When 2017-founded 7 Brew was named QSR’s Breakout Brand of the Year in January, there were about 150 locations, a 275 percent rise in less than a year. But it wasn’t so much the recent growth as it was 7 Brew’s ambition that stood out. The drive-thru concept had 2,000 store commitments listed on its FDD and public claims it was actually closer to 2,500, on track for 3,000.

While a multi-year path, 7 Brew continues to gain at historic rates. At the end of 2022, 7 Brew had 38 shops. By the close of 2023, there were 180, and the number was up to 217 by mid-April 2024. 7 Brew exited last year with average-unit volumes of $1.8 million and domestic systemwide sales of $191 million. Of those 180 locations, 161 were franchised.

For the first time, QSR is partnering with Datassential to share findings from the firm’s Top 500 report and to collaborate on the upcoming 2024 FSR 30 (slated for August).

Of the half-a-thousand brands measured in Datassential’s report—7 Brew posted the most-robust one-year unit growth of any brand by percentage (not total count).

  • 7 Brew: 373.7 percent
  • The Peach Cobbler Factory: 358.3 percent
  • Hangy Joe’s Hot Chicken: 281.8 percent
  • KPOT Korean BBQ & Hot Pot: 275 percent
  • Foxtail Coffee Co.: 176.2 percent
  • Just Love Coffee Café: 136.8 percent
  • Cupbob: 134.8 percent
  • Swig: 130.4 percent
  • The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill: 130 percent
  • Nautical Bowls: 125 percent

And by one-year sales growth (percentage):

  • The Peach Cobbler Factory: 332.5 percent
  • Nick The Greek: 304.7 percent
  • 7 Brew: 267.3 percent
  • Pizza King Inc.: 264.7 percent
  • Cupbob: 207.2 percent
  • Playa Bowls: 153.5 percent
  • Nautical Bowls: 152.2 percent
  • KPOT: 152 percent
  • Just Love Coffee Café: 140.5 percent

Datassential’s full report will arrive in early June. Here are some preview highlights:

The total U.S. units in 2023, counting the Top 500 brands, was 238,152—up 2.1 percent from 2022. Sales hiked to $417.13 billion, or a 7.5 percent, year-over-year rise.

The top five states per region with the most new openings in 2023 (among 7,000-plus new units from Top 500 chains with founded dates last year):

South (made up 43 percent of the Top 500)

  • Texas: 946
  • Florida: 599
  • Georgia: 277
  • North Carolina: 274
  • Virginia: 198

West (23 percent of the list)

  • California: 644
  • Arizona: 204
  • Colorado: 158
  • Utah: 109
  • Washington: 82

Midwest (22 percent)

  • Ohio: 277
  • Illinois: 254
  • Minnesota: 176
  • Indiana: 158
  • Wisconsin: 142

Northeast (12 percent)

  • New York: 397
  • Pennsylvania: 253
  • New Jersey: 186
  • Massachusetts: 90
  • Connecticut: 59

The limited-service sector anchored growth at 2.3 percent, rising to 212,469 total stores among the Top 500. It split 170,241 (1.9 percent higher) for quick service and 42,228 for fast casual (4 percent). Full-service eateries inched 0.3 percent to 25,683 as the category continues to work its way back from the pandemic’s long trail and the settling of off-premises business.

Fine dining accounted for 550 units (4.6 percent); casual dining 14,266 (0.5 percent); and midscale 10,867 (down 0.1 percent).

As for one-year sales growth by category, it broke down as follows:

  • Limited-service salad/healthful: 11.2 percent
  • Coffee: 5.9 percent
  • Limited-service other: 4.6 percent
  • Dessert/snack: 4.3 percent
  • Limited-service Mexican: 3 percent
  • Limited-service chicken: 2.9 percent
  • Limited-service pizza: 1.6 percent
  • Limited-service bakery-café: 0.8 percent
  • Limited-service sandwich: –0.4 percent
  • Limited-service burger: –0.4 percent
  • Full-service regional/ethnic: 7.6 percent
  • Full-service sports bar: 3.8 percent
  • Full-service midscale: 0.3 percent
  • Full-service seafood/steak: 0.1 percent
  • Full-service Italian/pizza: –0.9 percent
  • Full-service American: –2 percent

The limited-service umbrella, among the Top 500, also grew sales 8.1 percent to $338.18 billion. Quick service reached $263.48 billion, 8 percent above last year. Fast casual hiked 8.6 percent to $74.7 billion. Full service rose 5 percent to $78.95 billion; casual dining 4.8 percent to $55.57 billion; fine dining 10.7 percent to $3.33 billion; and midscale 4.5 percent to $20.05 billion.

By segment unit growth:

  • Limited-service salad/healthful: 17 percent
  • Limited-service chicken: 11.9 percent
  • Dessert/snack: 10.1 percent
  • Coffee: 9.8 percent
  • Limited-service other: 9.3 percent
  • Limited-service Mexican: 9.1 percent
  • Limited-service burger: 7.5 percent
  • Limited-service sandwich: 7.2 percent
  • Limited-service bakery-café: 1.8 percent
  • Limited-service pizza: 1.6 percent
  • Full-service regional/ethnic: 10.2 percent
  • Full-service seafood/steak: 6.7 percent
  • Full-service midscale: 5.2 percent
  • Full-service Italian/pizza: 4.2 percent
  • Full-service American: 3.8 percent
  • Full-service sports bar: 3.2 percent

Datassential’s Top 50 also tapped into consumer perceptions. An interesting point to emerge was full-service brands dominated “food quality.” However, a quick-service concept (which one won’t shock anybody) topped both service and experience.

Food quality:

  • Texas Roadhouse: 75 percent
  • Chick-fil-A: 74 percent
  • LongHorn: 74 percent
  • Cheesecake Factory: 73 percent
  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House: 71 percent

Largest year-over-year gains:

  • Miller’s Ale House: 6 percent
  • Rubio’s: 6 percent
  • La Madeleine: 5 percent
  • Cotton Patch Café: 5 percent

Service:

  • Chick-fil-A: 72 percent
  • Texas Roadhouse: 72 percent
  • Longhorn Steakhouse: 69 percent
  • Cheesecake Factory: 69 percent
  • In-N-Out Burger: 68 percent

Largest year-over-year gains:

  • Shari’s: 9 percent
  • Fuddruckers: 7 percent
  • La Madeleine: 6 percent
  • Chicken Express: 6 percent
  • The Capital Grille: 5 percent

Experience:

  • Chick-fil-A: 73 percent
  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House: 70 percent
  • Texas Roadhouse: 70 percent
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy: 69 percent
  • In-N-Out Burger: 69 percent

Largest gains in 2023:

  • Rita’s Ice: 7 percent
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy: 6 percent
  • Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse: 5 percent
  • Famous Dave’s: 5 percent
  • Fazoli’s: 5 percent

Affordability:

  • Little Caesars: 72 percent
  • Freshii: 65 percent
  • Papa Murphy’s: 64 percent
  • Cici’s Pizza: 62 percent
  • Pollo Tropical: 59 percent

Largest gains in 2023:

  • Cotton Patch Café: 10 percent
  • Freshii: 9 percent
  • Beef ‘O’ Brady’s: 9 percent
  • Corner Bakery: 7 percent
  • Uno Pizzeria & Grill: 7 percent

Value for the money:

  • Papa Murphy’s: 66 percent
  • Little Caesars: 65 percent
  • Cici’s Pizza: 63 percent
  • In-N-Out Burger: 63 percent
  • Del Taco: 62 percent

Largest gains in 2023:

  • Black Bear Diner: 11 percent
  • Café Rio: 10 percent
  • Pita Pit: 8 percent
  • Beef ‘O’ Brady’s: 8 percent
  • Corner Bakery: 7 percent

Net promoter scores

  • Chick-fil-A: Plus 43 (57 percent positive; 13 percent negative)
  • Texas Roadhouse: Plus 43 (56 percent positive; 12 percent negative)
  • In-N-Out Burger: Plus 42 (56 percent positive; 14 percent negative)
  • LongHorn: Plus 40 (53 percent positive; 13 percent negative)
  • Portillo’s: Plus 40 (54 percent positive; 14 percent negative)
  • Cheesecake Factory: Plus 37 (52 percent positive; 14 percent negative)
  • The Capital Grille: Plus 37 (54 percent positive; 17 percent negative)
  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House: Plus 35 (52 percent positive; 17 percent negative)
  • Maggiano’s: Plus 33 (49 percent positive; 16 percent negative)
  • Topgolf: Plus 32 (48 percent positive; 17 percent negative)