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Think restaurant patrons are only looking for health-food fare these days? Think again, says Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a restaurant consulting firm in Chicago. Many consumers are seeking spicier and more flavorful foods. In the past few years, in fact, a number of new barbecue franchises have sprung up, taking advantage of the fact that barbecue sauce can either be hot or sweet, and is becoming a favorite palate pleaser.

"Casual dining is in," says Paul, and barbecue franchises are positioning themselves as the place for families to go. Think messy, think yummy-think profits.

And because barbecue ribs and the like are highly mobile foods, they lend themselves to the takeout market. According to the National Restaurant Association, 78 percent of U.S. households make at least one carryout or delivery purchase in an average month.

While barbecue restaurants have a strong presence in the South, Paul claims there's still plenty of room for development across the country.

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