Behind the story
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4 lessons from fast-growing chains

A letter from the editor

NRN editors take you beyond the headlines and offer perspectives on the issues and events shaping the industry. Get more inside takes from Behind the Story >> 

Jenna-Telesca_3.gifThis year we are giving you a special sneak peek of the Nation’s Restaurant News 2019 Top 200 chain ranking. 

In this gallery, we reveal five of the fastest-growing restaurant chains by sales and unit growth. Here are a few lessons to share from these success stories.

1. Stay true to your brand promise — but don’t be afraid to translate that promise for the modern consumer.

The most high-performing restaurants know who they are and don’t deviate.  

Chick-fil-A, with its 16.7% growth in Latest Year systemwide sales, continues to stay true to focusing on hospitality, keeping stores closed on Sundays and maintaining an almost 25-year marketing message of “Eat Mor Chikin.”

That doesn’t mean the Atlanta-based chain isn’t changing, but it makes sure changes fit with who Chick-fil-A is. The brand is bringing its methodology to the new marketplace with delivery, pickup and catering-only locations, as well as meal kits that customers can make at home. 

2. Size is a state of mind.

While it’s easier to grow when you have a small base, several large legacy brands are able to maintain momentum. Domino’s, Panda Express and Wingstop all grew at a solid clip. All of those brands made sure to stay in touch with their nimble inner-emerging chain. Domino’s has been dominating with its startup-like focus on technology and delivery, and
Panda Express stays tapped into trends as its parent company invests in up-and-coming brands. 

“The bigger we get, the smaller we have to act,” said Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti.

The New York-based Shake Shack is partnering with local suppliers in new units. With this perspective, it’s not surprising the burger brand grew 27.3% in the Latest Year.

3. Target underserved, niche markets

Restaurants are operating in a saturated market. We all know this. In this environment, growing foot traffic means stealing business from competitors. One way to do that is to find a new niche.

One emerging growth chain — Costa-Mesa, Calif.-based Lazy Dog — is focusing its casual-dining business on Millennial parents. Lazy Dog’s Instagram account is packed with photos of customers relaxing on the patio with dogs — and glamour shots of its craft-beer program. The 30-unit chain grew systemwide sales 27.1% in the Latest Year, according to NRN research.

4. Stand for something

A social responsibility message can be a key business differentiator. For instance, MOD Pizza is the fastest-growing fast-casual pizza concept in a sea of many, many fast-casual pizza concepts. In fact, MOD is the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the United States, with 44.7% systemwide sales growth in the Latest Year, according to NRN’s Top 200 data. 

The brand differentiates itself with giving higher-than-typical wages, donating to community organizations and employing the formerly incarcerated or those recovering from addiction.

Get ready for the 2019 Top 200 ranking Source Book in June complete with the full list of systemwide sales, unit count, Estimated Sales Per Unit and segment analysis.

Read about more 2019 growth chains here>>

Contact Jenna Telesca at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JennaTelesca

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