Rising consumer confidence is coinciding with an acceleration in the expansion of new restaurant locations nationwide, according to Technomic, which is forecasting restaurant sales growth of 4 percent.  Much of that increase will come from the opening of new locations among the largest chains.

Most of the development of these new restaurant locations is likely to occur on the higher end of the industry, with fast-casual chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill leading the limited-service segment and fine-dining brands or “polished casual” chains like The Cheesecake Factor” pacing unit growth in the full-service sector.

Among the largest limited-service chains that Technomic tracks in its Top 500 study, fast-food brands are expected to have increased their unit count by 1.5 percent in 2014, a decent pace for a post-recovery economy.  By contract, fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread are expected to grow at several times that rate, or about 7.2 percent for 2014.

Technomic reported that, within the casual-dining group, growth is fairly bifurcated between brands that attract a mass audience and those that appeal to a higher-income customer.  Polished-Casual brands are expected to increase their collective unit count by 6 percent, compared with an increase of only 1.2 percent for traditional cause-dining chains like Chili’s or TGI Fridays.