The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a 4.9 percent annual sales increase in 2012, a marked improvement over the 3.5 percent gain in 2011, according to data released by Technomic, a Chicago-based market research firm. 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.
Other findings from the Technomic study include:
- Limited-service restaurants saw a sales bump of 5.6 percent. Chicken chains, which grew 8.8 percent, represented a limited-service subsegment with above-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.
- 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 widely-mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry.
- 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.