US restaurant online and physical visits rise 9% in 2021 compared to a 12% decline in 2020, driven by lifting of pandemic restrictions, increase in vaccinations and pent-up demand, according to The NPD Group

Sample article from our Consumer Wellness

CHICAGO , April 26, 2022 (press release) –

The NPD Group has ranked the top 50 U.S. restaurant chains based on sales estimates representing each chain’s total U.S. system for the year ending December 2021. Recovery was evident for the U.S. commercial restaurant industry in 2021 as pandemic restrictions lifted, vaccinations increased, and pent-up demand led to consumers dining out more. Restaurant online and physical visits increased by 9% in 2021 compared to the 12% decline in 2020. Similar to the overall restaurant trend, aggregate sales for the top 50 chains grew 15%, from $234 billion in 2020 to $269 billion in 2021, according to NPD’s continual tracking of the foodservice industry. 

NPD’s rank of the top 50 restaurant chains in 2021 remained fairly stable compared to its 2020 list. The top eight chains retained their rank in terms of dollar sales: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Sonic, Pizza Hut, and Dairy Queen. Only one new chain was added to the list by displaced competition. TGI Fridays returned to the list, while Del Taco dropped to number 51. Four of the seven chains in the top 25 that moved up in rank were casual dining chains that recovered from significant declines in 2020. 

“Although many major restaurant chains realized declines in 2020, they were able to recover most of their dollar and visit losses in 2021,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “This is especially true for the top 50 chains. When the pandemic restrictions began, many of these chains already had drive-thrus and other off-premises operations. Their declines weren’t as steep as other chains and independents.” 

The NPD Group 2022 Definitive Top 50 U.S. Restaurant Chain Ranking Report can be found here.

How the top 50 restaurant chains were selected:
The NPD Group Definitive Top 50 Restaurant Rankings leverages multiple data products and services from NPD’s ongoing foodservice research product portfolio, combined with experienced analyst estimates. Sales estimates represent each chain’s total U.S. system for the year ending December 2021, and are anchored on CREST®, NPD’s flagship syndicated study of consumer purchases of restaurant-prepared meals, snacks, and beverages. Unit counts source to the Fall 2021 release of NPD’s ReCount®service, a census of chains and independent restaurant locations regularly updated since 1988. Today, ReCount provides unit counts and trends for over 1.2 million foodservice operators. These primary sources, combined with other proprietary NPD data, public reporting, and NPD analysis, generate this new industry standard restaurant ranking. *Indicates public information was used in place of ReCount. AUV (average unit volume) = total sales divided by total units. AUV helps restaurants monitor and benchmark how stores performed.

* All content is copyrighted by Industry Intelligence, or the original respective author or source. You may not recirculate, redistrubte or publish the analysis and presentation included in the service without Industry Intelligence's prior written consent. Please review our terms of use.

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Dan Rivard
Dan Rivard
- VP Market Development -

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