Technomic Top 500 Annual Report Finds Signs of Recovery in U.S. Restaurant Industry

Note: This post was originally published as a company press release.

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. systemwide sales for the Top 500 chains grew to an estimated $254 billion in 2012, up more than $12 billion over 2011.

“It is certainly encouraging to see overall industry growth rates return to levels not seen since 2007,” said Ron Paul, President of Technomic. “On a chain-by-chain basis, however, performance still varies substantially, as organizations continue adapting their value proposition to meet consumer demands, and refining operations to meet various industry challenges.”

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, est.) and Taco Bell (8.3 percent, est.). 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 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 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

Rank Chain U.S. Sales ($MM) % Sales Change % Unit Change
1 Dickey’s Barbecue Pit* $249 46.5% 40.4%
2 Firehouse Subs 380 33.5 19.3
3 Jersey Mike’s Subs* 348 26.3 15.2
4 Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers* 260 26.0 26.1
5 Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop 1,263 24.6 17.4
6 Cheddar’s Casual Café 540 23.2 21.7
7 Buffalo Wild Wings 2,474 21.0 8.7
8 Chipotle Mexican Grill 2,716 20.2 14.2
9 Yard House 315 20.1 17.1
10 Panda Express 1,797 19.8 9.5
Total $10,342 22.3% 14.8%

* Technomic estimate

In total, 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 widely-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.

The Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report provides Technomic’s exclusive 1-year sales forecast by menu category, update on franchise and international activity, outlook for the future, market share by menu category, and much more.

Note: The results reported here are preliminary and subject to potential revision. 



Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Its services include numerous publications and digital products, as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry.

More Posts


  1. avatar Prateeti Johari says:

    how much was subway’s sales growth in 2012???

  2. avatar Technomic says:

    Prateeti, Thanks for your interest. Subway grew sales 6.1 percent in 2012.

Speak Your Mind