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Largest Chains Up More Than $12 Billion in 2012

Technomic’s Top 500 Annual Report shows a 4.9 percent uptick in sales. 

The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a 4.9 percent annual sales increase in 2012, a marked improvement over 3.5 percent the prior year. According to data released today by Technomic Inc. in its annual reporting on the top U.S. restaurant organizations, the foodservice consultancy found that U.S. system wide sales for the Top 500 chains grew to an estimated $254 billion in 2012, up more than $12 billion over 2011.

Among limited-service restaurants, the highest growth came from the Asian, bakery café and Mexican categories. Segment leaders were Panda Express (19.8 percent sales growth), Panera Bread (12.3 percent, estimated) and Taco Bell (8.3 percent, estimated). McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain, boosted sales 4.2 percent in 2012, with total annual sales of $35.6 billion. Subway continues as the second largest restaurant chain in the U.S., followed by Starbucks, Wendy’s and Burger King.

As a whole, limited-service restaurants saw a sales bump of 5.6 percent. Chicken chains, which grew 8.8 percent, represented another limited-service subsegment with better-than-average sales growth. Within this group, Chick-fil-A grew 14.1 percent with 2012 sales of $4.6 billion. Fast-casual chains also contributed to stronger 2012 performance. A standout in the fast-casual Mexican segment was Chipotle Mexican Grill with sales growth of 20.2 percent.

Full-service restaurants experienced a 2.9 percent sales increase in 2012, a marginal increase over the 2.8 percent seen in 2011. The full-service steak and seafood categories continued to show healthy growth, with increases of 5.9 and 4.5 percent, respectively. Gains in the steak category were driven by Texas Roadhouse (12.4 percent) and LongHorn Steakhouse (12.1 percent). Among seafood chains, the category leader, Red Lobster, met the average 4.5 percent.

 The Ten Fastest-Growing Chains with Sales over $200 Million
Ranked by Percentage Increase in Sales in 2012 vs. 2011



 2012 U.S. Sales

% Sales Change 

 % Unit 


 Dickey's Barbecue Pit





 Firehouse Subs





 Jersey Mike's Subs





 Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers





Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop





 Cheddar's Casual Cafe





 Buffalo Wild Wings





 Chipotle Mexican Grill





 Yard House





 Panda Express









*Technomic estimate

The top 10 fastest-growing chains' sales accounted for $10.3 billion, a 22 percent increase over 2011. Unit counts grew 15 percent.

More than 60 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains posted at least nominal sales increases; only 168 of these chains suffered sales declines in 2012 compared to 193 in 2011. Both winners and losers appeared in every segment and menu category. These mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners.

International performance by the Top 500 restaurant chains continued to outperform their domestic counterparts in 2012. International sales (up 5.6 percent) outpaced U.S. sales (up 4.9 percent); international unit growth was also up 8.3 percent versus 2.2 percent for U.S. units.