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Dec 31

We are nearing the end of the year. Now is the time to take a look at the numbers and determine who in the restaurant business will win 2021.

The pandemic tailwinds determined this year's winners. The political and regulatory landscapes have changed significantly over the past year, which has resulted in six winners.

Steak chains

The closing of March 2020 dining rooms was most severe for higher-end restaurants offering experiences and delicious food. These restaurants recovered the best and customers were able to celebrate with good food.

Darden's most recent stars are LongHorn Steakhouse, the Capital Grille, and Ruth's Chris. Fogo de Chao's incredible sales have led it to apply for public listing (again).

However, this win was somewhat temperated by the fact beef prices have risen during the second half-year. The price rises are forcing steakhouse margins to shrink. These chains are optimistic that inflation won't affect 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 to college football players from their respective markets. Louisiana-based walk-ons were perhaps the most innovative. Through its Walk-On program, the chain's of bars and sports bars signed agreements with many athletes who were able make their teams without the need to receive a scholarship. One of these was a Reinhardt University-affiliated golfer, who is now 63 years old.

Tech companies

Although it started out as a tiny ripple in the years past, technology in restaurants quickly grew to become a tsunami in 2020 largely due to necessity. This technology wave has grown to 2021 and is expected to continue to grow as more restaurants adopt it for a variety of reasons.

This was a realization that investors saw and started investing in tech suppliers. As a result, more than $5 billion was already invested in the restaurant technology sector. Some of these investments were made by large companies like Squarespace and IBM.

In this year's stock market, Olo and Toast were two major tech companies. They pointed out 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.

By the end of 2011, unions had won some small but important victories in restaurants. December saw the largest vote by employees at a Starbucks in Buffalo to have their union represented. As of writing, six Starbucks employees still waited for permission from National Labor Relations Board to hold union voting. Another seventh employee was still waiting for the decision from the National Labor Relations Board on a contested ballot.

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

This new wave of organizing has been welcomed by the Biden administration.

Chipotle shareholders

Wall Street's favourite 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. Its share price has been $42 per share since 2006. Over the past year, it has increased by more than 3,900%.

The burrito chain has made this possible by focusing on digital sales through its mobile app, loyalty program and drive-thrus "Chipotle". The chain's CEO Brian Niccol has been involved in the development of limited-time menu items. This includes the popular smoked brisket. Chipotle will be striving to exceed its record-breaking performance last year.

Chicken wing lovers

Consumers are encouraged to try more options. How many chicken wings can Americans eat?

Popular poultry parts are now available at Buffalo Wild Wings and Wingstop. Fazoli's now has them.

The explosion of virtual delivery-only brands has contributed to the popularity of this item. These wing vehicles can be used to deliver to sporting events and parties.

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

More information at RestaurantZone.