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This One Menu Item Turned Arby's Into a Top Contender In the Fast Food Scene The brand breaks into the Franchise 500 Top 10 on the strength of its game-changing Wagyu Burgers, reimagining the classic American meal and cementing its place as a culinary innovator in the fast food space.

By Margot Boyer-Dry Edited by Frances Dodds

This story appears in the January 2024 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Arby's

To view our entire 2024 Franchise 500 list, including category rankings, click HERE

Started Franchising: 1965

Total Units: 3,602

Cost to Open: $644.95K-$2.5M

Arby's had a breakout year — thanks to a breakthrough burger.

For those paying attention, that sentence is pretty wild.Why? Because, while Arby's tagline has long been, "We have the meats," it never put a burger on the menu until May 2022 — when it debuted the Wagyu Steakhouse Burger, along with a spinoff Bacon Ranch Wagyu Steakhouse Burger.

It was a hit: The burger repeatedly sold out in 2022, and Arby's knew it was onto something. "We created the idea of something premium in a fast-food space," says Rita Patel, the company's brand president.

Last year, Arby's was No. 12 on the Franchise 500. This year, after strong sales, Arby's cracked our Top 10 for the first time since 1992. It's the brand's 38th overall appearance on the ranking.

To capitalize on the success of its burger, Arby's assembled its regular brainstorming panel to think of other premium meat items for their menu, and in 2023, the brand launched a garlic rib-eye sandwich. That product innovation is one part of Arby's recipe for success, which is iterating on what's already working, on the menu and off.

Related: The Only 6 Strategies You Need If You Want Your Food Franchise to Thrive

In 2023, Arby's also poured a lot of energy into expanding its audience. That meant increasing its social presence and creating campaigns specifically for youths, like its Sweet Heat menu — featuring a chicken sandwich, a beef-and-brisket sandwich, and loaded fries (topped with diced chicken nuggets and chopped bacon), all smothered in a special sweet-and-spicy sauce.

"When we interact with a younger generation, people say, 'Why have I been sleeping on Arby's? This food is amazing,'" says Patel.

Whenever a new product launches, Arby's uses a unified point-of-sale system to monitor what happens in real time.

Are customers adding the item to their existing order? Are they swapping it in for something else? That information helps guide the path for Arby's next release — which are now rolling out around every three to six weeks.

Arby's continues to prioritize on-the-go customers. The brand says it is already the largest sandwich drive-thru in the U.S., but it's been experimenting with ways to update their interfaces. It expanded order-ahead capabilities, and after surveys indicated that guests wanted to hear about new items on the menu, Arby's updated its drive-thru talk to guide guests through their orders.

Data-driven updates will keep fueling Arby's strategy into the new year, says Patel, making sure the brand continues to deliver on price point and experience. "Take something people love from us and add to it — that's an unlock," she says.

Related: How to Evaluate the ROI and Profitability of a Restaurant Franchise

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