A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 16, 2020

The Reason Famous Restaurant Chains May Not Survive the Covid Dining Crisis

Sbarro, Applebees, Chipotle, Hooters, Boston Market, Carrabbas, Golden Corral, Jack In the Box, Quiznos, Steak 'n Shake, Checkers...

A lot of restaurant chains were already struggling as consumers, especially younger ones, increasingly demanded better quality. The pandemic may be the death knell even for iconic brands around for years. JL

Finance Alot reports:

Whether it’s because these places can’t attract customers or because of poor spending habits, tons of big-name stores won’t make it through this year. These restaurants are trying their best, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, these brands just can’t cut it in the tough industry today. Things have shifted quite a bit thanks to a new group of consumers looking for something healthy and fresh.

Like with retail, the restaurant industry is struggling to stay afloat. Whether it’s because these places can’t attract customers or because of poor spending habits, tons of big-name stores won’t make it through this year. Many are making radical changes to attract new customers, like the IHOb campaign, while others are just biting the bullet and closing locations.

Regardless, we’re not sure it’ll help in the long run. These restaurants are trying their best, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, these brands just can’t cut it in the tough industry today. Things have shifted quite a bit thanks to a new group of consumers looking for something healthy and fresh for dinner, rather than the microwaved stuff you can get from Applebee’s.
While we can never be 100% certain, we’re guessing that these restaurants won’t make it through the year. Hey, look on the bright side. These places have had a good run, right?

Bar Louie

Over the last year or so, Bar Louie has been closing locations like crazy. Then, the reason became quite clear. The restaurant had been losing money while expanding too quickly. The chain filed for bankruptcy, and many of the stores it planned to open were scrapped.
After filing for Chapter 11, the company shuttered 28 of its 134 remaining stores across the country. Two of those locations were in the Chicago area, where the company started in 1990. The bankruptcy papers show that the company is over $100 million in debt.


Sbarro has been one of the most popular pizza places in America since it popped up over 20 years ago. That being said, all good things must come to an end. The pizza started to decrease in quality, so people stopped going.
The final death knell was the moment malls started closing left and right. Late 2019, Sbarro closed its historic Times Square location, which accompanies over 200 stores that recently closed, as well. If you think about it, when was the last time someone said, “let’s go to Sbarro!” Exactly.


Applebee’s has been on the downswing for a while. The restaurant has been changing its menu in an attempt to attract new customers, but it seems like people don’t want to eat re-heated food anymore. Millennials, in particular, put more emphasis on freshly-prepared, quality ingredients, something Applebee’s isn’t known for.
Over the last two years, Applebee’s has closed more than 120 locations, and it’s looking to close more in the coming year. Honestly, we don’t see this restaurant making it through 2020 without significant changes to its practices and menu – $1 mixers won’t do it.


This one is a long time coming. Hooters was one of the biggest “breastraunts” in the business, but millennials aren’t digging the atmosphere. USA Today referred to this chain as “a fading relic of the 1980s,” and they’re spot on.
In the last 10 years, Hooters closed over 7% of its stores, and that number is only growing. In an attempt to cater to the new demographic, Hooters opened fully-clothed locations called Hoots, where people can get their food without being bombarded by the “breastaurant” atmosphere. It likely won’t work.

Boston Market

Last year, Boston Market began shutting down its stores, and now, 10% of its locations disappeared. In the ’90s, there were over 1,100 locations, but now it’s lower than 400. Boston Market has also struggled with bankruptcy, one which forced them to close 700 locations all at once.
Boston Market just refused to update its restaurant and menu. Every grocery store sells rotisserie chickens, and younger customers just want a different ambiance than the restaurant can offer. We can’t say it’ll 100% gone by the end of the year, but chances aren’t good.
(Image via Flickr)

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Carrabba’s Italian Grill is owned by Bloomin’ Brands, a company that was struggling not too long ago. Things seem to be picking up for the company, but all of its brands aren’t performing equally as well. One of those is Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Locations for this restaurant have been closing to the point where there are only 240 nationwide.
The grill began expanding to places like Florida and Brazil before it learned that people just weren’t interested. Due to poor sales and fewer customers year-over-year, it’s clear that this restaurant may not last much longer.
(Image via Flickr)

Golden Corral

One thing has become painfully clear in the restaurant industry: buffets are falling out of favor. People prefer quality food rather than a massive quantity. Well, that basically defines Golden Corral to a “t.” While older folks still love this restaurant, younger people prefer something a little different.
If you looked back 10 years ago, then you’ll see that the buffets were opening tons of locations, but that slowed down dramatically. Because of continuous declining sales, Golden Corral is choosing to remodel the remaining locations so it can attract new customers. If this doesn’t work, we may not see this chain much longer. 
(Image via Flickr)

Jack in the Box

There’s a lot of competition for fast food burgers. There’s McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardees (or Carl’s Jr.), and tons of others. Notice how we didn’t mention Jack in the Box? The restaurant can’t keep up. In 2018, the business started looking for financial help because it had been struggling.
Soon after, franchisees cried out, saying the CEO should be replaced. Surprise: Jack in the Box didn’t do it. So, franchisees filed a lawsuit – the last thing a financially struggling restaurant needs. Due to all this conflict (and the restaurants closing left and right), Jack in the Box is on borrowed time.
Photo By Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia - Own work, Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0


Chipotle has a notorious reputation for making people sick – literally. Every year, it seems like hundreds of people get ill from eating at the restaurant. It’s tried catering to unique diets (like keto), but it doesn’t seem to be working to improve sales.
Now, the company has been hit with a child labor violation in Massachusetts, which could further damage reputation and sales. This year alone, Chipotle will close up to 65 stores. With all the fines and struggles with food safety, who knows what will happen?
(Image via Flickr)

Red Robin

Red Robin has had declining sales, and that’s really starting to hurt. Those who used to go to the restaurant may notice that driving to get dinner there is tougher than it used to be. Declining sales and rising labor costs are making it hard for Red Robin to keep its doors open.
After dozens of closures, there are only 562 locations. In 2019, the restaurant closed all locations in Alberta. Every year, Red Robin gets closer and closer to bankruptcy. Macro Axis puts the risk of bankruptcy at 45%, which is higher than that of the restaurant industry, which is 37%.
(Image via Flickr)

Papa Murphy’s

Papa Murphy’s is a take-and-bake pizza chain. Apparently, people aren’t interested in a Subway-esque pizza joint. The chain has been closing locations at an alarming rate. In 2018, 97 restaurants shut down, and more followed in 2019.
This is largely due to the fact that Papa Murphy’s has been accumulating debt like it’s going out of style. In 2019, Restaurant Business found the chain was $170 million in debt. While debt isn’t bad, you have to have profits to pay down debt, and Papa Murphy’s has been negative quarter after quarter. It won’t be long before the last store closes.
(Image via Wikipedia)

BJ’s Brewhouse

BJ’s is another bar and grill chain, and it’s been struggling lately. For the last few years, sales have dropped and dropped. Now, it’s to the point where the stock has now plummeted 25%. Because of this massive fall, the company which owns BJ’s, DineEquity, also lost 47% of its value.
We all know what happens next – stores close. BJ’s doesn’t have many locations open (around 150), and that number started to fall in 2017 as stores shut down.
Photo by David/brokentaco/Flickr, CC BY 2.0


Poor Quiznos. This sandwich chain peaked in the early 2000s, but it’s just a shadow of what it once was. At the time, it had around 5,000 stores. Then, the recession hit, and it closed around 2,000 locations. That’s a shocking number.
In 2014, Quiznos filed for bankruptcy, but recovery wasn’t in sight. The sub-shop tried to rebrand in an attempt to attract new customers (including new menu options), but people passed by. Now, there are fewer than 800 stores left. 
Photo by By Xnatedawgx - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Steak ‘n Shake

When Steak ‘n Shake first popped up, it did really well. It expanded throughout America as well as Europe and the Middle East. Sadly, things couldn’t stay like that. Last quarter marked the 12th straight period of declining sales.
The company responded by “temporarily” closing 103 restaurants while searching for more investors. That’s a pretty big chunk. Unless Steak ‘n Shake finds more money, it won’t be around at the end of 2020, so get your shakes while you can. 
(Image via Flickr)

Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday used to be where everyone went to hang out, but not so much anymore. Ruby Tuesdays was one of the first chains to update its menu and feature craft cocktails, but it wasn’t enough to keep things running smoothly.
A decade ago, there were almost 950 Ruby Tuesdays, but today, there’s only 460. The parent company, NRD Capital, released a statement that stated the restaurant can recover from this downfall as long as it can “deliver on the basics.” We’ll just have to wait to see.
(Image via Flickr)


Any restaurant that’s been open for a while will experience changes, but Friendly’s has had over its fair share of changes. One weekend in 2019, a total of 23 Friendly’s locations shut down, but that’s only a smaller part of what’s been going on.
For two years, Friendly’s has been closing so many stores that it’s decreased its number of locations by a fourth. It filed for bankruptcy in 2011, but things didn’t look up as it reported a decline in sales once again.
(Image via Flickr)

Checkers and Rally’s

This one is pretty unique compared to others on the list. The restaurant has a pretty strong following that’s been keeping it in business. Despite this, Checkers and Rally’s closed dozens of locations in 2019. While part of the reason is terrible sales, there’s something else that’s turning people away...
Slow service doesn’t help, but the real issue is the horrific reports of nasty restaurants. Even the best of burgers can’t make up for countless health-code violations. One in Florida was closed in May 2019 due to having an issue with dead rodents spread among the restaurant.
(Image via Flickr)

Howard Johnson’s

Howard Johnson’s? Like the hotel? Nope. Younger people may not remember a time when Howard Johnson’s was a restaurant. That doesn’t change the fact that this chain (if you can call it that anymore) will fall by the end of 2020.
It’s closed pretty much every location except one, and you can hear the death rattle of that last, surviving restaurant. Considering there were once over 1,000 locations, it’s crazy to believe that it fell out of favor so quickly.
(Image via Flickr)

HomeTown Buffet

HomeTown Buffet goes by one of four names. Excluding the one already mentioned, it could also be called Old Country Buffet, Country Buffet, or Ryan’s Buffet. Whatever you call it, all of them are disappearing at an alarming rate – at least, if you loved the restaurant, it’s alarming.
The number of locations was once in the hundreds, but now, there’s only 65. The chain has filed for not one, not two, but three bankruptcies, with the latest being in 2016. It seems like buffets just aren’t making it. The worst part is that the parent company, Food Management Partners, often closes restaurants without warning the employees.
(Image via Flickr)


Krystal’s is a southern company that seemed almost untouchable. This White Castle-esque fast food restaurant chain has 360 locations, but it seems like that number is getting smaller and smaller every year. Then, we all realized why.
Late January 2020, Krystal’s filed for bankruptcy due to being in debt. It owed anywhere between $50 to $100 million (the actual number hasn’t been reported). The company issued a statement that claimed restaurants would remain open, but we all know how quickly things can turn. 
(Image via Facebook)


Perkins Restaurants & Bakery has had a tough time in the last year. There was a disagreement-turned-lawsuit between the company that owns the restaurant and a regional company that operates 26 Perkins restaurants. The company that owns the brand claims that the other didn’t pay royalties for the brand and used unapproved products.
That same year, Perkins filed for bankruptcy for the second time in just 10 years. Along with that, it closed several of its locations. By the end of 2019, Huddle House acquired Perkins, but we suspect that it’s too late. It was struggling before all these issues, and it’ll continue to struggle in 2020. 
(Image via Wikipedia)

Marie Callender’s

This is another one that many younger people won’t recognize as a restaurant, and that’s just a testament to how many Marie Callender’s closed over the years. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and shut down 31 locations that year alone.
Things didn’t pick up, and Marie Callender’s was forced to file for bankruptcy again in 2019. Considering it was owned by the same people as Perkins, owners hoped the brand would be picked up by Huddle House. However, Marie Callender’s wasn’t part of the deal. At least Marie Callender’s still has frozen foods, right?
Photo By Hcallas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Houlihan’s has been a happy-hour spot for ages. It featured some pretty good food made from scratch, so you’d think the restaurant would be doing well. It isn’t enough. New customers aren’t interested. Houlihan’s decided to alter its menu and even added a few “Veggie Good” options to attract millennials.
Unfortunately, things aren’t working out in Houlihan’s favor. In 2019, it was discovered that the company as $50 million in debt. One by one, the brand has been closing its once-popular locations in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. Houlihan’s once had 84 locations, but now it’s down to 47.
Photo By Crazy Horse 1876 - iPhone camera, CC BY-SA 3.0

Baja Fresh

When was the last time you saw a Baja Fresh? It’s been a while. The restaurant is known for its burritos, taquitos, and self-serve salsa bar, but that just isn’t cutting it in 2020. In 2002, the restaurant was acquired by Wendy’s, and there were close to 300 locations. Since then, locations have been steadily declining.
Today, there are roughly 140 Baja Fresh locations left open. Despite offering fresh foods that aren’t microwaved or frozen, customers aren’t visiting. This could be because the stores close without warning, often leaving employees stunned and jobless without a single notice. Customers aren’t too keen on that kind of thing. 
Photo By Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA - 2010-12-29 12.33.30, Baja Fresh, San Carlos, CA, CC BY 2.0


Fuddrucker’s is owned by Luby’s, which is having its own struggles. Because of this, Luby’s sought to sell off most of Fuddrucker’s locations to franchisees. By doing this, Luby’s is offloading its lowest-performing stores, but who is going to purchase a bad restaurant?
The chain has been struggling to get diners to eat there, and guest traffic fell 9.6% in just one year. On top of that, revenue was down 13%. Luby’s closed 14 locations, but it’s not helping much. It’s time to shutter Fuddrucker’s for good. 
Photo By Anthony92931 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


O’Charley’s refuses to divulge details about its financial situation, which doesn’t bode well. What we do know is that the chain closed at least 20 restaurants since 2016; eight of those closed in one day. The fact of the matter is that full-service bar and grill chains are struggling, and O’Charley’s is one of those.
O’Charley’s refuses to update the menu, which is how you attract new customers (and bring back old ones). The reason we’re guessing its demise is because O’Charley’s has depended on customers from malls to succeed year-over-year. Malls are closing, so O’Charley’s can’t be far behind. 
(Image via Wikipedia)


Qdoba is owned by Jack in the Box, so if that company is struggling, it isn’t odd that this one would be as well. In 2017, Jack in the Box decided to sell Qdoba because it wasn’t making profit. At the time, sales were down 4%.
Management claimed that it was due to the fact avocado prices took a 50% price hike. While that could impact things, it can’t be the only reason the company is struggling. Sales continued to drop, and stores began to close.  Now, there are approximately 650 locations left.
(Image via Facebook)

Joe’s Crab Shack

Joe’s Crab Shack may have one of the best slogans in the restaurant business (“I got Crabs,” “Free crabs,” and “Peace, love, and crabs”), but maybe that isn’t what people want in food? In 2017, Joe’s Crab Shack filed for bankruptcy.
Along with the bankruptcy, Joe’s suddenly closed 41 restaurants without even informing employees. The company was $57 million in debt, and it hoped the bankruptcy would save the remaining 58 restaurants. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made that much of a difference.
Photo By Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0

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