The QSR 50

  • Your annual update on the best brands in the biz.

    McDonald's once again claims the No. 1 spot on the QSR 50.

    34 Checkers/Rally’s ( 34 )

    Even though CEO Rick Silva appeared on CBS’ “Undercover Boss” and shut down one of his franchisees’ stores for poor performance, expansion and store openings really are what the executive team is focused on at the double-drive-thru company. Checkers/Rally’s opened more nontraditional units in urban markets and also developed a new, cheaper prototype, which ditches the second drive thru in favor of more seating and a walk-up window.

    35 Long John Silver’s ( 32 )

    Sales and net unit counts were down at Long John Silver’s, which Yum! Brands unloaded in 2011 after deciding it didn’t fit in the company’s long-term plans. The brand was acquired by LJS Partners LLC, a group comprised of franchisees and other investors. The new owners have plenty of work ahead of them if they want to turn around the quick-serve seafood leader.

    36 White Castle ( 40 )

    Sure, we should have expected Five Guys to represent the booming better-burger segment and enjoy the biggest jump up the QSR 50. But who would have guessed that the second-highest climber would be burger veteran White Castle? The slider sommeliers rose four spots by adding nearly $100 million to their domestic sales, despite a net loss of five stores. How’d the company do it? Mostly through unique promotions (burger-scented candles, anyone?), a dedication to its crazed fan base (the Cravers), and old-fashioned community work, evidenced by its passion for supporting autism research.

    37 Del Taco ( 36 )

    Its slow growth eastward (including plans for the Atlanta and Charleston, South Carolina, areas), along with new items like the Big Fat Crispy Chicken Tacos and Crispy Chicken Burritos, helped Del Taco keep pace as the No. 2 Mexican quick serve. A refreshed logo and prototype, highlighted by brighter colors and a salsa bar, have Del Taco prepped to chip away at Taco Bell’s sizeable lead.

    38 El Pollo Loco ( 38 )

    A Fish Taco LTO fit perfectly with El Pollo Loco’s West Coast, Mexican vibe, as did Chicken Carnitas and Chicken Tamales. The flame-grilled chicken chain gained additional exposure with its “El Pollo Loco ¡Feel the Mexcellence!” campaign and role as one of the inaugural members of the NRA’s Kids LiveWell program.

    39 Jason’s Deli ( 42 )

    Instead of putting all of its chips in mass expansion and menu development, Jason’s Deli focused on what it does best: serving better-for-you food in a fast-casual setting with top-notch customer service. That formula helped it climb another three spots on the QSR 50 and earn an additional $30 million in domestic sales over 2010.

    40 Boston Market ( 41 )

    New CEO George Michel, who took the helm of Boston Market late in 2010, finally found room to breath in 2011. After inheriting a brand deep into a system-wide overhaul—including new menu items, upgraded customer service, and the addition of real plates, stainless ware, upgraded serving stations, and carving stations—Michel pulled his foot off the pedal a bit, focusing on marketing efforts like the company’s partnership with Blockbuster.

    41 Krispy Kreme ( n/a )

    If you didn’t think a doughnut company could absolutely kill it in AUV, think again. Humble little Krispy Kreme, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina–based doughnut purveyor celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2012, squeezed roughly $531 million out of its 234 units, good for an average unit volume nearing $2.3 million. The company got there largely on the back of its several LTOs, including the Banana Kreme Pie and Red Velvet Cake doughnuts, as well as with its brand-new Signature Coffee Blends.

    42 Qdoba ( 44 )

    Qdoba jumped in on the street-food craze in 2011 with its Mini Street Tacos LTO, which offered three small, soft corn tortillas filled with the guest’s choice of slow-roasted pulled pork or seasoned shredded beef, topped with red onion and cilantro garnish. The company also revamped its loyalty program and tested a whole-wheat tortilla option.

    43 CiCi’s Pizza ( 39 )

    If CiCi’s was hoping to get a head start in 2011 on its “Build the Brand” initiative, through which it hopes to open 500 new stores in the next eight to 10 years, then it must have been sorely disappointed. Store count and sales both fell between 2010 and 2011. But don’t count CiCi’s out; CEO Mike Shumsky has big plans for the company, which kicked off in 2012 with a prototype test, online ordering roll out, new ad campaign (“There’s More Where That Came From”), new website, and incentives and financing options to attract franchisees.

    44 In-N-Out Burger ( 45 )

    Sorry, East Coasters: Though burger fanatics east of the Mississippi hoped In-N-Out’s 2011 move into Texas—greeted with five-hour lines and weeping fans—signaled a broader expansion strategy from the famously slow-growth company, it’s been all crickets ever since. With the better-burger category saturating markets high and low, though, and showing no signs of slowing, In-N-Out surely feels the pressure to reconsider its strategy.

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