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Circana Announces Top 50 U.S. Restaurants

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Circana has released its 2024 Definitive U.S. Restaurant Ranking Report, offering insights into consumer habits, performance trends, and the top players in the industry.

While restaurant traffic saw a modest growth of 1 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year, a 5 percent increase in consumer spending was recorded, surpassing the 4 percent growth observed in 2022. The industry is now worth half-a-trillion-dollars, with dollars exceeding 2019 levels by 12 percent, despite traffic remaining 8 percent below pre-pandemic levels. Circana forecasts a further 1 percent growth in restaurant traffic for 2024.

“The U.S. restaurant industry continues to adapt and evolve in response to changing consumer preferences and market dynamics,” said David Portalatin, senior vice president and food industry advisor for Circana, in a statement. “As we navigate the road ahead, it’s crucial for industry players to remain agile and responsive to emerging trends to sustain growth and relevance.”

Fast casual restaurants emerged as standout performers, outpacing the overall industry with a spending growth of 9 percent in 2023. The shifting consumer landscape favored the morning meal as well as afternoon and evening snack dayparts, driving growth in the quick-service restaurant snack channel, which saw an 8 percent year-over-year spending increase.

To secure a spot among the top 50, a restaurant must boast consumer spending figures in the 10-figure range. These top 50 establishments represent a 61 percent share of the entire restaurant industry’s spending despite constituting only 24 percent of all restaurant locations. Last year proved favorable for major chains, with aggregate consumer spend for the top 50 growing by 7 percent to reach $313 billion, compared to the 2 percent dollar growth by all other restaurants in 2023.

Notable among the top 50 is The Cheesecake Factory, with the highest average unit volume at $12.83 million, surpassing its closest contender, Chick-fil-A, by over $5 million. What sets The Cheesecake Factory apart is its achievement of being in the top 50 list with just 206 locations, a fraction of Subway’s extensive network, according to CIrcana.

In 2023, 40 of the top 50 chains experienced dollar growth, with all of the top 10 experiencing a rise in dollars. Leading the pack are McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A, collectively accounting for over $100 billion in consumer spend, constituting 33 percent of the top 50. 

Noteworthy movements in the rankings include newcomers such as BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Tropical Smoothie Café, and Firehouse Subs, alongside Jersey Mike’s (+14 spots), Whataburger (+6 spots), Raising Cane’s (+5 spots), and Popeyes (+5 spots). Conversely, some established names experienced downward shifts, including Arby’s (-5 spots) and Cracker Barrel (-4 spots).