CHICAGO – Large chain restaurants lost sales as a result of pandemic-related closures and in-person dining restrictions, but a pivot to delivery and carryout helped the foodservice heavyweights nimble enough to seize the shift in consumer dining trends, according to a new report from Technomic Inc.

In 2020, the top 500 foodservice chains saw sales decline 8% compared to 2019, Technomic said in its “2021 Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.” Kevin Schimpf, senior research manager at Technomic, said COVID-19 disruptions cost the industry $27 billion.

Among other key findings in the report:

  • Drive-thru and delivery-centric chains dominated 2020, as industry giants like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Domino’s all achieved positive sales results.
  • Location closures stayed relatively minimal as the Top 500’s overall location footprint shrank by just 2%. In February, the National Restaurant Association reported more than 17% of US restaurants closed permanently or long term in 2020.
  • Sales growth for chicken chains hit double digits, driven by the strong momentum of players like Wingstop, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Raising Cane’s Chicken Tenders. Chicken was the fastest-growing protein on LSR breakfast menus, up 30.8% year over year, Technomic said in its new “State of the Menu” report.
  • Wendy’s rode the success of its breakfast launch to become the fifth-largest chain overall.
  • No full-service concepts made it into this year’s top 20 group, as rankings slid for most full-service chains.

“Disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Top 500 chain restaurants saw sales fall by $27 billion in 2020, decreasing by more than 8% compared to 2019,” Schimpf said. “As many small chains and independent restaurants struggled to simply stay in business over the last year, market share for the industry’s largest chains expanded significantly.”