Sometimes, the places we like to eat aren’t meant to be around forever. For many of us, the restaurants we love can do no wrong. The connections we have aren’t always based on quality; sometimes they’re based on novelty and nostalgia. But for these ten restaurant chains, the coming year might just mean the bitter and inevitable end. Here are 10 Restaurant Chains That May Not Survive 2020.
10. Howard Johnson’s
Howard Johnson’s first opened as a restaurant in 1925 in Quincy, Massachusetts. Founder Howard Johnson specialized in medicine and his original location was primarily a drugstore. He quickly noticed that his soda fountain was the biggest source of revenue and he got to thinking. He decided to expand his soda fountain offerings and added ice cream to go along with his range of fountain drinks. He began serving ice cream made using a family recipe and everyone who tried it welcomed the creamier, smoother mix. After this initial success, he went on to open beachfront concession stands catering to vacationing tourists. Johnson then decided to offer a full menu at his original location, turning his drugstore into a full-blown restaurant. From there, the sky was the limit. Howard Johnson’s grew to have a whopping 400 locations by the time 1954 rolled around, and for a restaurant chain back then, that was pretty huge. It was in that year that the company expanded once again, getting into the motor lodge business, and once again the business grew considerably. By the turn of the century, Howard Johnson’s distinct orange roof became a beacon for those looking for a place to eat or for travelers looking to rest their weary heads for the night. By the 1970s Howard Johnson’s had over 1000 locations across North America. Their specialty: the ice cream of course, and their famous fried clams. But as is the case for many of the businesses that were once so successful, they were hit hard when the new millennium rolled around, and the years since have only progressed to be worse and worse. Hard to say what it was exactly that led to the decline in business, but the hotel and restaurant landscape has changed over the last 20 years. It could also be partly due to a lack of interest in such places, as Howard Johnson’s still looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. But if there is one near you, go ahead and try their food and experience the novelty, before they go away for good. Look for the orange roof, you can’t miss it.
9. Tim Horton’s
Tim Horton’s was founded in Canada back in 1964. Although they started out simply as a doughnut and coffee shop, they’ve evolved into something of a fast food commodity over the past decades. Their menu now goes way beyond the expected doughnuts and muffins. They now serve chicken burgers and breakfast bagels. They even have fries, sandwiches and of course their famous soup. The chain has certainly grown and provides stiff competition to the other heavyweight fast food chains in Canada. Their breakfast prices are unbeatable and their coffee products are quite popular. In Canada, even in the winter time, they still serve their famed Iced Cappuccino drink, and believe it or not, it still sells pretty well. Having a nice Iced Cap on a freezing cold day is nothing out of the ordinary for these Canucks. But it isn’t in Canada that Tim Horton’s is suffering. Hardly. It’s in the United States that this restaurant can’t seem to make any headway and they aren’t getting any favors from the other fast food giants out there. It seems that while their prices are competitive their products may not be original enough to go head to head with what’s already out there. In the coffee game alone they’ve got to go head to head with American favourites Starbucks and Dunkin’. There’s no definite plan yet for the chain to close up shop in the States, but they are definitely getting dangerously close. So you may want to get your iced caps while you still can.
8. Boston Market
Boston Market is still quite young compared to many of the restaurant chain giants but has been around long enough that it shouldn’t be experiencing problems like this. Opening in 1984, Boston Market eventually expanded, but today are suffering from low sales and low traffic to their restaurant locations. Boston Market’s specialty has always been chicken. The original restaurant name was actually Boston Chicken before being changed in the 90’s. Here the chicken is slowly roasted in rotisserie ovens, and although there might be a slightly high sodium content in the seasonings used, it’s still healthier than say cheeseburgers drenched in grease. Of course KFC is still the chain when talking about chicken in the States, but then again, that’s fried chicken. Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A are also gaining steam, but the rotisserie market has never been quite as popular in the States. That’s not because slow roasted chicken like that isn’t a big seller, just ask the folks at Costco. Perhaps it lies in the marketing of the restaurant itself. Who knows? All we can report are the facts. And the facts are … this place is struggling. In Canada, specifically Quebec, this sort of restaurant is one that does quite well. Rotisserie chicken is quite the favored trend there and there are plenty of restaurants serving rotisserie chicken. You can see delivery cars with chickens on top whipping by the crowded downtown streets quite often. In 2004 rock group Metallica shot the video for their single, “Frantic” in Montreal. In the video, the main character is none other than an ill-fated delivery driver for a rather famous local rotisserie restaurant in the province. Just goes to show you how popular rotisserie chicken is in Quebec. Perhaps Boston Market should try expanding a little further north, like say to Quebec. Maybe this could be the life preserver necessary to save the sinking ship.
7. Ruby Tuesday
It was 1972 in Knoxville, Tennessee, when Ruby Tuesday opened its doors for the first time. They have enjoyed a rich history of food service and of course expansion. But like so many other chains on this list, they have suffered over time. The products being served at Ruby Tuesday and their quality of service have taken considerable hits over the years. Enough to have attracted some negative attention. And when that negative attention becomes overwhelming, so comes the necessity for representatives of the chain to either make excuses, apologies, or even promises about an uncertain future. NRD Capital, the company that owns Ruby Tuesday, were essentially forced to make a statement basically saying that they have a very strong belief that the brand’s love and devotion is strong enough that if they can deliver on the basics — like making sure that the hot food is hot, cold food is cold, bathrooms are clean and that service comes with a smile — then they can get patrons to love Ruby Tuesday again. It isn’t the “hot food hot,” or the “cold food cold,” that worries us the most about the company statement. What worries us in particular, is wondering what kind of complaints they must have received to feel the necessity and/or urgency to mention that in the future, they would have clean bathrooms! Yikes! Well, it seems that lovers of this chain may very well soon be singing Goodbye Ruby Tuesday before year’s end.
6. Tad’s Steaks
Sometimes location really isn’t everything. Despite the fact that “location, location, location!” is the war room call for restaurants everywhere. What better location for a restaurant can there be than New York’s Times Square!? There was a very famous Tad’s Steaks outlet right in the heart of it, and since 1960 customers flocked to the famous broiler to munch on succulent steak and other goodies. The founder, Donald Townsend passed on in 2000, but the place lived on and at one time had almost 30 locations nationwide. Well the Times Square location closed as the ball dropped on 2020 and today there is only one location left, and that’s on the West Coast. But many feel it’s just a matter of time before this Tad’s also turns its lights out for good. These changing times are a little scary for those in the restaurant business, especially when even some heavyweight chains are struggling. For a restaurant that had breakfast, lunch and dinner covered, it’s puzzling that Tad’s Steaks couldn’t maintain a consistent clientele, especially in Times Square.
5. Baja Fresh
Mexican cuisine definitely has its place when it comes to Americana. What would the world be like without tacos and burritos? It would probably be a little boring and definitely a lot less tasty of a world to live in. When it comes to Baja Fresh, the question becomes, are North American’s looking for truly authentic cuisine? Because authentic Mexican cuisine is quite different from what we’re used to getting at say … Taco Bell. Now, Taco Bell doesn’t seem to be slowing down any, and thank goodness for that, but Baja Fresh seems to be suffering as of late, and we may not be seeing this place around for much longer. They first opened in 1990 and then, interestingly enough, the chain was purchased by Wendy’s in 2002. At that time Baja Fresh had many locations around the States and were seemingly doing quite well. The places were known as a Mexican Grill primarily, and they had what was known as a “self-serve salsa bar,” which sounds interesting and kinda delicious. But only two years after Wendy’s investment, they started to do quite badly overall. Apparently these days, many locations close often, and without warning. So it may not be long before Baja Fresh is gone and forgotten.
4. Red Robin
Believe it or not, The Red Robin Burger actually won several Zagat awards, at one time. Speaking in culinary terms, that’s pretty impressive as Zagat is a popular restaurant review site. This is why it’s so surprising that this place has suffered so many losses in recent years, with locations dropping like flies! Red Robin was officially founded in 1969 in Seattle, Washington, and it grew in scope over the fifty years or so since its inception. A Zagat award can often be the pinnacle of success for a place like this, and to have won more than a few is quite an accomplishment. As of 2019, there were still 562 locations open and operating, but the rumor mill is running rather powerfully, and the noise being heard is that this chain is suffering greatly. The last decade hasn’t been all that easy on many restaurant chains, but apparently Red Robin has suffered more than others.
Perhaps this one is the most shocking restaurant to find on a list like this, as in the 90s, you couldn’t watch American TV without seeing a commercial for this family place and its succulent food. Friendly’s came into being 85 years ago, and they currently have 157 locations. That’s quite small considering some of the franchise numbers we see from other restaurant chains in North America. But still, Friendly’s grew to prominence marketing their homestyle food to many loyal fans. But today, the fear at Friendly’s is that those fans are slowly dwindling, and not at all because of bad service or a bad product. Of course, there’s always that possibility too. The main concern is that a large portion of Friendly’s clientele is aging. Things change with age and seniors tend to eat out less. It seems hard for Friendly’s to attract a younger clientele. This is speculation, as nothing has been announced, but if you can’t grow your clientele restaurants will start to fall by the wayside. It was back in 2011 that Friendly’s went bankrupt, and although they came back from that, several locations closed up shop. We’ll have to keep an eye on whether Friendly’s keeps smiling or not.
2. Checkers Drive-In and Rally’s
Checkers Drive-In had been around 34 years before merging with Rally’s in 1999. These are essentially the same restaurant but have kept the original branding dependant on location much like Carls Jr. and Hardee’s. But that doesn’t mean that these guys aren’t experiencing some perilous days in today’s restaurant landscape. Rumblings that this franchise is going the way of bell-bottomed jeans have started to surface, and the claims seem to be serious enough. Checkers and Rally’s were the true definition of the term “fast food,” as they served the essentials: burgers, fries, milkshakes and hot dogs. What more could you ask for? Well, apparently, serving up delicious fast food fare isn’t enough. So what’s the cause of all this recent peril? Apparently, there have been multiple health code violations over the years, and it has become increasingly difficult to continue serving the food they were always famous for at a cheap price. This is understandable, as the price of the overhead, labor and ingredients continues to rise as revenues seem to decline. So maybe Checkers and Rally’s will be another restaurant chain that may not survive 2020.
1. Hometown Buffet
The “all you can eat” buffet has been a conundrum for the restaurant industry since its inception. The common question is always: “How can you serve so much food, and for so cheap?” For years, chefs of more reputable restaurants have wondered the same thing about buffets, and for good reason. A lot of food gets consumed in places like these. So much in fact, that buffet owners have been spicing their food with MSG in order to make clients feel that much fuller that much faster. This of course is a myth. But many believe it to be true. And you’ve gotta admit, you do seem to get a bit fuller when eating out at a buffet, than say … McDonald’s, where purchasing that extra burger is encouraged. MSG or not, people can still put away lots of food at an all you can eat buffet, often preparing for their outing by eating very little beforehand. So yeah, while these places are quite popular, the all you can eat buffet no longer seems to be in its heyday. The Golden Corral isn’t doing as great as it once did, but they’re still doing alright, regardless. The same cannot be said for the Hometown Buffet. This is one chain of all you can eat buffets that took some serious hits over the years. Hometown Buffet is owned by Ovation Brands, a company that owns many different restaurant chains including a few other all you can eat restos like Ryan’s Buffet and Old Country Buffets. Apparently, these chains aren’t doing all that well either. Hometown Buffet locations are dwindling at a pretty fast pace, even though there were a whopping 113 locations as of 2017. The umbrella corporation, Ovation Brands, is losing quite a few dimes in the process, so it won’t be long before something has to give. They may choose to focus on only one brand to keep up and going, or we’ll lose all of them in one fell swoop. Time, of course, will tell.