Your Favorite Fast Food Chains Are Thriving, Actually

Taco Bell

Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of doom and gloom around the restaurant industry over the past couple years. Reports of food joints closing, supply chain issues impacting menus, and the seemingly never-ending labor shortage have dominated the news cycle ever since the pandemic that we’re just so sick of talking about started. But still, people need to eat, and not everyone is able or willing to whip up three meals a day at home. The silver lining on the omnipresent storm clouds? Fast food restaurants are actually thriving.

Specifically, Yum Brands, the parent company of beloved chains Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut (when will we get a hybrid that combines all three, when?!), broke a fast food record in 2021. Insider reports that Yum opened 4,180 new restaurants last year, which shakes out to one new spot popping up every two hours. And sales at those top three chains were up around 10% each over last year. Outside of Yum, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle also opened a combined total of nearly 3,000 new stores in 2021.

Why some restaurants are doing great, despite the pandemic

So what accounts for this success when it seems so much else is crumbling around the industry? When it comes down to pure economics, more chains are eliminating value menus, slowly jacking up prices on popular items, and introducing more limited time offerings at higher price points. For example, Taco Bell saw huge boosts in profits in 2020 when the Grilled Cheese Burrito dropped, a strategy it pulled out again most recently with its one-week-only chicken wings.

Still, there are some unanswered questions. Yes, this proves that people will never give up their fast food habits. But can those habits sustain continually rising prices and potential oversaturation of new locations? Not to mention, who is being hired to work in these new places? If many of the existing chains are already struggling to retain a consistent workforce, it only seems like a matter of time before these new locations will face a similar issue.

For now, though, let’s take this as a glimmer of hope and keep an eye on whether this trend in fast food restaurants trickles down to the mom and pop shops that still so desperately need the support. Next time you’re itching to grab a meal out, skip the drive-thru and go for something local—sounds like Taco Bell is gonna be just fine.

What have your fast food habits been like over the last year? Have you noticed new chains in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments.

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