Digital ordering capabilities, drive-thru service and other tools to help offset declines in in-store dining boosted some sandwich chains in 2020, while others may have had poorly positioned locations to blame for their sales declines.
Sandwich chains that had well-established off-premises programs, such as Arby’s, Jersey Mike’s and McAlister’s Deli, were among the top performers among all restaurant companies last year, helping minimize sales declines in the segment to 3.8%.
Their success was not shared throughout the sandwich segment, however. Brands that saw sales dip into negative territory included Subway, which had already been on a downward sales trajectory in 2019 and closed 1,557 U.S. units in 2020 as sales fell 8.2%, according to Top 500 data.
The company may have been affected by the increase in consumers working from home, as in-office lunches and catering dried up. By November, Subway had rolled out digital ordering with curbside pickup to about half of its restaurants.
Charleys Philly Steaks (down 10% in sales) may have been another victim of challenging locations, with many of its restaurants located in retail shopping centers and airports.
FOCUS Brands’ McAlister’s Deli, meanwhile, had begun testing curbside pickup at 50 locations before the pandemic, and quickly rolled the service out to 400 locations within weeks, said William Eudy, corporate executive chef at McAlister’s parent company, FOCUS Brands.
The brand, which saw 9% sales gains, was “already structured to support pickup windows and to-go,” he said.