CHICAGO -- Sales growth for the nation's Top 100 chain restaurants outpaced unit growth for the first time in several years, according to the annual survey by Technomic Inc. here, one of the nation's leading food-service industry tracking firms.
In 1998, sales growth registered 6.3%, compared with unit increases that only topped 1.7%, according to the survey.
Putting the number in perspective, researchers noted that for most of the 1990s, companies focused on constructing units to boost market penetration. Last year, however, the focus shifted to building same-store sales -- ironically, a strategy that included closing some underperforming units.
Of the Top 100 companies, McDonald's reclaimed the No. 1 spot as the operator with the largest dollar increase, adding nearly $1 billion in domestic sales in 1998, up from a $750,000 increase the year before.
Many of the chains posted sales growth rates far in excess of the industry standard, the study noted. For the second consecutive year, Joe's Crab Shack was declared "hottest of the hot," with a 112% increase in sales over the prior year. Other operators with high growth rates included the coffee and cafe chain, Starbucks, which registered a 30% growth in sales.
Technomic researchers also examined trends in the industry, which is expected to reach the $300 billion mark within five years. The study predicts the highest percentage growth among the quick-service chains will come from specialty concepts such as coffee bars.