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Off-premises muscle powers the Top 500 winners

Looking back on the most chaotic year in modern restaurant history, it’s clear that what separated the winners from the losers in most segments was a commitment to off-premises business

Restaurant chains that were well positioned to provide customers with off-premises service via drive-thru, delivery and/or takeout were the clear winners in a year that otherwise saw mostly devastating losses throughout the industry.

Pizza-delivery specialists such as Domino’s (up 11% in sales) enjoyed a windfall by shuttling their pies to homebound consumers, as did brands that offered drive-thru service and foods that traveled well, such as fried chicken from Popeyes (up 20%) and Wingstop (up 21%).

Limited-service restaurants for the most part outperformed full-service, but some quick-service chains that were either unable to pivot quickly to off-premises service or were heavily focused on providing lunch to students and office workers, such as Subway (sales down 8.2%), did not keep pace with the quick-service industry overall. Likewise, Dunkin’ (down 7.2%) and Starbucks (down 5%) also likely suffered from the decline in commuter breakfast pit-stops, as a result of the transition to remote work and schooling.

Overall, full-service restaurants suffered under the weight of mandated restrictions on in-person dining, with sales down between 8% for sports bar/restaurants and 22.1% for the full-service American restaurant segment. These restaurants also likely felt the impact of the decline in business travel and entertainment.

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