The year 2013 was a busy one for quick-service restaurant operators. Innovative new brands ranging from ethnic concepts to pizza fast casuals gobbled up more market share as traditional companies like McDonald’s struggled to find consistency. Legal issues such as health care and wage debates busied operators who were already weighed down by rising food costs and a slow-to-recover economy. And customer trends shifted seemingly at the drop of a dime, keeping brands on their toes and in careful search of the “next big thing.”
QSR kept abreast of it all, giving you an inside look at how these changes affected the quick-serve industry for the long term. These stories in particular were our top 10 most-read pieces from 2013.
1. The QSR 50 
Our signature report, the QSR 50 checks in with the top 50 brands in the limited-service industry based on domestic sales. This year’s QSR 50 found that Chick-fil-A surpassed KFC to become the best-selling chicken chain, Jimmy John’s and Five Guys joined the billion-dollar-brands club, and Wingstop and Moe’s Southwest Grill climbed into the upper echelon for the first time.
2. 10 Trends for 2013 
In January, we took a look at which trends would affect the quick-service industry the most in 2013. In retrospect, we think we did a pretty good job; trends such as innovative beverages and ethnic options pushed operators to try new things in their menu development. Find out what additional trends made the list last January.
3. 2013 Best Franchise Deals 
Franchisees looking to partner with new quick-serve brands have, for the last four years, relied on our “Best Franchise Deals” report to find which concepts offer the best bang for their buck. This year, we tried something a little different, breaking the list of 12 brands into three size categories: The Hungry Upstarts, which focuses on smaller, emerging concepts; The Rising Stars, spotlighting more established brands seeking national penetration; and The Powerbrokers, well-established concepts with more than 300 units.
4. Pizza’s Arms Race 
The pizza fast-casual category is exploding, with no less than a dozen brands racing to become the category leader. Get an inside look at who has the fast track on becoming the “Chipotle of pizza.”
5. The Drive-Thru Performance Study 
Quick-serve companies have continually improved their speed and accuracy in the drive thru ever since we launched our Drive-Thru Study 15 years ago. But this year’s Drive-Thru Performance Study showed that the industry’s move toward more premium options is starting to have an effect on speed and accuracy in the outdoor lane.
6. The Growth 40 
The third-annual Growth 40 came flush with fresh insights from our new data partner, Chicago-based NPD Group, one of the world's leading foodservice market research firms. The NPD-led Growth 40 used historical information from the agency's CREST reports, which track consumer usage at foodservice outlets, as well as a population forecast from California-based Applied Geographic Solutions (AGS) to find out which large, medium, and small markets are the best for quick-serve expansion.
7. Taglines That Work 
Taglines are powerful communicators. The right tagline can attract attention to your concept, help position your brand, and make people remember you. Find out how to design the best tagline for your quick serve.
Early in 2013, McDonald’s made headlines when company executives told franchisees on a company-wide webcast that customer service across the brand was in need of repair. Here, an industry analyst offers six ideas on how McDonald’s can go about doing just that.
9. Can Ice Cream Survive? 
They seemed to pop up almost overnight. In strip malls and on street corners across the country, frozen-yogurt shops suddenly offered an exciting new option for America’s collective sweet tooth, teasing at healthfulness and innovating with self service and customization. Fro-yo’s sudden hot streak appeared to threaten a mass melting of one of America’s tried-and-true dessert darlings: ice cream. But ice cream brands say they’re nowhere near ready to surrender.
10. Science: The Next Big Ingredient 
Quick-serve menus may start taking cues from the science lab as operators increasingly experiment with high-tech cooking methods like molecular gastronomy. Indeed, scientific cooking methods that became popular in the fine-dining world are slowly making their way into the more accessible fast-casual and quick-service arenas.