Restaurant sales rose 3.4% in 2011

Chicago -- A report released Tuesday by research firm Technomic found that sales among the 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains increased 3.4% to $242 billion in 2011.

That compares to just a 1.8% increase in 2010.

Of the 500 restaurants analyzed by Technomic, more than 60% posted at least nominal sales increases; just 193 saw sales declines in 2011, compared with 231 in 2010.

The fast-casual restaurant format was the biggest winner last year, seeing the highest rates of sales and unit growth. The three fastest-growing chains among brands with at least $200 million were Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jimmy John’s.

Limited-service restaurant brands, which include quick-service and fast-casual chains, recorded sales growth that outpaced that of full-service restaurants in 2011, Technomic found. Limited-service brands increased annual sales 7.1% compared with full service’s 2.8% rise.

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