We reported last June how the fast casual restaurant concept is outpacing all other concepts in the industry today, and it appears that they’re still leading the pack till now—inspiring other restaurant contenders with their menus, service and decors.
Despite the fact that fast casual dining places represent only 6% of all restaurants in the U.S., their growth continues to outperform all other segments and inspires them. The fast-casual’s accomplishment has motivated many full-service and fast-food restaurants to adopt a lot of their price points and features.
“As quick-service restaurants watch the success of the fast-casual concept, they are slowly improving their menu items and adapting to fresh positioning,” said Technomic’s Darren Tristano in his email to Nation’s Restaurant News. Tristano is the Chicago-based research firm’s executive vice president. “Leading fast food restaurants Wendy’s and McDonald’s are improving their location decors to fast-casual-like furnishings, and Chick-fil-A is currently experimenting table delivery. “
Even family-dining restaurants and casual-dining brands are slowly embracing fast-casual elements in their new businesses, such as Pizza Inn’s newly launched Pie Five Pizza Co. and Denny’s recent venture, Denny’s Fresh Express. Michigan-based Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern recently adopted fast-casual ideas and price points similar to Five Guys Burgers and The Counter by coming up with create-your-own better burgers, although it differentiates itself by having wait staff in restaurant aprons who serve at table sides.
Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group will soon have its SC Asian location in San Francisco, and will have its customers experience “fast casual” first –they order and pay at the cash register, then later on gets served by the wait staff in quality restaurant aprons.
“And even with competition seemingly appropriating their service qualities, fast casual persists in its exemplary performance,” Tristano said. “They continuously evolve, focusing on being innovative—like adding table service during dinner time, or drive-through and delivery services. They have no qualms in defying the traditional definition of fast casual, constantly experimenting on the use of full-service elements (table service) and quick-service components (drive-thru and delivery).”
Austin, TX.-based Mama Fu’s Asian House is an example of one who has developed a “flex casual” concept. Its operation is the typical fast-casual during daytime and becomes full-service during dinner.
This inspiration is not surprising at all, considering that there are a number of fast-casual chains that are rapidly growing, including bakery-concept Panera and better burger concepts Five Guys, Smashburger and Mooyah Burgers and Fries. Panera has had a total sales growth of 12% in the last three years, with unit counts rising to 4.2%. Better burger restaurants currently account for over half of the leading 75 burger chains in the United States today.
The fast-casual concept is obviously the consumers’ favorite these days, with their support for the segment strongly evidenced with sales growth that outpaced the other segments in the industry. The past decade shows fast casual growth rates between 4% and 5%. Technomic expects that this growth will extend through 2020.