in the U.S. restaurant market were hit hard by the pandemic. The casual dining sector, in particular, suffered severe sales losses of -26.6 percent. 5.1 percent of establishments closed (Top 500 average: -2 percent). Ruby Tuesday was the chain with the highest sales loss at -51.1 percent. Texas Roadhouse saw the smallest decline at -13.4 percent.

A good year for chicken

With their offerings of delivery-friendly and relatively inexpensive (family) meals, chicken purveyors proved particularly well-equipped to meet pandemic-related challenges. The growth winner among America's Top 500 is Wingstop. The Texas-based chain, with 1,359 units, increased sales 31 percent to 1.82 billion and climbed 10 ranks to No. 34. The largest U.S. chicken provider remains Chick-fil-A, whose sales rose 13 percent to $13.7 billion.

An overview of the top 50 restaurant chains in the USA as well as further partial analyses can be found in the latest issue of foodservice Europe & Middle East (4/2021, Read now! ) as well as in the yearbook 2020/2021 on the out-of-home market in Germany & Europe, published by dfv Hotel- und Gastromedien.