"This Restaurant...Some of the biggest, best-known brands in fast food continue to struggle. QSR Magazine's Top 50 report recently spotlighted the 50 largest chains by 2011 systemwide revenue. The interesting thing: 19 of those 50 chains shrank last year.
Who's closing the doors while their competitors soar? Here's a look at the ten brands that lost the most units last year.
The perennial number-two in the toasted-subs category, Quiznos' history of poor relations with franchisees -- who have repeatedly sued the corporate parent -- is just one factor that's challenged this chain's growth. The other, of course, is the growing dominance of archrival Subway, which gained 872 units last year. It's now a wide gap between the two in terms of units -- Subway topped 24,700 (the most of any fast-food chain by far) while Quiznos shrank to 2,503.
The tail end of the java giant's multi-year restructuring played out last year. But with 10,821 sores at year-end, Starbucks still had several thousand units more than its big rival. Dunkin' Donuts, which ended 2011 with over 7,000 stores, moved to close the gap by opening over 100 units.
There are a lot of chicken chains out there eating KFC's lunch. Of parent company Yum! Brands' three big chains, KFC has struggled to retain its dominance -- while KFC shed hundreds of units, sister brands Pizza Hut and Taco Bell both added a few dozen.
Top competitor Chick-fil-A is hot on KFC's heels -- it had roughly $500 million less in revenue, but boasts a far higher per-unit gross. A typical Chick-fil-A unit rings up nearly $2.9 million a year, while KFC averages under $1 million.
Arby's should be popular, with its lower-fat roast beef sandwiches, but the chain hasn't been able to attract the weight-conscious like Subway. The chain was sold off by Wendy's/Arby's Group mid-year to a private equity firm, Roark Capital Group, for $430 million. We'll see if new ownership helps this venerable brand make a comeback.
Sbarro was once the hit of the mall and airport food courts...until its food and concept got stale. The company is executing on big turnaround plans this year including a refreshed menu. Casting a pall over the effort: the death this year of company founder Carmela "Mama" Sbarro.
What, no Pralines & Cream for you? Stiff competition in the frozen treat category -- especially, the rise of the self-serve frozen-yogurt craze -- had this pioneering ice cream chain, now owned by Dunkin' Brands, retrenching last year. But comparable store sales have already shown marked improvement this year.
It isn't easy being the Hertz of the increasingly cutthroat fast-burger niche. Burger King recently went public again as its private-equity owner sought to take its chips and go home. Meanwhile, the chain is now half the size of leader McDonald's -- and its per-unit average sales are half as much as well. If that isn't bad enough, upstart better-burger restaurants are sprouting up everywhere, led by Five Guys Burgers & Fries, which opened 182 units last year.
Like KFC, this is an older chicken brand that's being hammered by the competition. The company announced a string of executive changes early this year -- we'll see if they can bring new life to the chain, which ended last year with around 1,200 units.
The 40-year-old fish-and-chips chain was sold off by owner Yum! Brands last fall, which stated the brand was "not an international expansion platform." Along with the A&W All-American Food chain, Long John is now owned by LJS Partners. We'll see if the new owner can invigorate this brand, which has the tough position of being counter-trend with its mostly-fried-food menu.
Still one of the 20 largest fast-food chains at year-end, Dairy Queen did a little trimming of the store-count last year. But it's owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway -- so don't count this chain out. The introduction of the Mini-Blizzard (pictured above) is a boon to dieters, but its lower price may be contributing to the company's dismal average per-unit sales of just $545,000. By contrast, a typical unit of powerhouse McDonald's rakes in $2.5 million.