Special Report | August 2011 | By Sam Oches

The 2011 QSR 50

The top quick-serve and fast-casual brands in the nation.

The QSR 50 highlights the top fast food companies in the nation.
image used with permission.

Enter the 2012 QSR 50 here.


There’s no beating McDonald’s. The quick-serve champ padded its domestic sales by nearly $1.5 billion over 2009. The fast food giant continued to reinvent product innovation in the quick-serve industry by rolling out Real Fruit Smoothies, Angus Snack Wraps, and even oatmeal systemwide, as well as introducing new drinks like the Caramel Mocha.

Head chef Dan Coudreaut says customers can expect more fruits and vegetables on McDonald’s menu as customers demand more healthy offerings. In the meantime, the company is toying with a fast-casual-like prototype in at least one market that executives hope will give the concept more of a sit-and-stay-awhile vibe to compete with the likes of Panera.


Jared Fogle, it seems, is not so much a lucky charm for Subway after all. Even after Fogle, a spokesman for Subway for more than a decade, “retired” in April, the sandwich company continued its explosive expansion all over the world.

In fact, by the end of the year, it could call itself the biggest fast food company in the world. Although light-years behind McDonald’s in terms of sales, the “Eat Fresh” purveyor claimed 33,749 global units at year’s end, a full 1,012 more than the Golden Arches.

A commitment to its $5 Footlongs—seven of which are permanent—helped Subway hold firm in the minds of price-conscious customers. But an upscale prototype in test right now could target a whole different type of clientele.

3/Burger King

Whirlwind may sum up Burger King’s 2010 best. The No. 2 burger chain’s R&D department was hard at work, but it was the finances that really made waves.

In October, the flame-broiled burger brand was acquired by equity firm 3G Capital for a cool $3.26 billion. The transition didn’t hurt Burger King’s product innovation, though. The concept solidified its position in the breakfast daypart in a big way, adding 11 new breakfast items throughout the year and partnering with Seattle’s Best to offer premium coffee. BK also jumped onboard Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and vowed to keep kids’ meals healthy.

While a heavy push into healthy may not define the brand moving forward, it’s hoping its new 20/20 store prototype and Whopper Bar concept might catch on with a young consumer base.


Trying to reclaim its burger glory from the days of founder Dave Thomas, Wendy’s upped the innovation ante by adding Garden Sensations Salads to the menu and offering a Pair 2 Menu that gave customers a chance to choose among 35 salad combinations for $5.

But the biggest menu change for Wendy’s came in the form of its Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt, a complete overhaul of the company’s signature fries that kept the potato skin and was fried in proprietary oil. And in a nod to Thomas, Wendy’s even rolled out a marketing campaign starring Wendy herself.

The renewed sense of authenticity might have been top of mind when the company decided to unload sister brand Arby’s in the first half of 2011.


The joke always was with Starbucks that the company opened another store faster than you can say orange mocha frappucino. But in 2010, that was hardly the case, and by the end of the year the coffee giant had the same number of stores it had at the end of 2009.

Instead of unit expansion, Starbucks vowed to grow the brand through existing stores by opening up new channels of growth and improving the customer experience. Free WiFi was added, and the brand even tested a modern store design that was one part coffee shop and one part bar—including wine and beer.

Starbucks also worked to increase its position as a multichannel company, adding an iced version of its instant-coffee product VIA and taking its Seattle’s Best brand into new consumer touch points, including at Subway, Burger King, and AMC Theaters.

Of course, the year wasn’t without its Starbucks growth humor; the company did open its first-ever unit on a cruise ship.

Next: QSR 50 Profiles 6 - 10



I pains me that we celebrate the "success" of restaurants that sell food that makes the world so unhealthy. I can't wait for the day that fast food outlets start going out of business to be replaced by quick serve restaurants that serve only healthy and nutritious food.

It pains you to see a industry succeed. That is so ridiculous in these times.It's just like the early '90s and Outback Steakhouse was going crazy selling those horrible Steaks and Bloomin Onions and other non PC foods. No one was forcing people to buy their product. People buy what they want and the ones that are trying to force stuff that they don't like on them will get some PC sales for a period of time but will end up a vague memory just like De'Lites. The fact that most of you don't remember them proves my point.Let people do what they want. They will anyway, this is the USA.

In this wonderful United StatesIn 1958 approximately one meal in five were eaten in Restaurants. Through the years restaurants of all kinds have exploded in numbers. Today six and a half of ten meals are eaten in Restaurants. In 1958 life expectance was about sixty five years. Today life expectance is over 78 years. Has medicine inproved so much that it has kept us alive in spit of your claim of unhealthy food or have Restaurants offered healthier nutritious foods with unlimited choices and high sanitary standards that has contributed to the increase of life expectance in the US?As for obesity Americans have more spendable income today then ever before and food prices in Restaurants are very low. Im sorry if you are unable to do the math, blame your teacher.Remember Freedom of choice is my mine, don't tell me how to live my life.

Your comment reminds me of the back drop of a movie I once saw - Demolition Man. If you recall the reason the bad guy was let out of prison was because people wanted freedom of choice and the establishment was willing to do anything to stop them in the name of "protecting them from themselves". The only restaurant that was left was Taco Bell and the was by name only, for they did not sell anything that resemble a taco. I say no thanks to that life style. If I were you I would watch that movie again and truly ask myself if I would really want to live in a world like that or would I rather have the freedom to make the right choices for myself and my family.

Just because you were once obese or have food issues doesn't mean I did or I do. I am perfectly healthy, run 4 times a week and enjoy a burger now and then.

Take pride Healthy Guy, but don't waste your time trying to educate people who are unwilling or unable to face the facts. Let them eat cake, and let them get diabetes, heart disease, and the rest. Why should you care?!?

And oh yeah, let's not forget the slave wages. But Americans are descendants of slave masters so that won't concern the average American either. Go al-Qaeda!

hi,Im looking for a nice and famouse restaurant and coffeeshop brand for my restaurant in Iran , could you please give me your suggestion ?thanks

Hi Leyla,I prefer Chipotle, they use natural meats and sometimes organic beans and rice. If Mexican food is unpopular in Iran, Panera Bread is also on the healthier side, serving sandwiches, soups and salads. Good luck!-Morgan

Noon Biar, Kabab Berbar, sounds nice for your restaurant, if you also open a Noon bakery right beside your restataurant. That way you hit two birds with one stone!

I am looking for a VP of R & D for an International QSR company. Give me a ring if you know anyone. 615-499-5463.


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