Restaurant closings are enough to make grown men and women bawl like babies. Kissing your favorite slider or burrito goodbye can set you back emotionally for weeks.
Chains shut down restaurants for all sorts of reasons.
The market may be glutted. The location may not be so great. The chain itself may be going downhill because of changing consumer tastes.
Get a box of tissues, and brace yourself for the countdown. These 13 popular chains are closing the most restaurants in 2019. When you make your goodbye visit, be sure to use a credit card that rewards extra cash back for dining out.
13. Taco Bell
2019 closings: 6
The chain whose Cravings Value Menu goes easy on family bank accounts has closed at least a half-dozen locations this year, including four in Maine, one in Pennsylvania and one in Arkansas.
That will hardly make a dent in the Taco Bell empire, but tell that to the customer who lives near one of those spots and now has to travel farther to satisfy a chalupa craving.
Taco Bell has traditionally been the cash cow of Yum! Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut. It’s investing more in international expansion and will even experiment with a Taco Bell pop-up hotel in Palm Springs, California, this summer.
Veggie options and more jobs also are on the horizon for the chain this year.
2019 closings: 6
This Southern-flavored sit-down restaurant chain that got its start in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1971 has been quietly trimming its roster of more than 200 locations in 17 states.
Local news reports indicate that at least six O’Charley’s have closed since the beginning of 2019, including an Orlando, Florida, restaurant near the Universal theme parks.
Business has been down at O’Charley’s, but executives told Wall Street analysts on a conference call in early May that they’re seeing signs of improvement.
11. McCormick & Schmick’s
2019 closings: 6
The upscale McCormick & Schmick’s seafood-and-steaks restaurants have been doing a slow fade since the chain was purchased in 2012 by Landry’s, the owner of Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Rainforest Cafe, Morton’s The Steakhouse and other dining brands.
At the time of the sale, there were 85 M&S locations in the U.S. Today, the website lists only three dozen.
That’s after at least six closings in 2019. The restaurants have gone out of business in cities including St. Louis; Denver; and Providence, Rhode Island, according to local media reports.
Yes, there really was a (Bill) McCormick and a (Doug) Schmick. They launched their chain in Portland, Oregon, in 1979.
10. Roy Rogers
2019 closings: 7
The biggest challenge for this chain might be acquainting younger generations with its namesake. In the 1940s and ’50s, the King of the Cowboys appeared in more than 100 films and had his own TV show with his wife, Dale Evans, and his legendary horse, Trigger.
Rogers’ signature song, “Happy Trails,” is still sung at last call in some bars.
The Western-themed fast-food restaurants are known for breakfast platters, hamburgers, fried chicken and an extensive “fixin’s bar.” There were once more than 600 locations, but now fewer than 50 remain.
By our count, seven locations have been shuttered in recent months, including two of the eight Roy’s in New Jersey.
9. Red Robin
2019 closings: 10
Kid-friendly Red Robin, which was founded 50 years ago in Seattle, isn’t going to be flying quite so high.
The company says one reason for its recent decision to shut down 10 of its restaurants is the hard times at U.S. shopping malls. Seven of the 10 are located within malls.
In a news release, Red Robin says it hopes shutting down some money-losing restaurants will “drive improved profitability.”
Sales and customer numbers have been declining at Red Robin, and the Burger Works fast-food chain that the company attempted a few years ago was just one more fast-food blunder. It didn’t last long.
8. Ruby Tuesday
2019 closings: 18
Restaurant companies can be notoriously tight-lipped about closings, so sometimes it’s just a matter of doing the math. The location count for Ruby Tuesday is steadily shrinking.
According to local media reports, the lovable casual dining chain with the Endless Garden salad bar has shut down at least 18 of its restaurants this year. That’s after turning out the lights at 51 locations in 2018.
Recent closings in Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri and Pennsylvania are typical. A simple sign appears on the door apologizing for the inconvenience.
Founded in 1972, Ruby Tuesday was a pioneer of fresh ingredients and handcrafted cocktails. The very first one was a tiny hangout near the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
7. Kona Grill
2019 closings: 19
When it opened in 1998, Kona Grill was unique in many ways. Its 40 sauces, made from scratch, introduced global flavors that elevated ordinary stir-fry and sushi.
The chain recently filed for bankruptcy, closed 19 locations and began looking for a buyer.
Kona Grills are beautiful restaurants, but they cost around $4 million to build. A former CEO with the company tells Restaurant Business the leadership was overambitious with expansion plans.
When sales started to drop off in 2015, Kona panicked and cut back on culinary innovation, management, support staff and employee training. All of this had a negative impact on the guest experience.
2019 closings: 20 or more
Owner Dine Brands admits that this neighborhood bar and grill is a little behind the times. So, the company has been doing a lot of pruning.
In 2018, the number of Applebee’s dropped by 90 (from 1,936 to 1,846, according to reports). The plan for 2019 is to cut at least another 20 locations.
The idea is not to kill off Applebee’s entirely but to fine-tune it. There will be greater focus on off-premises catering, takeout and delivery services. The leadership also is tinkering with healthier menu items and more ethnic food choices.
Atlanta-born Applebee’s first opened in 1980.
2019 closings: 23
This chain traces its roots to an ice cream shop called Friendly that opened in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1935. A hamburger was added to the menu five years later, and a family-friendly restaurant was born.
At one time there were more than 500 Friendly’s locations, but by the start of 2019 just 200 remained. In April, CEO George Mitchell announced the closing of 23 stores in the Northeast.
A lot of folks will miss those Fribble milkshakes and heartwarming SuperMelts.
Mitchell told shareholders that the decision would “best position the brand for a bright future.” Sales at Friendly’s sank 11% last year, Restaurant Business reports.
4. Steak ’n Shake
2019 closings: 46
Launched in Illinois in 1934, this brand was built on handcrafting cuts of steak to make better burgers. Steak ‘n Shake says each year it serves 110 million “steakburgers” and 60 million milkshakes.
During the first three months of 2019, the chain shut down nearly 50 restaurants. Executives said the closings were only temporary and that most of those Steak ‘n Shakes would reopen under new franchisees.
But that’s an unusual move. Once a restaurant is closed, it’s difficult to make a comeback in the same location.
The company has been plagued by declining sales and higher operating costs. Things have gotten so bad that CEO Sardar Biglari floated the idea of dropping the milkshakes’ signature cherries to save $1 million a year.
2019 closings: 150
Your favorite Starbucks could disappear this year — but at least you’ll have close to 30,000 others worldwide to choose from.
The coffee colossus is planning to close 150 of its shops in 2019. Most are in large cities that have numerous Starbucks locations, so you may just have to go just a little out of your way for a Frappuccino fix.
The stores being targeted have been performing poorly, which CEO Kevin Johnson says is unacceptable.
Also in 2019, Johnson wants Starbucks to do a better job of anticipating the ever-changing needs and preferences of its customers. The company is focusing on healthier options and promoting its app to boost sales.
2. Burger King
2019 closings: Up to 250
The home of the Whopper has been closing at least 100 restaurants per year, but more than double that number could leave the king’s realm in 2019.
Lagging locations are on the chopping block to make way for the “Burger King of Tomorrow”: new BKs incorporating cutting-edge technology such as self-order kiosks inside and digital menu boards at the drive-thru.
Each new restaurant is expected to do about $500,000 more business than the old ones being shut down.
Burger King — called “Insta-Burger King” when it was founded in Florida in 1953 — says it serves 11 million fans around the world every day.
2019 closings: More than 1,100?
Despite its “Eat Fresh” campaign, Subway apparently isn’t quite fresh enough for increasingly health-conscious consumers.
In 2016, the sandwich chain closed more U.S. locations (359) than it opened. It continued to struggle in 2017, and shut down 866 shops. That ballooned to more than 1,100 in 2018, and there appears to be no end in sight.
With the numbers rising every year, will Subway’s 2019 closings top 1,100?
The company’s website shows that Subway still has more than 24,000 restaurants in the U.S. and close to 18,000 international locations. Its efforts to woo back customers include rolling out kiosk ordering and more comfortable seating.