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ORLANDO -- Fans of Walt Disney attractions have always known that Orlando was the place to be. Now, it seems quick-service restaurants are learning that as well.
According to QSR Magazine's "2011 Growth 40" list, the Florida city ranks No. 1 among the nation's top metropolitan areas poised for quick-service growth. It is followed by Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Riverside, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Las Vegas.
The fact that Orlando stands out is no surprise to upstart fast-casual concept, Burger 21. Front Burner Brands, the Tampa, Fla. -based parent company of Burger 21 and Melting Pot restaurants, tapped Orlando to launch the Burger 21 franchise program this past October, according to the magazine.
"Mickey Mouse does wonders," Burger 21 vice president of franchise development Dan Stone said. "Orlando may not be Times Square in Manhattan, but it's the equivalent of that in the Southeast."
Orlando enjoys the benefit of being a destination market with dining-out needs. Home to Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, the city attracts more than 50 million visitors a year. It also has a strong residential component. As the report noted, Orlando has added nearly 500,000 residents in the past 10 years, bringing the metropolitan population to more than 2.1 million. In addition, some estimates indicate the metropolitan area will grow by another 10 percent within the next five years.
Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, told the magazine that Orlando is "electric," and pointed to the area's family-friendly attractions as a driver for quick-service growth.
"With Orlando's attractions, it brings large numbers of families who are not exactly prime candidates for white tablecloth restaurants. That opens the doors for quick-serves to perform well," Dover said, adding that most quick-serves can often beat the attractions' dining options on price.
For the report, QSR Magazine analyzed only population numbers of the nation's 51 metropolitan areas with more than one million residents, according to U.S. Census data. American Express Business Insights, which partnered on the report, then identified three key statistical growth areas: spending, average transaction size and number of transactions. The magazine assigned cumulative scores to all 51 cities based on the factors listed above and broke ties in the scores with raw population data.