The coronavirus pandemic is splitting the restaurant industry in two. Big, well capitalized chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Dominos Pizza Inc. are gaining customers and adding stores while tens of thousands of local eateries go bust.
Larger operators generally have the advantages of more capital, more leverage on lease terms, more physical space, more geographic flexibility and prior expertise with drive-throughs, carryout and delivery. A similarly uneven recovery is unfolding across the business world as big firms have tended to fare far better during the pandemic than small rivals, thinning the ranks of entrepreneurs who could eventually become major U.S. employers. In the retail world, bigger chains like Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. are posting strong sales while many small shops struggle to stay open.
The divide between large and small restaurants surfaced in the summer. Chipotle more than tripled its online business sales in the second quarter while Dominos, Papa Johns International Inc. and Wingstop Inc. all reported double-digit same-store sales increases in the third quarter compared with the year-earlier period. McDonalds also said U.S. same-store sales rose 4.6% in the third quarter. That included a rise in the low double digits during September, its best monthly performance in nearly a decade. It credited faster drive-throughs and promotions.
Many other big restaurant companies took additional steps to take advantage of the shift to takeout. Brinker International Inc.s Chilis division pushed up the summer debut of a delivery-only brand, Just Wings, that it expects to generate more than $150 million in sales in its first year.
The silver lining in this pandemic is we are going to emerge stronger, said Bernard Acoca, chief executive of El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc., a chain of 475 Tex-Mex restaurants across the Southwest. El Pollo has opened three restaurants in 2020 and aims to add more in years ahead, he said.