The Slow Decline of Middlebrow Chains: A Timeline

by , , and ; additional reporting by James Park;

On first glance, mid-level restaurant chains — including suburban favorites like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Chili’s — might appear to be doing fine. Many have significantly more locations today than they did 17 years ago, and diners are still clamoring for their latest stunt dishes. But a deeper look tells another story.

Eater looked at SEC financial filings to track growth rate (the change in total locations, year over year) and sales for five familiar chains. (Note: Each chain defines the time period of its “fiscal year” differently; the fiscal year does not necessarily correspond to the calendar year.) The growth rate of many mid-level chains is declining — and getting slower each year — while in recent years in particular, sales have also started to take a downward turn. This has been the case since about 2007 and 2008, when the financial crisis rattled many American industries, restaurants included.

Drag the highlighted bar across the chart below to learn more about the slow decline of America’s unlimited breadstick and boneless wing purveyors.

Olive Garden
Red Lobster
Ruby Tuesday