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Fast Casual Restaurants Continue To Grow and Defy Economic Downturn

Here’s interesting news: Fast casual restaurants continue to defy today’s economic times, with it being the only restaurant segment reported to be continuously growing in terms of sales and location numbers.

Although it’s still considered to be a small segment in the restaurant industry, fast casual restaurants have been consistently proving its worth the past years. It has tripled its market share in the last decade, and is the only restaurant segment that was seen to have been growing in the past five years. Major fast-casual brands were able to pull in a total of 18.9 billion in sales in 2010, and by 2012 have been valued at $27 billion, accounting for 14% of all sales in the quick-service industry.

This isn’t really surprising news to many, taking into account the reports last year that this concept has outpaced all other existing concepts in the industry today. The concept became so appealing to customers that many restaurants were inspired to follow the lead of major players like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Panera Bread, Corner Bakery Café, Tim Hortons, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Boston Market, among others. A lot of restaurants overhauled their menus (in excellent leather menu cover) and improved their restaurant decors to catch up with the current trend.

Customers love it

Consumers have their reasons for preferring fast casual, saying that the food is “more high quality, and the preparation is quick.” Fast casual, they say, is the combination of the consumers’ age-old need to eat on the run and today’s newer demand for healthier and “more quality” options. The price is attractive in itself, ranging from $8 to $15 per meal, although consumers were seen to be willing to pay more. Whatever goes beyond $15 still turns out less than a full service restaurant, not to mention the fact that customers are not compelled to provide a tip.

As one restaurateur puts it, “fast casual meets a lot of consumer needs, a niche that needed to be filled in this economy.”

Fast casual criteria

Market research firm Technomic defined fast casual as meeting the following criteria: the set-up is self-service or limited service, where preparation and service are done based on the customers’ preference; the average check ranges from $8 to $15; the menu items in its elegant leather menu cover are more sophisticated and complex than fast food, usually prepared made to order; and the restaurant itself has more innovative and upscale decorations.