The recently released 2011 Top 100 Fast Casual Chain Restaurant Report details how the fast casual restaurant concept is outpacing all other concepts in the restaurant industry today. Consumers now appear to turn their back on full-service restaurants and at the same time steer clear of fast food, seeming to settle to something in between – the fast casual restaurants. The announcement, which came from Technomic, one of the industry’s leading consulting and research firms, recounted how this type of restaurant category did reasonably well when recession started across the nation, and carried on the past year to completely outperform the other restaurant industry segments. Its overall figures showed outstanding results, with growing sales of 6 percent, totaling to nearly $18.9 billion.
The report, which includes an in-depth, updated restaurant industry analysis as well as detailed restaurant performances review, highlighted the Mexican food menu group as the most widespread fast-casual dining places this year. It also reported better burger, Asian dishes and noodles, and Mexican menu as the top three fastest-growing menus in the past year. It once again recognized Panera Bread as the category’s top-seller, with its 2010 revenue going over $2.9 billion, with a 4.3 percent increase from its sales in 2009.
As the trend slowly grew over the years, the term fast casual was coined in the latter part of the 90s, referring to a kind of restaurant that is slightly more high-priced and classy than fast-food. Like fast food restaurants, diners are given the opportunity to see the preparation of their food through the open kitchens, but the food are served and presented in a more fashionable, upscale way – with more sophisticated menu covers (or menu boards), table top displays as well outstanding food presentations.
Technomic delineated the fast casual term as meeting the succeeding criteria :
• The restaurant set-up is self-service or limited-service (serving and preparation of food are done as per customer’s request)
• The restaurant prepares made-to-order food with more complex and sophisticated characteristic taste than that of fast food
• More upscale and innovative decorations
People love fast casual restaurants because it gives a dining option of casual dining with the swiftness of fast-food, and it is somewhat cheaper and more accessible than eating at a sit-down restaurant. There’s no tip involved, too – just the tip jar near the cash register. Customers see the added value in the place’s atmosphere, and most of them have healthy offerings, as well as outstanding kids’ menus.
While most of these restaurants are franchise chains, there are those that aren’t. The top-selling fast-casual franchise chains include Panera Bread, Zaxby’s, El Pollo Loco, Boston Market, Jason’s Deli, Five Guy’s Burger and Fries, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Moe’s Southwest Grill and McAlister’s Deli. Other brands are riding as high, like the Chipotle Mexican Grill, Corner Bakery Café and Tim Hortons.
The fast casual’s victory over all others would somehow challenge the other restaurant categories in positioning themselves to be more competitive with their fast-casual corresponding rivals. Fast food restaurants are making overhauls in their menu and improving their decors to catch up with the trend, as analyzed by Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano.