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Dec 31

It's nearly the end of the year. Now is the time to take a look at the numbers to see who in the restaurant business will win 2021.

The pandemic tailwinds determined this year's winners The political and regulatory environment also had a major role in determining the winners

Steak chains

High-end restaurants offering experiences food were most severely affected by the March 2020 closing of dining rooms. Customers were able to enjoy a great meal at these restaurants.

LongHorn Steakhouse, the Capital Grille, and Ruth's Chris have been Darden's most recent successes. Texas Roadhouse and Ruth's Chris have done well. Fogo de Chao has had phenomenal sales and was forced to file for public listings (again).

However, this win was somewhat tempered by the fact beef prices have risen during the second half-year. These steakhouses are now facing tighter margins and increased prices. But they are optimistic that inflation will not impact their customers.

College athletes

Marketing departments for restaurants found the NCAA's decision not to allow student-athletes to make money off their likenesses significant.

Four chains have announced sponsorship deals with athletes within weeks of the June rule change.

Many Southern-based restaurants, such as Raising Cane's or Bojangles, have teamed up with college football players from their local market. Through their Walk-On program, the chain has signed agreements and facilitated the entry of dozens of athletes without the need for a scholarship. One of these is a Reinhardt University-affiliated golfer, who is 63 years old.

Tech companies

Although the technology was a tiny ripple, in the beginning, it soon grew into a tsunami of its own in 2020. As more restaurants embrace technology, it is causing a surge in staffing shortages and allowing them to reach more customers.

This was the realization of investors who began investing in tech suppliers.

In this year's stock market, Olo and Toast were two major tech companies. They mentioned the ongoing transformation in restaurants to a digital-first industry. Presto also planned to go public.


2021 may be remembered as a landmark for unions, particularly in the restaurant industry, which is known to be hostile to organized labor.

Unions had achieved a few modest but important victories in restaurants this year. Another seventh employee was still waiting for the board's decision on a contested ballot.

The workers at the 21-unit Colectivo and four-unit Darwin’s were among those who voted for unionization. After 3.5 years of negotiations, Burgerville, a regional restaurant chain, finally reached a deal with its workers.

The Biden administration welcomes this new wave in organizing.

Chipotle shareholders

The "Wall Street's favorite restaurant" saw its share price rise in 2021. It posted quarter after quarter of staggering numbers.

Chipotle shares reached $1,958 in September. This makes it the most expensive restaurant stock. The stock has increased more than 3,900% in the past year.

The burrito chain, which has a strong focus on digital sales via its mobile app and loyalty program "Chipotle", has developed limited-time menu items. The smoked brisket is a popular item at Chipotle. This year, the challenge lies in exceeding last year's record-breaking performance.

Chicken wing lovers

Many consumers are encouraged to try more options. How many chicken wings could Americans eat?

Wingstop, Buffalo Wild Wings and are not the only ones that can sell popular parts of poultry.

This item's popularity is partly due to the explosion of delivery-only virtual brands.

Chicken wing chains are a popular acquisition target. In 2021 WingZone, Native Grill & Wings, as well as Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza & Wings were all snapped up.

(All of this happened, by the way as wing prices rose to levels around half a million dollars higher last year.

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