FSR salutes restaurant groups, chains, independent operators, and franchise brands that are leading the industry.

In the town where I live one of the historic homes, circa late 1800s, has passed from one restaurateur to another in the 15 years we’ve been here. The expansive front porch, aged wood floors, and nostalgic fireplaces drew me in—but I returned only when the food was as satisfying as the setting.

Last year the restaurant underwent yet another shift in ownership, and hearing rather skeptical reviews I haven’t tried it yet. But at a party in June I met one of the restaurant’s chefs, and as always happens when I talk with a chef, I now want to visit the restaurant—except for one rather disconcerting fact: She told me the restaurant has been through seven executive chefs in its first year of operation. That was shocking (and probably the reason behind the sketchy reviews).

How can a restaurant—especially one that is independently owned and striving for an upscale, innovative menu—become a success without stability in the kitchen?

Stability, credibility, reliability—all speak to success, whether in a restaurant or editorial. In this issue, there were many occasions to contemplate measures of success, most notably the FSR 50, which was an exercise in due diligence and exhaustive research. While the four categories that are comprised of chain restaurants were easily defined by sales volume, establishing a list of 10 top independent operators was a challenge.

We started with landmark properties and looked at sales figures reported between 2010 and 2012, and we also worked with CHD Experts, the Chicago-based data analysis company that partnered with Forbes on a similar list last year. Evidently some of the restaurant sales in the Forbes list were not thoroughly vetted because the credibility of that list didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

For the FSR 50 we were determined to validate sales volumes—so we researched, interviewed, and either proved or removed names from the list until we identified 10 high-performing independent operators where the sales volumes have, in most cases, been confirmed by the restaurants themselves.

This issue also highlights full-service restaurant franchises—another arduous process where we considered numerous brands that have either become an established success or are emerging as viable value propositions. Many could have been chosen, we narrowed the list to 10 best prospects.

So many measures of success in these pages, yet my personal favorite is not about dollars. It’s about doing good. Don’t miss the story about Extra Table, a non-profit organization intent on feeding the hungry and fighting obesity, featured in our Sweet Endings department, which debuts in this issue as a salute to people and restaurants making a difference in our world.

Expert Takes, Feature