America’s Fastest-Growing Chain Restaurant Is a Pizza Place You've Probably Never Heard Of
Excitement is building around today’s annual announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – a list featuring only the most high-profile of fine dining establishments – but yesterday, Nation’s Restaurant News dropped a different kind of list: the annual NRN Top 200, which ranks the largest chain restaurants by U.S. sales. In some ways, the NRN Top 200 could be seen as the antithesis of the World’s 50 Best, but you could also argue that it's even more interesting because it shows where the most Americans are actually spending their money.
Unsurprisingly, with 2017 sales of $37.64 billion, McDonald’s once again held down the top spot. In fact, the top six chains all remained the same from last year: Mickey D’s was followed by Starbucks ($19 billion), Subway ($10.8 billion), Taco Bell ($9.79 billion), Burger King ($9.62 billion) and Wendy’s ($9.34 billion). Landing at number seven was Chick-fil-A ($8.97 billion), just ahead of Dunkin’ Donuts ($8.46 billion), which, despite seeing higher sales, still dropped a spot from last year to number eight. Domino’s came in ninth ($5.93 billion) – a significant move, because Pizza Hut outperformed them in 2016. Panera Bread landed the tenth spot ($5.54 billion), meaning Pizza Hut ($5.51 billion) slipped out of the top ten to number eleven.
It’s also worth checking out the rest of the top 20, if only because that’s where we start to see casual dining chains. Starting at number 12 and working to number 20, we have KFC ($4.42 billion), Sonic Drive-In ($4.41 billion), Chipotle Mexican Grill ($4.4 billion), Applebee’s ($4.12 billion), Olive Garden ($4.04 billion), Buffalo Wild Wings ($3.75 billion), Little Caesars Pizza ($3.67 billion), Arby’s ($3.634 billion), and Dairy Queen ($3.628 billion).
While it’s somewhat interesting to see chains jockeying for position at the top, we all know the old stalwarts, so Nation’s Restaurant News’s list of the Top 10 Fastest-Growing Chains might actually be more insightful.
Topping that list is MOD Pizza, which debuts in the Top 200 this year at number 141, after seeing 80 percent sales growth from 2016. Meanwhile, another fast-casual pizza joint, Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, is the second fastest growing chain with a sales jump over 50 percent, landing it in the 139th spot. Other contenders include Shake Shack (117), First Watch (134), Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant (158), Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers (55), Fuzzy’s Taco Shop (189), Tropical Smoothie Café (107), Black Bear Diner (151), and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers (103).
Beyond the lists, Nation’s Restaurant News also breaks down insights on the Top 200 as a whole. Most of this info is too insidery for diners to care about, but one thing the list doesn’t tell you is who gained the most sales dollar-wise. “The leader this year, interestingly enough, was McDonald’s with a $1.25 billion add to their U.S. system sales,” Alan Liddle, data and event content director for Nation’s Restaurant News and manager of the Top 200 ranking, wrote. Turns out the Golden Arches are still shining.