11 Restaurant Chains to Watch in 2023

11 Restaurant Chains to Watch in 2023

These fast food and fast casual restaurants are making big moves this year.

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2022 was a big year for a lot of our favorite restaurant chains. As businesses started recovering from the pandemic slump in revenue, focusing on a bright future ahead seemed increasingly possible. Now at the start of 2023, that means that several restaurant brands are ready to kickstart their businesses growth, implement groundbreaking technology, and create restaurant models that haven’t been seen before. Here are 11 chains that are leading the way and will surely have big things to show in the coming months.

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7-Eleven

7-Eleven

7-ELEVEN “EVOLUTION” Store Food Review in DALLAS TEXAS | BEST 7-Eleven in America!

If you don’t think of 7-Eleven as a restaurant, you haven’t been paying attention. The convenience store leader isn’t just nipping at the heels of major fast food brands—it’s surpassing them. At 9,000 units, the chain has more locations than Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King, and in recent years the brand has been leaning more heavily on its ready-to-eat options.

In 2019, 7-Eleven introduced Evolution Store prototypes, the most recent of which includes a full Laredo Taco Company restaurant complete with a patio, beer, wine, and frozen margaritas. Then in 2021, one 7-Eleven Laredo Taco Company hybrid store featured the chain’s first drive-thru where, in addition to tacos, customers can get anything from 7-Eleven’s shelves, heat lamps, or soda fountains. Yes, that means drive-thru Slurpees.

Food sales specifically at convenience stores have increased more than 20% since 2019, and the convenience stores now take up more than 20% of the quick service restaurant market share. In the future of the fast food world, 7-Eleven is poised to reign supreme.

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Bb.q Chicken

Bb.q Chicken

Image for article titled 11 Restaurant Chains to Watch in 2023
Photo: The Image Party (Shutterstock)

South Korean fried chicken chain Bb.q Chicken (it’s not barbecue—the “Bb.q’” stands for “best of the best quality”) still has a fairly small footprint in the United States, with just over 100 locations throughout the country. But the technology it’s currently testing could shine a light on the chain and help it expand nationwide.

The Bb.q Smart Kitchen (BSK) will allow customers to order their meal at a kiosk in-store or ahead of time online and then pick up their food from a locker, similar to the lockers used by Amazon at certain Whole Foods stores for grocery pickup. Essentially, this method cuts out human interaction entirely. The BSK is being tested first at the Bb.q Chicken location in Englewood, New Jersey, but in South Korea several locations are already testing robot servers at full-service locations and a robotic fry cook. Instead of renovating existing stores, Bb.q Chicken will see if customers are responding to the system, and if it’s successful, the business will factor that into the construction of future franchises.

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Chipotle

Chipotle

First Chipotlane opens in north Colorado Springs

One of the most noticeable changes to Chipotle’s future restaurant design is the introduction of the Chipotlane, the chain’s version of a drive-thru. There are currently 300 stores with a Chipotlane, and 80% of all new stores that opened in 2022 were slated to have one. Unlike traditional drive-thrus, you can’t order at the window; the lanes are only for picking up mobile orders customers have already placed. You have to first download the Chipotle app, then you can customize your order through your phone instead of shouting out your toppings via an intercom system.

In 2021, digital orders made up nearly half of all Chipotle orders, so it makes sense that the brand placed more focus on those innovations. But now, Chipotle needs to balance those investments with maintaining the fast casual concept that made it popular in the first place. As people return to the office and start shedding some of the practices adopted during the pandemic, Chipotle is seeing in-store traffic on the rise, up 22% last quarter as digital sales dipped down to 36% of all orders. Can Chipotle do it all?

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Dave & Buster’s

Dave & Buster’s

Dave & Buster’s - Ruff Guy

After years of positioning itself as a hangout for families with young kids, Dave & Buster’s is making plans to better target millennials and Gen Z (as evident from the video above). The barcade/restaurant chain is back to performing at pre-COVID levels, with record revenues at the end of the third quarter—numbers that might have something to do with the brand acquiring arcade restaurant chain The Main Event earlier this year. Despite the overall increase, however, same-store sales (at locations that have been open for more than a year) have decreased by 6.7% compared to 2019. But Dave & Buster’s has a plan for reversing those trends.

“Our core brand position for our Dave & Buster’s brand going forward will bring greater focus to executing adult occasions aged 21 to 39 who are visiting our locations to have a great time with their squad,” said Dave & Buster’s CEO Chris Morris. Look no further than the chain’s most recent ad campaigns chock-full of Gen Zs, millennials, and Euphoria-style lighting to witness the shift in message.

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FAT Brands (Fatburger, Buffalo’s Express, and Hot Dog on a Stick)

FAT Brands (Fatburger, Buffalo’s Express, and Hot Dog on a Stick)

Fat Burger & Buffalo’s World Famous Wings’ Chicken Tenders & Poutine

FAT Brands, which owns Fatburger, Fazoli’s, Buffalo’s Cafe, and more, is experimenting with an extended version of that format: three restaurants beneath the same roof. FAT Brands purchased Global Franchise Group in 2021 for $442.5 million, which meant that chains Great American Cookies, Pretzelmaker, Marble Slab Creamery, Round Table Pizza, and Hot Dog on A Stick were all stacked into its deck of brands, rounding it out to 14 of them in total, prime for combining.

The brand first stuck to the twofer model with a Fatburger and Buffalo’s express combo referred to colloquially as “Fatbuff.” Its first tripod combination consists of a Fatburger, Buffalo’s Express, and mall staple Hot Dog on a Stick, which opened in a 1,000-square-foot location in Los Angeles in November 2022. It has not yet been given a nickname, but we’re rooting for “Fatbuff on a Stick.”

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Fazoli’s

Fazoli’s

Fazoli’s Italian Restaurant 90s Era Commercial

While other restaurants suffered through the pandemic, Fazoli’s hopped on several trends that helped it thrive. During the summer of 2020, Fazoli’s quickly pivoted to honing its digital presence, and online ordering jumped 410% as a result. In August 2020, Fazoli’s opened a ghost kitchen serving chicken wings in Atlanta and has continued to open its kitchens to other digital-only concepts in the years since.

Most recently, the chain has been mixing up its menu, testing oven-baked subs in select markets and partnering with the Cheesecake Factory Bakery, which has more than tripled Fazoli’s dessert sales in the last six months of 2022. Today there are just over 200 locations nationwide, but in 2022 the chain caught traction once again, recently signing 25 new franchise groups for 75 new locations. The year 2023 just might see a rebirth of the Italian fast food chain.

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Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box

Mark Hamill works the Jack in the Box drive thru

There are a couple factors that have Jack in the Box poised to make a big expansion in 2023. The first is the company’s acquisition of Del Taco, which amped up the company’s overall revenue. Because the menus of Jack in the Box and Del Taco are so compatible—a mixture of burgers, fries, tacos, and shakes feature heavily on both—it means that there are many locations that are prime for the combination model without needing to change much of the inventory.

In October 2022, Jack in the Box announced its “CRAVED” store model for new locations, an acronym for “Cultural, Relevant, Authentic, Visible, Easy, and Distinctive.” What that actually looks like in practice is a location that takes up half the square footage of a typical Jack in the Box, one with a focus on drive-thru, pickup, and mobile orders. The CRAVED model also accommodates Jack in the Box’s recent investment in robotics. The chain is one of the few that has gone all in on Miso Robotic’s Flippy 2, another cost-saving measure that will allow for more expansion.

As of now, there are around 2,200 Jack in the Box locations in the United States, but chief development officer Tim Linderman told QSR Magazine that he sees the potential for 6,000 restaurants across the country. Soon we’ll all be able to enjoy all-day breakfast, tacos with curly fries, and all the other unique joys that the chain has to offer.

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Jersey Mike’s

Jersey Mike’s

Jersey Mike’s Philly Cheesesteak BLEW MY MIND!!!

Jersey Mike’s is the number-one fastest growing chain in America: From 2020 to 2021, 246 stores were added across the country, bringing the total number of locations to 2,100, and the chain brought in more than $2.2 billion in sales, a huge jump up from the $1.5 billion in 2020 sales. Jersey Mike’s star is on the rise, and while it still has a way to go before catching up with Subway’s 37,000 locations, its exponential growth proves how far it has come from its humble beginnings to earn a spot among the country’s top sandwich brands.

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Jet’s Pizza

Jet’s Pizza

Jets Text Ordering Intro V2

Jet’s Pizza has found a surprisingly simple way to use artificial intelligence to gain $100 million in revenue: allowing customers to order pizza via text message. Jet’s began toying with AI in 2019 and first rolled out text message ordering in early 2020. It’s a system built in partnership with a company called OrderAI, and its strength lies in its ability to filter out extraneous information in someone’s text to determine their order. For instance, if you say you want a Coke and the restaurant only carries Pepsi products, the AI will add a Pepsi to your order.

When you place a text order for a Jet’s Pizza, OrderAI stores all the data associated with that order—who ordered the pizza, what the order contained, what time it was ordered, where it was delivered, etc. The text system will prompt the customer to place the same order sometime in the future, perhaps the very next week, at a time optimized to align with a customer’s schedule (or at least as far as AI can determine). When prompted by text, all you have to do is respond “yes” to place the same order again. Frictionless, prodding, and profitable.

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McDonald’s

McDonald’s

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McDonald’s Shrinks Its Restaurant for the Digital Age

McDonald’s is looking in a completely different direction by testing a new diminutive location, specializing in takeout, delivery, and drive-thru only in Fort Worth, Texas that takes up way less space than your average McDonald’s.

Here’s how it works: If you order prior to arriving, you’ll be picking up your food from a dedicated window made just for preorders. The window is fitted with a conveyor belt that’ll bring the order to you from the kitchen. If you’re stuck in traffic somewhere, that’s okay, because the app signals to the restaurant when you’re physically nearby. That’s when the kitchen begins preparing your order. No soggy french fries for you (ideally).

This test location also features a special pickup room and counter for delivery drivers. It’s interesting to note because it’s one thing to designate a little pickup area inside a restaurant for drivers, but it’s a whole different consideration if the infrastructure of a building is dedicated to them.

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Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC)

Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC)

He Bought KFC and turned Yum! Brands into an Empire

Yum Brands, the parent company that owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, is ready to add 100,000 new restaurants to its portfolio, and that’s without acquiring any new brands. It’s a move that solidifies Yum’s position as the largest fast food company in the world.

Yum Brands currently operates 54,000 locations, and the chains under its umbrella are not only Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, but also The Habit Burger Grill, a California-based chain with approximately 300 locations nationwide. Adding 100,000 more locations to Yum’s roster will happen slowly over time—that figure is an estimate based on how much available space is within the market for Yum Brands to fill. But its annual growth projection is still impressive: In 2021, the group added 3,100 new locations, the most of any restaurant brand in a single year.

The company is specifically eyeing Taco Bell as a growth opportunity overseas. In the past, Yum has invested more in getting Pizza Hut and KFC growing in the international market. In fact, KFC is one of the biggest chains in the world, with 23,000 locations outside of the United States.

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