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Flex Casual Concept Gaining Popularity in Restaurants

Flex-casual restaurants—those who do fast casual service during daytime and shifts to full-service during dinner time—are said to be getting more popular by the day.

By definition, fast casual dining is the offshoot of fast food—they typically make use of the counter-ordering model and generally use disposable flatware and dishes, but their food is presented as more upscale and more slowly prepared, such as organic ingredients, gourmet bread and better burgers. These are visually presented well in their restaurant menus, display boards and table tents. And as we have reported last November, this type of restaurants have outpaced all other concepts in the past years, prompting the other restaurant segments to modify their concepts a bit to make it more attractive to restaurant consumers.

Full-service, on the other hand, is traditional restaurant dining as we know it—eating the meal at a restaurant’s dining table, complete with waiter service, and paying at the end of the meal. Flex-casual combines both fast dining and full-service styles.

The flexible-service format has actually been practiced for years, but it’s just recently that it has gotten more attention as restaurateurs continue to look for ways to offer more convenience to their customers. Among those who have applied this re-structured concept is Russo’s New York Pizzeria, University CityWalk, LA.-based Wolfgang Puck Bistro, Mama Fu’s Asian of Austin, TX, and Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group’s new SC Asian in San Francisco.

“This kind of arrangement allows us to provide our business diners quick but better meals during their lunch, and simultaneously allows us to cater to our customers who want to visit us for a pleasant dinner on a regular night or during a special occasion,” said Wolfgang Puck’s Worldwide Inc.’s operations coordinator Alyssa Gioscia Roberts. Their restaurant menus, display boards and table tents help them a lot in achieving the goal, too.

Randy Murphy of Mama Fu’s Asian claims that the flex-casual set-up have brought in more dollars to their dinner day part. “We needed to do the switchover as we were not comfortable with the idea of relying mostly on our lunch sales for revenue,” he added. “We start to switch from counter service to full-service from 4pm to 5pm, and the transitions have been fairly seamless. We just needed to assign a server or a host out in front to welcome the customers when they arrive.”

“American diners are more into flexibility these days, and we see that people seldom go to fast casual at night,” Murphy noted. “Doing full-service in the evenings also allows our servers to up sell and thus reach higher sales.”