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How the fastest-growing chains break through

This is part of the Nation’s Restaurant News annual Top 200 report, a proprietary ranking of the foodservice industry’s largest restaurant chains and parent companies.

For years, NRN’s Top 200 has offered unparalleled data on how the largest brands stack up and tracked the smaller brands nipping at their heels. The report — a comprehensive picture of the health of the foodservice industry’s largest restaurant chains — has always covered who is growing and by what amount.

But this year we look at exactly how they’re doing it.

Get a closer look at 11 chains that are finding new ways to drive domestic sales, units and estimated sales per unit — in some cases all three.

These brands weren’t selected from a straight ranking of sales growth rates, although nearly all of them fall in the top 30 of all Top 200 chains in terms of U.S. systemwide sales growth. Rather, they were chosen because they offer lessons on how both established and emerging brands can seize opportunity, even in the face of challenges. 

You’ll find two fast-casual pizza chains in a neck-and-neck battle for dominance in that crowded segment. You’ll find two very different burger chains — young, tech-savvy Shake Shack and elder statesman McDonald’s positioning itself for the future. And there are even brands from the challenged family-dining and casual-dining segments that are bucking the negative trends dogging their competitors.

Each article in this report offers an in-depth look at the menu, marketing and operations measures that are moving the needle for a brand.

One thing is clear: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to growth. Read on to find out how each of these brands is growing — and doing it their way.

Read more: 

The leaders of the pack: Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza and MOD Pizza

The brand builder: Wingstop

The industry leader: McDonald's

The lifestyle brand: Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants

The breakfast specialist: First Watch

The king of convenience: Shake Shack

The sales-per unit standout: Chick-fil-A

The conversion artist: Black Bear Diner

The innovator: Domino's

The one to watch: Chipotle Mexican Grill

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