Restaurant sales rose 3.4% in 2011

By Mark Brandau March 19, 2012
Sales among the 500 largest restaurant chains in the United States rose 3.4 percent to $242 billion in 2011, compared with a 1.8-percent increase in annual sales in 2010, according to new research from Chicago-based Technomic.

In the market research firm's annual look at the largest 500 restaurant chains, more than 60 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains posted at least nominal sales increases; only 193 of these chains suffered sales declines in 2011, compared with 231 in 2010.

The fast-casual segment led the way in terms of sales and unit growth. The three fastest-growing chains among brands with at least $200 million were Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jimmy John's, which posted U.S. systemwide sales increases of 32.8 percent, 23.4 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively.

Four other fast-casual chains had sales increases in the industry's top 10 for 2011, Technomic reported: Firehouse Subs, 21.1 percent; Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, 18.2 percent; Noodles & Company, 14.9 percent; and Wingstop, 14.7 percent.

Limited-service restaurant brands, which include quick-service and fast-casual chains, recorded sales growth that outpaced that of full-service restaurants in 2011, Technomic found. Limited-service brands increased annual sales 7.1 percent compared with full service's 2.8-percent increase.

The full-service segment's recovery resulted from robust growth in its seafood and steak categories, Technomic said, with Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse posting systemwide sales increases larger than the segment average. Among limited-service brands, much of the growth came from coffeehouse, Mexican and sandwich chains, Technomic found.

Three casual-dining brands landed in the research firm's list of fastest-growing chains for 2011: Yard House, with a 21.5-percent increase; BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, with a 20.9-percent jump; and Buffalo Wild Wings, with a 20.1-percent increase.

Collectively, the 10 fastest-growing brands' systemwide sales in 2011 accounted for $8.2 billion, a 22-percent increase compared with 2010. Those chains grew their collective unit count by 15 percent.