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Mid-Market Menus Expand Sales, And Waistlines

Calorie-laden meals at these mid-size franchises help beef up the bottom line.

What do a burger, fries, and milkshake have in common with a company’s balance sheet? According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) the winners of the latest Xtreme Eating Awards are all midmarket companies. Among them the Cheesecake Factory holds the dubious honor of serving up the most calorie and saturated fat laden dishes alongside posting sales increases and positive profit margins.

Could the quickest way to a healthy business be through the consumer’s (ever-expanding) stomach? Let’s take a look at the numbers for the “winner.”

Winner of CSPI’s ignominious XXXtreme Eating award because it snagged three of the nine slots on the list, Cheesecake Factory’s gut-busting menu items include its Bruléed French Toast which boasts 2,780 calorie, 93 grams of saturated fat 2,230 milligrams of sodium, and 24 teaspoons of sugar. If you haven’t had a heart attack just reading that, consider the chain’s Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic smothered in a rich cream sauce that tips the calorie counter to over 2,400. The CSPI believes you’d need to have a leisurely swim for seven hours or jog for five respectively, if you became a member of the clean plate club after ordering one of those meals.

On the business side, Cheesecake Factory is touting 16 consecutive quarters of positive comparable sales -those measured against locations open for at least a year- among its now 180 locations worldwide. The company credits its success in part to its dedication to improve operating margins. The recession hit the restaurant industry hard as cash-strapped consumers preferred to stay in and save their pennies for other expenditures. Cheesecake Factory’s annual report shows that in the five years since, it’s operating margins improved from 5.6 percent in 2008 to about 8.6% in 2013. Its guest satisfaction surveys improved 20 percent during the same period, according to the report.

Its stock ticker may be CAKE, but the company is quick to note that among its 200 menu items there are about 50 lower-calorie options along with 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. Then there’s always the option to take the long way home—on foot.

CSPI dietitian Paige Einstein is counting calories, not beans. “When French toast is ‘Bruléed,’ fries are ‘bottomless,’ and steaks are now garnished with not just one, but two Italian sausages, it’s clear that caloric extremism still rules the roost at many of America’s chain restaurants,” Einstein said in a statement. “Two out of three American adults are overweight or obese and one in 10 adults has diabetes, thanks in part to The Cheesecake Factory, Chevys Fresh Mex, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and much of the rest of America’s chain restaurant industry.”

The complete list of franchises on CSPI’s list is available here.

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