Bigger isn’t always better, and when it comes to a restaurant chain’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, size is definitely not an indicator of success.
Through the trials and tribulations of the past two years, different brands have suffered to varying degrees. Those who weathered the pandemic best quickly pivoted to improving online ordering and leaning into that now ubiquitous concept that was, at the time, completely new: contactless delivery.
But even with new ways to place and deliver orders, the fast food scene still faced a very real fear of public spaces. And then, as social distancing mandates became more lax and people began to return to the world, the industry faced obstacles such as underemployment and criticism for underpaying and undervaluing. employees who had worked during the pandemic.
Now, more than two years after these problems began, channels are recovering at varying speeds. According to a report by catering company, a slew of smaller brands, it turns out, are leading the charge. These five restaurant chains, in particular, are the leaders of this pack, having increased their sales incredibly since 2019, increasing their popularity with customers at the height of the pandemic.
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One of the biggest pandemic success stories, Wingstop’s sales have grown 57% since 2019. The chain has proven nimble during tough times, quickly transitioning from trending ghost cooking to pivoting to chicken thighs during wing shortages.
But Wingstop’s success isn’t as surprising when taken in the context of its long-term winning streak either – the company has seen comparable store sales growth every year since 2004.
If you didn’t know Raising Cane (popularly known as Cane among fans) before 2019, chances are you know him now. Sales increased more than 62% at the Chicken Shop, and last summer the brand made headlines when a reviewer deemed its secret sauce superior to Chick-Fil-A’s.
More recently, Cane’s announced it was coming to New York, a sure sign of growing success and confidence.
Dutch Bros. is a bit of a low-key player in the cafe space. But over the past couple of years, the blue windmill logo has started popping up on people’s radars, as they search for convenient drive-thru cafes. And the numbers are there to prove it: Dutch Bros. grew by more than 64% since 2019. It even beat out much larger competitors, Starbucks and Dunkin’, in key metrics like foot traffic.
The chain of nearly 500 locations is growing rapidly on the West Coast. The next stop? Texas and the Great Plains.
The Tropical Smoothie Cafe – which, for the record, serves much more than just tropical smoothies – has been booming for a while now. It may have been the movement towards health consciousness, sparked by the pandemic, that brought new customers to the cafe. But regardless, as early as 2020 we were writing about the incredible growth of this channel.
TSC kicked off 2022 by maintaining momentum with 56 new franchise deals and 42 new cafe openings, including its first airport location. The chain’s sales are up more than 64% since 2019, meaning the pandemic has taken the smoothie trend to new heights.
This sub-store has increased its sales by over 65% since 2019, which is incredible considering the fate of other sandwich shops like Quiznos and Subway. Mike’s has somehow managed to not only grow its business during the pandemic, but also maintain an impressive level of health: this year, its Grilled Portabella Mushrooms and Swiss Sub ranked as Eat this, not that’the healthiest new fast food sandwich.
Kaley Roberts is a food writer. Read more