50 Most Successful Restaurant Chains in America

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The pandemic has been particularly tough on the restaurant business, claiming thousands of casualties nationwide as even longstanding iconic institutions like the Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, and the “21” Club in New York City, shut down for good. (These were the saddest restaurant closings of 2021.)

Chains weren’t immune, either. California Pizza Kitchen and Chuck E. Cheese, among others, filed for bankruptcy, and even such fast-food powerhouses as Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway closed numerous locations.

Many segments of the food service industry are still suffering, but as we evolve out of the pandemic – we hope – or at least develop strategies for avoiding it, many fine-dining establishments in New York City and other major urban areas are full or at least fuller than they’ve been for a couple of years. 

And the news is even better for chains – which may have fared better as food delivery and take-out burgeoned, and began to see a noticeable revival last year. As the food service trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News notes, “2021 was a course correction for an unprecedented 2020,” pointing out that a handful of chains have even exceeded their pre-pandemic numbers. Only four chains on the list saw sales decline from the previous year, while half a dozen saw increases of over 25%. (On the other hand, here are some restaurant chains whose sales actually increased in 2020.)

To determine the 50 most successful restaurant chains in America, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 2022 Top 500 countdown published by NRN. The publication sources its data through a partnership with the food industry research and data company Datassential and their proprietary Firefly database.  

This year’s ranking holds good news for Dunkin’, which enjoyed an 18.90% increase over 2020 sales, leapfrogging over Burger King and switching places with Subway to rise from No. 8 to No. 6. While Subway remains the nation’s largest chain by number of units (currently 21,178), it was one of the few chains that experienced a decline in sales – 0.30% worth. 

Chipotle did well in 2021, too, rising from No. 12 to No. 10 with a 19.30% increase in sales. Near the top of the list, last year’s No. 3, Taco Bell, fell down one slot, with last year’s No. 4, Chick-fil-A, taking its place.

One chain listed in last year’s report – albeit at No. 50 – dropped off all together: TGI Friday’s. The bottom rung is now occupied by cult favorite In-N-Out, though NRN reports (for the second year in a row) that no data is available for it. Top 50 newcomer Firehouse Subs joins the list at No. 49.

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