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34 big restaurant chains that got even bigger in 2020, against all odds

In a year of widespread declines, these brands found ways to grow sales

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted restaurant chains throughout the Top 500, from the largest national brands to emerging regional players. In a world turned upside down, survival, not growth, became the priority for many.

As a group, the Top 500 chains saw their total sales shrink 4.3% in 2020 and they collectively ended the year down 3,616 restaurants. All of the major restaurant segments saw negative sales trends, with full-service segments taking the biggest hit. Less than two-fifths of the Top 500 — or 197 chains — had positive year-over-year sales growth in 2020.

But there were bright spots.

A handful of chains — generally large limited-service brands with strong digital infrastructure — didn’t just survive. They thrived. A few of them managed to achieve double-digit sales growth last year. Others expanded their reach with unit expansion that continued apace.

Over the coming months, we’ll take a look at the fastest-growing chains throughout the Top 500, but in this gallery, see which of the largest brands managed to grow even in the face of unprecedented challenges.

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The Top 500 report is presented by Nation’s Restaurant News and Datassential, using insights from Datassential’s proprietary Firefly platform. Datassential’s Firefly is the ultimate strategic tool — No. 1 operator database, lead generator, customer marketing and intelligence platform, all-in-one. Learn more about getting complete access at

Update July 8, 2021: The Top 500 report has been updated to reflect newly available information, including revised figures for some restaurant chains.

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