When Americans want their burger, fries, tacos or chips, but they also want to take it up just a notch, they opt for fast-casual dining chains. These restaurants that are just a tiny bit fancier than your average fast food chain have been opening more new restaurants than any other dining category even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, according to QSR Magazine.
Ahead of the pack is TexMex eatery Chipotle, which managed to overtake former front-runner Panera Bread in 2020. According to the QSR 50 ranking, from which the numbers are taken, both Chipotle and Panera could benefit from their ongoing efforts to digitize even more once the pandemic hit. Like in previous years, Asian food chain Panda Express comes in rank 3.
Because many companies in the segment are not publicly listed, QSR estimated the figures for several chains on the list.
The biggest winner in the segment was Louisiana chicken joint Raising Cane's, which grew its sales by almost 40 percent between 2020 and 2021, landing it in rank 4 of the biggest fast-casual chains in the U.S. The brand's aggressive expansion strategy is aiming to make it a "top 10 global brand". According to QSR estimates, the chain overtook competitors Zaxby's and Wingstop, which only grew their sales by in the low double digits in the same time frame.