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Trimming the Fat: A look at the fast/flex-casual business model.

For the past several years, fast-casual restaurants have been gaining popularity amongst diners and restaurateurs alike. As a business model, the fast-casual system is a brilliant way to run a restaurant, and if properly executed, carries the potential to deliver truly excellent customer service as well. Whether you are thinking about taking on a brand new venture or tightening up the one you’ve already got, the fast-casual model is certainly worth considering.

Fast-casual typically implies that guests enter the building, queue up at the counter, place an order with the staff, and then take a number. They will then, generally find a place to sit and have their meal delivered by a food runner, ideally mere minutes later. This system simplifies your life and saves you money in a few different ways:

1. Smaller staff: The fast-casual system eliminates the need for proper servers. Whittling down your staff will save you money on uniforms, handbooks, training, and salaries. It also limits the number of employees that you need to hold accountable to your standards. Being able to hand pick your (much smaller) staff is a luxury that many full-service restaurants simply cannot afford.

2. Quick turnover: Guests at these establishments tend either to take their meals to go, or to stay for short periods of time. This allows you to cycle greater numbers of people in and out of the restaurant throughout the course of the day. This way, you typically generate more revenue based on numbers alone.

3. Laser-like focus: When you eliminate superfluous moving parts from your operation, you create space to truly focus on the things that really matter both to you and your guests:  food and customer service. Fast-casual need not mean sloppy preparation and execution. In fact, these days many boutique restaurants are demonstrating just the opposite by creating innovative menus and executing them with the care and finesse of a fine dining establishment.

If fast-casual isn’t really your style, you might consider trying flex-casual: the compromise between full service and counter-style service that is rapidly gaining popularity. With a flex-casual system, owners typically operate a counter-service style restaurant during the day, and a full-service restaurant for dinner service. This allows them to straddle the line between both worlds, catering to a variety of diners. The flex-casual model also has a few other advantages:

1. Customer Service: Flex-casual restaurants are able to provide a level of customer service at night that purely fast-casual spots simply cannot.  With a full table service during the evening, they are able to cater to diners who prefer a traditional dinner service, while maintaining a much simpler operation during the day.

2. Atmosphere: Oftentimes, fast-casual restaurants can make guests feel hurried. When people are bustling in and out, it’s difficult to relax and enjoy a meal. But, when you open up for a full dinner service during the evening, that need to rush disappears. When guests feel at ease, they feel free to sit and stay awhile. A relaxed atmosphere encourages guests to course-out their meals, which increases sales.

2. Alcohol Sales: Fast-casual restaurants typically do not serve alcohol, and as may a restaurateur can tell you, alcohol sales generally comprise a significant piece of a restaurant’s profits.  Operators of flex-casual businesses can reap the benefits of this fact by serving alcohol during the evening.

Are you part of a fast or flex-casual restaurant? What are some of the advantages that you have discovered? Would you ever consider opening something like this? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave us a comment below.