14 Most Read Stories in 2014

    The year’s most popular stories on QSRmagazine.com.

    There is always excitement at the beginning of a new year, with renewed hopes of health, wealth, and happiness. It’s no different in the limited-service industry, where a year ago, brands were studying up on potential trends to ensure a prosperous 2014. These eight predicted trends were culled from two-dozen lists created by chefs, consultants, and culinary experts.

    The quick-service restaurant industry continues to evolve, and that’s no more evident than in the QSR 50. Panera Bread inched closer to the top 10, while fellow fast casual Chipotle padded its sales by nearly half a billion dollars to climb to spot No. 15. Chick-fil-A put more space between it and competitor KFC, while Starbucks used a product diversification strategy to gain ground on No. 2 brand Subway. Meanwhile, McDonald’s struggled to find consistency as the growing demand for premium products threatened to steal market share.

    The sheer number of brands crowding into every niche imaginable in quick service has forced players to become better, faster, stronger, more convenient. And that pressure to perform at a higher level has had broad implications on the drive-thru operation, where companies have tinkered with various components in an effort to create an outdoor lane that facilitates a top-shelf brand experience.

    Technology enhancements by White Castle and McDonald’s show that even traditional quick-service burger chains are considering letting patrons customize their orders. White Castle added two touch-screen ordering kiosks at a renovated restaurant in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio, while McDonald’s tested a similar system at a store in Laguna Niguel, California.

    The fifth-annual Best Franchise Deals report offered a collection of upstart brands building a foundation for robust growth, emerging concepts clamoring for a spot on the national stage, and well-known names seeking deeper inroads into the American consciousness.

    Miami topped QSR’s fourth annual Growth 40 report, claiming the first spot among the nation’s largest markets, while Austin, Texas, and Palm Springs, California, earn top honors among medium and small markets, respectively. Conducted by Port Washington, New York–based foodservice research firm The NPD Group for the second consecutive year, the Growth 40 report investigated population projections, quick-service unit density, and traffic gains at quick-service eateries in hundreds of markets across the U.S.

    Each month, QSR singles out the quick-service and fast-casual brands we think will make a splash in the industry. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re… well, not. So which Ones to Watch brands are still on fire, and which ones have had their growth hopes doused? Here’s a look back at 15 Ones to Watch brands we’ve featured since 2007—those that are hot, those that are not, and those that are somewhere in between.

    For the food truck industry, so much changed in the three years after QSR profiled the 20 top food trucks. There were reality TV shows and numerous pop culture references, an accepting public, a rising regulatory environment, and fierce competition. For some, the three years delivered blossoming, optimistic futures; for others, dreams came and went. Still, food trucks remain a vibrant part of the American landscape, with an estimated 3 million food trucks scattered around cities on both coasts and across the heartland.

    Wendy’s is testing a build-your-own sandwich program, a move that could nudge the company even closer to its goal of competing more with the fast-casual segment. The trial launched at two restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, near Wendy’s headquarters. These units were also the first to be rebuilt with the company’s modern design.

    Many people look at superstar brands like Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Nike and mistakenly conclude those companies achieved their successes as a result of good timing, great advertising, or just plain luck. But columnist Denise Lee Yohn has found that these companies have employed specific, somewhat surprising, techniques that have turned them into industry icons.

    These days in the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industries, the Millennial reigns supreme. But it’s not just the purchasing behavior of Millennial customers that is leading to big changes in the limited-service realm anymore. The generation is also increasingly leaving its fingerprints on the decision-making process, with more young guns streaming into the corporate suite or launching their own enterprises.

    Roark is one of the biggest influencers in the quick-service industry. It now owns three of the 25 biggest quick-service restaurant chains—it acquired a majority stake in Arby’s three years ago—and oversees a 16-brand dining empire with some $11 billion in systemwide sales and nearly 12,100 units employing some 300,000 people. But Roark differs in many ways from other private equity companies; in its 13 years in existence, Roark has sold only three companies, and none were restaurants.

    Though franchising remains the quickest way to expand unit count and market presence with fewer financial resources—still an attractive prospect for many quick-service players—a number of emerging and even established concepts are favoring corporate-owned stores and battle-tested, multiunit franchisees to accomplish their development objectives. That reality is squeezing opportunity for single-unit entrepreneurs, long a prevalent force in the quick-service franchising universe, and changing the face of quick-service franchising.

    Piada’s namesake item starts with an Italian thin-crust dough made with flour and olive oil. That crust is baked on a stone grill, then filled with ingredients and hand rolled. It’s similar to a wrap or a burrito, but an Italian version. The Piada concept is also similar in service and style to Chipotle, but, again, an Italian version. Piada founder and CEO Chris Doody makes no secret of his admiration for Chipotle, and as a former cofounder of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, he has extensive knowledge of Italian cuisine.