Just one indication of that is a look at the top growth chains. Because it’s much easier for a small chain to show a large percentage increase, we look at large chains separately. In 2013, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit increased its U.S. systemwide sales by almost 33% to an estimated $331 million, earning the chain the top spot among the fastest-growing chains with sales greater than $200 million. New units drove most of that, but sales growth outpaced its 30% increase in locations.
This 370-unit, Dallas-based chain specializes in traditional Texas-style barbecue smoked onsite and served in a welcoming atmosphere. Dickey’s prepares its signature smoked meats and homestyle sides using secret family recipes. Buttery rolls and ice cream are offered for free with every order, making the chain a popular choice for families. As the highest-ranked barbecue chain in Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, privately held Dickey’s also highlights patrons’ growing interest in authentic barbecue concepts.
Dickey’s wasn’t the only $200-million-or-more fast-casual concept among the fastest-growing. Four of the top five growth chains are fast casual: Smashburger (which increased sales by 32%), Raising Cane’s (a 24% increase), and Jersey Mike’s (up 21%).
When we look at the chains under $200 million, we sort by percentage change in unit count. Again, a fast-casual concept takes the lead. BurgerFi increased its unit count by 175%, to 33 locations, and grew its sales by 178%, to $45 million in 2013.
BurgerFi is a North Palm Beach, FL-based chain that offers gourmet burgers in a hip, urban setting. Many ingredients are locally sourced, all-natural or organic. The concept places an emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendliness; each BurgerFi store is built according to environmentally sustainable practices and features “green” elements such as chairs made from recycled Coke bottles, tables made out of compressed recycled wood and large fans that use less electricity than average fans. BurgerFi’s impressive sales and unit growth show that the better-burger movement isn’t slowing down. The chain’s growth was likely helped by its healthful offerings and green positioning.
Fast-casual restaurants, with their better-than-QSR food and ambiance and fresh, “made for you” appeal, continue to align with the needs of today’s consumers. Watch for continued growth in the segment, and ongoing efforts among fast-food and full-service players to adjust their own brands to compete on these elements.