It’s no secret that this pandemic has been really rough on a lot of businesses – especially restaurants. With forced shutdowns and bankruptcy, a lot of beloved restaurants did not survive these difficult times. However, as we begin a new year, a lot of chains have held on tight and seem to have all the necessary resources to keep going strong. Here are 10 Restaurant Chains You’ll See Everywhere In 2021.
While most restaurants have seen decreased sales since the pandemic began, for Chipotle, it was the complete opposite. Their sales have practically exploded and show no signs of slowing down. One of the reasons why Chipotle is still afloat and now even more successful is – well, because they were already one of the big guys and therefore had a rather big cushion to fall on – but also because of the substantial investment the company made in its digital business before everything happened. This digital business includes online ordering, delivery, and mobile pickup lanes – cleverly called Chipotlanes. According to their CEO, this digital move has been so effective that it was projected to exceed $2.5 billion in sales by the end of 2020. After opening its first digital-only restaurant, Chipotle plans to expand into urban markets where indoor dining would be made impossible due to space limitations. The instalment of pick-up shelves over the past few years, enabling customers and delivery drivers to pick up their digital orders contact-free, has also played a big role in the chain’s booming business. Thanks to Chipotle being so avant-garde, it’s going to be just fine. Much to our relief, it looks like our favorite Mexican-inspired fast-food isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and we’re in for one heck of a delicious ride!
9. Red Lobster
With a year full of social distancing, stay-at-home restrictions, and the inability to meet up with friends and family, it might be hard to imagine how a dine-in restaurant like Red Lobster can keep its head underwater and stay afloat. While, yes, early predictions for Red Lobster were far from positive – as their business was deemed high-risk and was given a negative rating outlook – Red Lobster was still able to turn it around. The seafood giant has seen its sales tripled since the beginning of the pandemic. How exactly? Well, thanks to delivery orders, of course! Like a lot of restaurants have done, just to stay in business, Red Lobster opened its first first “ghost kitchen” to reach customers who are unable to go out and get to the restaurant. The ghost kitchen, which is just a kitchen with no dine-in option, opened in downtown Chicago in mid-November 2020 and has greatly contributed to putting Red Lobster right back on the map with its competitors. But that’s not all they did. While many other chains are trying to cut down their menus, Red Lobster went a different way. They’ve introduced a couple of new menu items, like a Wagyu Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon-Wrapped Sea Scallops. They also hosted a “Say Goodbye to 2020” sweepstakes in which you could win a few different prizes, like free Red Lobster for a whole year! Red Lobster really tried everything to come out the other side, and chances are, you’ll be seeing a lot more of them in 2021.
8. Hoots Wings
America definitely never has too many options when it comes to good wing spots. You might already have a favorite one in mind, but this next restaurant might make you reconsider your choice. Hoots Wings is a fairly new restaurant that specializes in, you guessed it, delicious chicken wings. It is actually a fast-casual restaurant offshoot of a very popular chain, Hooters! After opening its first location in Chicago in 2017, six more quickly followed suit, and it now has seven locations across Illinois, Georgia, and Florida. Even though Hooters had to lay off hundreds of workers within the first month of the pandemic, that wasn’t really the case with Hoots Wings. They are determined to become a dominant player in the wing industry and serve “the best wings on the planet.” But how did they manage to survive for so long despite being the new kid on the block? Well, through franchising! In fact, Hoots Wings hopes to expand to an additional 17 locations by 2021, 35 in 2022, and 50 in 2023. A very hopeful prediction that could very well come true. Another reason why Hoots Wings was able to stay in the game is the food they serve: chicken wings. People love wings, and since the beginning of the pandemic, they have proven to be an incredibly popular delivery option, only second to pizza. Hoots Wings also boasts that its entire menu can be made using only “two pieces of kitchen equipment,” which is perfect for a low-staff climate. Get ready to see Hoots Wings pop up a lot.
This one should probably not be such a surprise, as it is one of the big fast-food players, and pizza has always been the number one delivery go-to. But how did Dominos, in particular, seem to conquer the pandemic era to be a winner? Innovation, baby. Dominos is the king of innovation, always has been and always will be. Not only have the sales been going up, but they even plan on expanding to 25,000 locations by 2025. They’ve managed to increase their year-over-year sales and become the number one pizza chain in America based on revenue. While a lot of restaurants were forced to close down many locations, Dominos had to close one. Yes, one store. This is further proof of just how far in advance they already were compared to other restaurants. The secret to their success stems from their ability to stay one step ahead of the competition all the time. Sure, it’s also because the pizza is really good, but that’s a given. For 6o years now, Dominos has been ahead of the innovation curve. They were the first ones to come up with the idea of a “ghost kitchen” in the pizza fast-food world; they have a killer online ordering service that would put most fast-food outlets to shame and a lot of resources for their digital development. If you were looking for the recipe to success, here you go! Dominos is here to stay.
Once again, seeing KFC have success going into 2021 shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Fried chicken is probably one of the best comfort foods out there, and people are ready to do just about anything to get their hands on a red-and-white striped bucket of Original Recipe. While fast-food giants are always a little more prepared to survive a big worldwide pandemic like this one because of their achieved popularity status, it doesn’t mean that they should rest on their laurels. KFC knew that and immediately took action. In mid-November, KFC announced their plan to completely remodel their restaurants in order to better fit the new norms of “human contact.” Across the country, KFC is expected to feature new “cubbies,” specially designed to buy online and pickup in store. Stores would offer twice as many drive-through lanes, enhanced parking for the benefit of delivery drivers, and curb-side pickup, all in compliance with social distancing measures. Not only is KFC adapting and evolving, but it’s also opening new stores, offering new meal deals, giving makeovers to the iconic Colonel Sanders, and, maybe the best all, releasing a new gaming system which also keeps your chicken warm. KFC is the perfect example of a chain doing everything it can to stay relevant and successful.
It has not been an easy couple of years for Smashburger. In the past three years, it had to close over 78 locations and saw a big drop in sales. However, it seems like the pandemic brought a new craving for “better burgers,” and Smashburger finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The beloved chain saw a more than 400% increase in sales, thanks to their digital orders. This gigantic increase boosted their confidence and their hope in opening up 40 new locations during this year, a very bold yet somehow realistic goal. To ensure their road to success is flawless, Smashburger has adopted a pandemic-positive approach and has completely revamped their restaurant in order to guarantee impeccable service. First, they opted for contactless cubby-system pickup, along with a more intuitive curbside pickup system, and frequently updates to its app and website to provide a faster, frictionless experience. Plus, they launched a whole new breakfast menu! Not only did Smashburger adapt their business, but they were also awarded ” The Best Employer” award by Forbes. The election was based on the employee’s satisfaction with the pandemic response and with their willingness to recommend Smashburger to their friends and family. Needless to say, it looks like Smashburger will be around for a long, long time.
Eating healthy should always be a priority. But in times where the pandemic is causing most people to stop exercising, it should be an even bigger one. Since obesity has been identified as a risk factor for more severe symptoms of the virus, people have been trying to turn over a new leaf and eat healthier food. This is where Saladworks comes in to save the day. While it may not be the most popular restaurant chain in America, it has been around for a good 34 years, so they definitely know a thing or two about good, quality salads. The national made-to-order salad chain has seen its profile raised significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s all thanks to their innovative initiatives. They followed many other restaurants’ lead and opened a bunch of ghost kitchens all throughout 2020. They’ve opened seven outposts in grocery stores – and plan on opening ten more in 2021 – to try and fill the salad bar void and offer Americans healthier options, instead of turning to burgers or pizza all the time. With expansions and growing interest, Saladworks has definitely a lot of potential up its sleeve. The chain has been making headway slowly but surely, and if it wasn’t on your radar before, then you should keep an eye out for it now.
3. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
When you think about Dickey’s, you probably think of a nice family night out; all joined together around some good old generous portion of Texas-style smoked meats and savory sides. And you would be right, it is a “social” spot. So it would’ve made sense for it to go under, or at least lose a little bit of interest in light of the current situation. However, the complete opposite happened: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit soared and adapted completely to fit the new needs of its customers. The company CEO announced that Dickey’s was not only adding virtual kitchens, but was also offering some online training for its barbecue masters. With over 500 locations, it seems like a good way to go. Their Barbecue University Online program will be their main focus this year in order to deliver the best service possible to its customers. Dickey also said that while it doesn’t compare to real hands-on training in the actual kitchen, the program will still give franchisees and pit crews an opportunity to improve their skills from wherever they’re working. By continuing to train their employees, it doubles their chances of staying around for the long term. It seems like Dickey’s Barbecue Pit will still serve its slow-cooked barbecue, ribs, and other delicious dishes in 2021, maybe even more than before.
2. McDonald’s And Burger King
Okay, you probably saw this one coming. There’s practically no way we’re seeing these two rivals leave our lives anytime soon. First of all, McDonald’s has seen its delivery sales triple since the beginning of the pandemic, and even though it had to close over 200 locations this year, it didn’t make that big of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Especially since there are over 34,000 locations, you know. With innovations like fewer seats, conveyor belts, and automated ordering, the chances are pretty slim for McDonald’s not to survive the pandemic – and pretty much anything else, really. As for Burger King, it has also seen some closures as a result of the pandemic, but again, nothing too major. The Home of the Whopper has plans to launch new features in 2021 to fit the new restrictions. For example, by designing new venues that are 60 percent smaller than their current locations in order to better follow social distancing norms. Also, just like McD’s, it will introduce brand new drive-thrus with conveyor belts to deliver food right to your car, with no human contact whatsoever. Sure, every fast-food chain has had to make sacrifices and come up with new ways to stay open, but McDonald’s and Burger King have both proven that they were part of the fast food elite for a reason: they are always ready for anything!
1. Ghost Kitchens
Like we’ve seen time, and again throughout this list, contact-free service in 2021 is definitely the way to go – not only to respect social distancing measures but also so that people feel safer in general. Ghost kitchens have become more and more present in the restaurant industry, and even if it they’re not around forever, they’re here to stay for a little while, at least. Practically every restaurant has opted to go with a ghost kitchen concept, and those who haven’t yet, are surely thinking about it. There’s a particular type of restaurant that has been quite successful in the ghost kitchen biz, and that’s the chicken wing industry. While pizza is still the dominant delivery service, chicken wings are not too far behind. A lot of chains have launched virtual kitchens devoted exclusively or near-exclusively to serving up tasty wings, and they’ve all been a huge success. Places like Applebee’s, which launched Neighborhood Wings in the spring, Chuck E. Cheese, which came out with Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings this summer, Smokey Bones, with The Wing Experience, and Fazoli’s, which opened Wingville in the fall. Trying to succeed one way or the other, wings and ghost kitchens seem to go hand-in-hand and will definitely be something you’ll see a lot of in 2021.