Chain restaurants are a cornerstone of popular
food culture, bringing customers consistent, beloved meals on the road, late at night,
and whenever a craving hits. The restaurant industry can be cutthroat,
however, even for chains that enjoy broad-based success. Here are 10 fast food chains struggling to
stay in business. Pizza Hut The underdog chain was recently labelled one
of the worst pizza chains in America, and they have the numbers to back it up. Yum Brands, which also owns fried chicken
staple KFC and Mexican standby Taco Bell, has found that the pizza chain struggles to
distinguish itself from competitors and attract a new crop of customers. Yum Brands invested $130 million dollars in
2017 in an attempt to revitalize the stagnating chain by upgrading equipment, improving technology,
and boosting advertising. The Hut has also added more inexpensive deals,
such as large two-topping pizzas for $7.99 and $5 dollar menu deals. It’s also spending more of its budget on
marketing. Pizza Hut has put significant effort into
improving online ordering, as they recognize the importance of online ordering in an increasingly
delivery and takeout-based food landscape. One of the chain’s major issues is that
many customers don’t associate Pizza Hut with delivery. Pizza Hut aims to put delivery and mobile-ordering
options front and center through delivery-focused ads and by remodelling existing stores. Burger King Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant
Brands International, announced plans in 2018 to modernize Burger King locations through
implementation of a plan it’s calling “Burger King of Tomorrow.” The updated restaurants would include self-ordering
kiosks and a generally sleeker design. In an attempt to attract more customers, the
chain has put out gimmick menu items and weighed in on hot-button political issues. In a 2018 ad campaign, the burger giant drew
attention to the pink tax on women’s products with a pink-packaged version of their chicken
fries (complete with eyelashes) labelled ‘chick fries,’ which would retail for $1.40 more
than the regular version. In reality, ‘chick fries’ were a limited-time
publicity stunt meant to illustrate the chain’s stance on the pink tax, and to demonstrate
its real-life impact. Similarly, the chain’s Whopper Neutrality
ad was meant to parody and illustrate the projected effects of repealing net neutrality,
but with burgers. Though these campaigns were intended to target
an increasingly socially aware millennial audience, they came off as empty marketing
ploys to many. They were also largely unsuccessful at increasing
traffic. Hometown Buffet Ovation Brands, the owner of buffet giants
Hometown Buffet and Old Country Buffet (along with Ryan’s and Fire Mountain) has reportedly
declared bankruptcy three times in the last ten years. In 2016, bankruptcy led to the abrupt closing
of more than half of the company’s restaurants. Ovation Brands also encountered difficulty
in 2015, when they were forced to compensate a Nebraska man $11 million after food from
Old Country Buffet gave him salmonella poisoning. Buffet-style restaurants have been struggling
in general as of late, thanks to trends toward healthier eating and smaller portions. And highly publicized food safety issues in
buffets have gained traction and continue to dissuade the average consumer from choosing
a buffet for their meals. Food Safety News reported that even if buffets
follow all food safety regulations serving utensils present a large safety issue—when
buffet patrons use the same tongs and forks to serve up their food as other patrons, cold
and flu germs can spread quickly. Regulations require serving utensils be swapped
out every four hours, but that still leaves plenty of time for bacteria to accumulate. Hooters Though Hooters has a unique business model
based on a combination of bar food and sexualized servers, it suffers from a lot of the same
hurdles as other restaurants on this list—the general decline and increased competition
in the sit-down casual dining market. The chain closed a significant seven percent
of their locations in the years between 2012 and 2016, and sales have continued to stagnate. The company has also tried going in another
direction with similarly named Hoots, a new quick-service restaurant with a pared-down
menu of only Hooters’ takeout bestsellers. Hoots employees are clad in v-necks and polos
paired with khakis, a far cry from the skimpy attire expected from Hooters servers. It’s also a part of an effort to appeal
more to women and families. The provocatively dressed ‘Hooters Girl’
may soon become an artifact of the bygone era of sit-down casual dining, as the company
moves toward a fast-casual business model. Qdoba Qdoba continues to lag behind Chipotle in
the fast-casual Mexican food scene. Owner Jack in the Box sold the chain for $305
million dollars in early 2018 due to slowing sales. The sale was in keeping with a string of similar
burger chains selling their fast-casual chain acquisitions, after Wendy’s sold Baja Fresh
in 2006 and McDonald’s sold Chipotle. Jack in the Box acquired Qdoba in 2003 and
went on to grow the small Mexican chain to a major national brand, but it began to lag
in 2017. Qdoba’s downturn was reportedly blamed to
some extent on a 50% jump in avocado prices, which squeezed the company’s margins. Apollo Global Management now owns the Mexican
chain, but it continues to suffer from a long sales slump. It also struggles with competition from similar
fast-casual Mexican chains like Chipotle and Taco Bell, as well as higher labor expenses. Papa John’s The pizza delivery chain Papa John’s has
been lagging behind industry leader Domino’s ever since it became embroiled in the controversy
surrounding past CEO John Schnatter. In 2018, evidence surfaced that Schnatter
had used a racial slur in a conference call. Since then, Schnatter has stepped down as
CEO of the company, but Papa John’s remains plagued by bad press after reports of a chronically
toxic company culture emerged, including allegations of frequent sexual harassment. According to Business Insider, the company’s
North American same-store sales declined by almost 10% in the third quarter of 2018. The pizza giant has also closed a number of
locations based on this decline in same-store sales as a result of the highly publicized
controversy. Steve Ritchie, the CEO that replaced Schnatter,
is attempting to pull the company out of its slump through the “Voices of Papa John’s”
campaign, which aims to take the chain’s marketing in a more modern and inclusive marketing
direction. Even so, it has been difficult to shake the
negative media attention that Schnatter attracted, and the chain plans to close 85 restaurants
in the next year. Subway Fast sandwich chain Subway enjoyed broad success
in the early 2000’s, as its simple sandwiches were seen as a healthier alternative to fast
food burgers. The iconic sandwich chain’s success was
buoyed by its $5 footlong promotion, which began in 2008 as a response to the Great Recession. This promotion proved very successful, attracting
hordes of customers and leading competitors to adopt similar deals. It also reportedly started a trend of round
price points for consumer goods ($5.00 rather than $4.99, for example). The $5 footlong fell by the wayside with the
recession, however, and in 2014 the price of a Subway footlong was increased to $6. By 2017, the price was raised again to $7,
a 40% increase from the original $5 deal. Subway has also suffered from mounting competition
from other health-focused chains as of late. Consumers now gravitate toward trendier health
food, and the simplicity that originally made Subway great has become a detriment. In an attempt to attract and retain business,
the sandwich giant is implementing wi-fi, self-service kiosks and more comfortable seating. They also brought back their $5 footlong deal
in January 2018 with a $4.99 footlong menu of five subs at participating locations. However, these efforts haven’t prevented
ongoing store closures—500 Subways are projected to close in the next year. IHOP IHOP (or the International House of Pancakes),
sister brand to Applebee’s, is another victim of consumers’ shifting preferences toward
healthier food and takeout. The company’s 2018 publicity stunt, in which
it temporarily changed its name from IHOP to IHOb to advertise its ten new burger offerings,
did little to get people eating at the chain again, though it did generate lots of media
attention. The shocking name change garnered national
media attention and a flood of IHOb-inspired memes. The stunt was intended to get customers excited
about the pancake chain’s new line of Ultimate Steakburgers, part of a broader attempt to
attract business outside breakfast. This proved to be a confusing move—customers
weren’t sure whether the chain would continue serving the pancakes it was known for. According to Business Insider, traffic at
the pancake chain has been going down for 10 consecutive quarters, and it plans to close
30-40 locations in the upcoming year. Applebee’s Millennials are undeniably changing the food
industry, and that’s bad news for casual dining chains like Applebee’s. The casual dining staple had its heyday in
the 1990s, and early 2000s, as it opened an impressive 1000 locations by 1998 (an impressive
feat considering they only had 250 locations in 1992) and expanding to international markets. However, their format is losing ground with
younger customers, leading to sweeping closings. According to Business Insider, yearly closings
of Applebee’s locations have been rising since 2016, and sales continue to decline
at the remaining locations. In an attempt to remedy the situation and
attract more business, the chain has introduced online ordering with their new mobile app. They also plan to offer wi-fi and tablets
on the tables in their restaurants. These repeated attempts to capture the customer
base born between 1980 and 2005 have reportedly alienated some older customers. According to Restaurant Business, the chain
is still doing well in terms of takeout orders and bar service, but 189 locations are still
projected to close in the coming year. Noodles and Co. Noodles and Company’s lagging numbers are
likely due in part to the low-carb eating trend sweeping North America. The pasta giant attempted to respond to changing
millennial eating habits by offering a shrimp scampi dish with zucchini noodles in 2018. This new addition was a direct response to
the trendiness of ‘zoodles’ on social media, ushered in by food bloggers and buzzed-about
consumer products like the Spiralizer which fueled the low-carb craze. The company had more difficulties, however,
after a 2018 data breach cost them $11 million dollars and forced them to close 10% of their
total locations. Malware led to these customers’ credit card
information being compromised. An Oregon credit union sued the noodle chain
over the data breach, in a suit that sought class action status for all US financial institutions
whose customers made purchases at Noodles and Company locations. The company was ultimately forced to pay up,
putting a damper on their already stagnating profits. Why go anywhere else? Tap that screen to check out another one of
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