The 10 Hottest Industries in Franchising

Full-service Restaurants

Denny's Inc.
Denny's is an American institution--which is good and bad. It's got unbelievable brand recognition, but it's also saddled with decades of baggage, including a highly publicized discrimination lawsuit in the 1990s, a reputation as a hangout for late-night hoodlums and a bastion of bad food.

Fast facts
Denny's started out in 1953 as Danny's Donuts; it became Denny's in 1959.

The last time Denny's ranked in the top 10 was also the first time it made the Franchise 500(R): 1986.

Denny's has ranked No. 1 in the Family-Style Restaurants category for the last 15 years in a row.

But in 2009, Denny's began a hard and fast climb into the 21st century with one Super Bowl commercial, offering a free breakfast for anyone willing to wait. Two million people went in, and Denny's seized the chance to reintroduce itself and its revamped menu to the public. It seems to have worked--126 new units entered the system in 2010, pushing Denny's to more than 1,600 units and making it the largest full-service restaurant in the country. Its multiyear Franchise Growth Initiative has helped Denny's transfer 301 company-owned stores to franchisees.

But the most important changes are an aggressive advertising campaign that uses social media to drive in younger patrons and new initiatives rolling out. They include the Denny's Caf? fast-casual model--which is smaller, to fit urban and suburban locations--and to-go service, for customers who don't have time to linger over a cup of joe.

Denny's Inc.
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 10
Full-service family restaurant
Cost: $1.1M-2.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,374/227

CiCi's Pizza
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 67
All-you-can-eat pizza buffet
Cost: $458.6K-727.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 609/13

Friendly's Restaurants Franchise LLC
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 105
Family-style restaurant/ice cream shop
Cost: $157.6K-1.98M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 198/304

Golden Corral Franchising Systems Inc.
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 133
Family steakhouse, buffet & bakery
Cost: $2.1M-6.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 376/103

The Melting Pot Restaurants Inc.
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 199
Fondue-specialty restaurant
Cost: $876.7K-1.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 139/5

Quaker Steak & Lube
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 286
Chicken wings, burgers, salads, steaks
Cost: $150K-4.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 34/6

Genghis Grill-The Mongolian Stir Fry
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 327
Build-your-own stir-fry restaurant
Cost: $320K-618K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 25/18

The Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 339
Sports bar & casual dining restaurant
Cost: $1.1M-1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 14/11

Famous Dave's
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 372
Barbecue-themed restaurant
Cost: $630.3K-4.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 122/53

Buffalo Wings and Rings LLC
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 417
Chicken wing restaurant/sports cafe
Cost: $759.5K-1.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 53/2

Pepe's Mexican Restaurants
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 450
Mexican restaurant
Cost: $175K-600K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 50/0

Bandana's Bar-B-Q
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Barbecue restaurant
Cost: $417.7K-1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 6/25

2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Barbecue restaurant
Cost: $329.9K-450K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 15/2

The Chocolate Martini Bar
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Entrees, martinis, desserts
Cost: $293K-583.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1/1

Huddle House
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Family-style diner
Cost: $612.4K-2.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 389/19

HuHot Mongolian Grill
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Mongolian grill restaurant
Cost: $782K-982K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 28/5

Native New Yorker
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Restaurant & sports bar
Cost: $746.4K-2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 19/2

Winger's Grill & Bar
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Casual-themed restaurant & bar
Cost: $426K-997K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 31/10

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Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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This article was originally published in the March 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Buy In While They're Hot.

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