Chick-fil-A is the fast-food chain of the year — and things are only getting better

  • Chick-fil-A is Business Insider's chain of the year. 
  • The chicken chain is predicted to become the third-largest restaurant by sales by the end of this year, with sales growing an estimated 12-15%. 
  • Some concerns are lurking on the horizon — but in 2018, Chick-fil-A was riding high. 

It is a little bit scary how well Chick-fil-A did in 2018. 

The chicken chain is set to become the third-largest restaurant by sales by the end of this year, according to Kalinowski Equity Research. Doing so would mean catapulting up from No. 7, past competitors like Taco Bell, Subway, and Wendy's. 

To do so, Chick-fil-A's system sales would need to grow the 12-15% that analyst Mark Kalinowski has predicted. That's a massive figure, as most fast-food competitors would be thrilled to hit 8% growth in a year. Domino's is the only chain that is even close, estimated to grow sales roughly 12% in 2018.

Chick fil A 7Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The past few years have seen Chick-fil-A go from a Southern cult favorite to one of the most dominant chains in America.

The chain is entering new markets at an unprecedented clip, including opening its first store outside the US. It is doing a delivery push. It rolled out a new app. New items are popping up on the menu. Chick-fil-A even tested a meal kit this year.  

RELATED: Take a look at Chick Fil A's secret menu items:

8 PHOTOS
Chick-fil-A secret menu items
See Gallery
Chick-fil-A secret menu items

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

This is simply the Spicy Chicken Sandwich plus the signature Zesty Buffalo Sauce. You end up with a crispy buffalo chicken sandwich that’s loaded with dill pickles chips, and it’s delish!

(Getty)

Spicy Char

The Spicy Char, which is a grilled version of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, is one of the most famous of Chick-fil-A’s secret menu items. In fact, this one is most likely available just by asking for it by its full name: the Spicy Char-Grilled Chicken Patty.

(Getty)

Fried Chicken Club

So the Spicy Char is the grilled version of a fried sandwich, and the Fried Chicken Club is the fried version of a grilled sandwich. It’s a tasty twist on the classic Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich. If it’s not available by name, ask for fried chicken instead of the grilled patty in your usual Club sandwich.

(Getty)

Chicken, Egg & Cheese Biscuit

The regular menu includes a Chicken, Egg & Cheese Bagel, but you can also ask for it on a biscuit to make a buttery Chicken, Egg & Cheese Biscuit.

(Getty)

Spicy Chicken, Egg & Cheese Bagel

If your local Chick-fil-A has Spicy Chicken during the breakfast shift, you’ll be in luck! This sandwich is well-known enough that you can ask for it by name.

(Getty)

Chicken on Anything at Breakfast

We’ve heard from Chick-fil-A employees and former employees that because chicken is on the chain’s breakfast menu, you can customize pretty much any breakfast sandwich by adding chicken. For any locations that (secretly) have Spicy Chicken during the breakfast shift, make that a Spicy Chicken plus the Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit!

(Getty)

Bacon on Anything at Breakfast

You also can customize pretty much any Chick-fil-A breakfast sandwich by adding bacon. Hello, Hash Brown Scramble Burrito with Bacon!

Seeing a trend? You can pretty much ask for anything that’s on the menu to be added to anything else, and if it’s not too complicated, and your server’s not too busy, there’s a good chance you’ll get exactly what you want. Woo! 

(Getty)

Grilled Cheese

For a no-meat meal, the bun from any sandwich can be toasted with sliced cheese. Think you might want pickle chips, lettuce and tomato, too? Order a Chick-fil-A Deluxe, hold the chicken.

(Getty)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

 

Chick-fil-A is a private company, but according to industry estimates, things have never been better at the chain. Chick-fil-A is still the most profitable fast-food chain in the country on a per-unit basis, with a single Chick-fil-A making an average of $4.1 million in annual sales, according to QSR Magazine. For comparison, the average unit volume at a KFC location is $1.2 million. 

Yet, some high-profile cases throughout 2018 hinted at the fact that, while Chick-fil-A is dominant, it could face some demons in 2019 that it has been able to dodge so far. 

Chick fil A 50Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The chain has continued to experience backlash due to its perceived stance on LGBTQ rights. 

A college in New Jersey banned Chick-fil-A as a dining-hall option. The chain's expansion in Toronto sparked boycotts. And, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was slammed in June for eating Chick-fil-A during Pride Month

"Chick-fil-A is a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality, and our restaurants and licensed locations on college campuses welcome everyone," Chick-fil-A said in a statement in November, after Rider University excluded the chain as a dining-hall option. "We have no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda."

Then, there are questions as to whether Chick-fil-A can continue to maintain quality as the chain grows. Much of Chick-fil-A's power is tied to its impeccable customer service and unique franchise model, which limits how many locations each franchisee can run. Often, as chains expand, they lose the control over the quality that made them beloved — something Chick-fil-A needs to avoid. 

However, these potential issues haven't hurt Chick-fil-A's sales yet.

Maybe in 2019 Chick-fil-A will need to confront backlash and over-expansion fears head on. But, in 2018, the chicken chain was dominating the industry. 

Have you worked at Chick-fil-A or another fast-food chain and have a story to share? Email ktaylor@businessinsider.com. 

NOW WATCH: A wheel of parmesan can cost over $1,000 — here's why the cheese is so expensive

More from Business Insider: 
We covered a ton of wild retail stories in 2018, but Sam's Club's sudden store closures was the most shocking moment of the year 
Wendy's and McDonald's fought it out in a beefy battle that marked the biggest feud in fast food in 2018 
Shake Shack is giving away free burgers this week. Here's how to get one.

Read Full Story