Special Report | August 2017 | By Sam Oches

The QSR 50

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McDonald’s Golden Arches in Las Vegas aren’t the only thing that’s huge; so is the company’s lead over the rest of the industry. istockphoto / Valerie Loiseleux
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Panera Bread

The most successful fast-casual chain has enhanced its ordering platforms, with the Panera 2.0 kiosk system significantly cutting down on wait times and a delivery program adding a new touchpoint for busier-than-ever customers. Perhaps that’s what made Panera Bread so attractive to JAB Holdings, the private investment group that acquired the brand earlier this year for a reported $7.5 billion.


Sonic Drive-In

Same-store sales have been a bumpy ride for Sonic of late—down 7.4 percent in 2017’s Q2—but the company isn’t slowing down expansion plans. Sonic this year announced major franchising deals that will expand its presence in markets like Washington, D.C., and New York City.



The last few years weren’t looking so great for KFC. But with the recent Colonel Sanders marketing campaign, new store prototype, and fresh menu innovations under its wing, the chicken chain might finally have turned things around.



Is Chipotle finally out of the weeds after 2015’s food-safety nightmare? While its first full year after E. coli and norovirus sickened hundreds of customers across the country saw Chipotle’s sales drop significantly, there are signs that customers are finally returning to the Mexican fast casual; same-store sales were up 18 percent in the first quarter of this year.


Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s

The CKE brands made plenty of headlines because of former CEO Andy Puzder’s failed bid to become President Trump’s secretary of labor. But even more significant is what came after Puzder’s departure: The twin burger brands launched a new ad campaign veering away from scantily clad women and instead focusing on the tagline “Pioneers of the Great American Burger.”


Dairy Queen

While Dairy Queen is responsible for a massive share of the dessert dollars spent in the quick-service industry, the company sees the most potential in its food business. Expect more growth for its Grill & Chill concept, and a bigger commitment to its $5 Buck Lunch promotion.



CEO Paul Brown has managed an impressive turnaround job at Arby’s; the company has enjoyed 26 straight quarters of same-store sales growth at press time. Its creative marketing message and in-store investments have helped, but so have menu innovations like the Venison Sandwich, the Smokehouse Pork Belly Sandwich, and the Greek Gyro.


Little Caesars

Little Caesars made the rare menu addition this year, rolling out its $6 “ExtraMostBestest” pizza. The company claims the new offering has “the most pepperoni and cheese of any large round standard menu 1-topping pepperoni pizza sold by the other three major national pizza chains, at the very best price.”


Jack in the Box

As if the three traditional dayparts weren’t enough of a concern for Jack in the Box, the chain debuted its “Brunchfast” menu late last year, with items like the Bacon & Egg Chicken Sandwich, the Brunch Burger, and the Southwest Scrambler Plate. Meanwhile, rumors abound that the company could soon spin off sister brand Qdoba.


Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

Popeyes has been on a tear ever since it rebranded in 2008, with much of the thanks owed to CEO Cheryl Bachelder and her vision for the company. Bachelder is now gone, though; many of the company’s leaders departed after Popeyes was acquired by Burger King and Tim Hortons parent company Restaurant Brands International earlier this year.