Restaurant Chains Whose Sales Actually Increased in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the American restaurant industry, with many establishments shuttering for good as indoor dining was banned in many cities and would-be diners hunkered down in their homes. (These are the saddest restaurant closings of 2020.)

The nationwide shutdown took an enormous chunk out of the dining industry’s revenues. The National Restaurant Association’s most recent state-of-the-industry report revealed restaurant sales hit $659 billion last year — a whopping $240 billion less than what was forecast.

Yet that’s an industry-wide national number. Some nimble restaurant operators quickly shifted to takeout orders, delivery, outdoor dining options, contact-less ordering and payment, and other innovations to stay afloat. 

To assemble a list of restaurant chains whose sales actually increased in 2020, 24/7 Tempo consulted the latest data published by the top food service trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN). Sourcing data through a partnership with the food industry research and data company Datassential and their proprietary Firefly database, NRN recently revealed the top 500 restaurant companies in the nation based on domestic systemwide sales. They also broke out metrics covering increases in sales percentages, determining that some 34 chains had shown noticeable gains in sales over 2019.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see who made the list. Almost all are well-established national or regional chains serving mostly grab-and-go fast-food fare. Unlike fine dining establishments, casual food outlets already did a robust business with takeout, so they probably weren’t hurt as much by a lockdown. Name recognition and reasonable prices didn’t hurt either. (These are America’s 50 most successful restaurant chains.)

Topping the list is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which saw its 2020 sales soar by 20% over the previous year. Places serving chicken and burgers also registered strong increases, but pizza was popular as well.  

Of course, McDonald’s, everybody’s favorite fast-food haunt, made the list — albeit in last place. It’s sales grew by less than 1% — not a lot in comparison, but still equivalent to almost $40 million.  

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