CHICAGO — March 25, 2024 Circana™, the leading advisor on the complexity of consumer behavior, today released its 2024 Definitive U.S. Restaurant Ranking Report, offering insights into evolving consumer habits, performance trends, and the top players in the industry.

While restaurant traffic saw a modest growth of 1% in 2023 compared to the previous year, a 5% increase in consumer spending was recorded, surpassing the 4% growth observed in 2022. Notably, the industry now stands as a half-a-trillion-dollar juggernaut, with dollars exceeding 2019 levels by 12%, despite traffic remaining 8% below prepandemic levels. Circana forecasts a further 1% 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. “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% 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 (QSR) snack channel, which saw an 8% 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 commanding 61% share of the entire restaurant industry’s spending despite constituting only 24% of all restaurant locations. Last year proved favorable for major chains, with aggregate consumer spend for the top 50 surging by 7% to reach $313 billion, compared to the 2%-dollar growth witnessed by all other restaurants in 2023.

Notable among the top 50 is The Cheesecake Factory, boasting the highest average unit volume (AUV) at an impressive $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 mere fraction of Subway’s extensive network.

In 2023, 40 of the top 50 chains experienced dollar growth, with all of the top 10 witnessing a rise in dollars. Leading the pack are the stalwarts of the QSR segment: McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A, collectively accounting for over $100 billion in consumer spend, constituting 33% of the top 50. Noteworthy movements in the rankings include newcomers such as BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Tropical Smoothie Café, and Firehouse Subs, alongside notable climbers like 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).

For more information on the 2024 Definitive U.S. Restaurant Ranking Report, please contact your Circana representative.

The Definitive Restaurant Ranking leverages multiple data products and services from Circana’s unmatched research product portfolio combined with experienced analyst estimates. Consumer spend estimates represent each chain’s total U.S. system for the year ending December 2023. They are anchored on CREST®, Circana’s flagship, syndicated study of consumer purchases of restaurant-prepared meals, snacks, and beverages. Unit counts are sourced from the Fall 2023 release of Circana’s ReCount® service, a census of chains and independent restaurant locations that has been regularly updated since 1988. Today, ReCount provides unit counts and trends for over 1.2 million foodservice operators. Annual buyer penetration and average annual purchase frequency for the year ending December 2023 are sourced from Checkout, Circana’s gold standard longitudinal consumer panel tracking behavior of the same consumers over time. These primary sources and other proprietary Circana data, public reporting, and Circana analysis generate this new industry standard restaurant ranking.

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