Paul Barron is founder and CEO of DigitalCoCo as well as founder of FastCasual.com and QSRWeb.com. SmartBrief interviewed him on the future of fast casual and his new book, “The Chipotle Effect,” excerpts of which were published on SmartBlog on Food & Beverage.
“The Chipotle Effect” is touted as the first book on the fast-casual restaurant business. What inspired you to write the book?
The vision was one that started back in the mid ’90s, when nobody was really looking at the space the way I was. I saw this as a revolution in how the restaurant industry would innovate to meet the new demands of the consumer. At that time, I knew the Web would transform everything we do in the business, including connecting with our guests, but even then I still did not fully grasp the massive impact that social media would play in the future of the business. I felt this was the ultimate game changer for our business, and in 2002, I recognized I was onto something really big!
With that insight, I focused on getting FastCasual.com to the forefront of the media sphere, and the idea of the book was born. As I expected, the evolution of the Web, social media and the fast-casual segment came together in a “perfect storm,” and today, the fast-casual segment is realizing the most amazing growth the restaurant business has experienced in more than three decades.
In one of your excerpts, you discuss the “food-as-lifestyle” revolution. What advice do you have for restaurants that want to keep up with the revolution but might not have the resources to do so?
I think every great restaurant operator finds the resources to keep up with the latest trends and technology. The barrier to entry is so much lower than ever before. After all, they are all innovators, some better than others, and the reality of this or any business is that it’s about people and ideas. If you are short on either, you are toast. Traditionally, the restaurant business has been built on food, when in my opinion the shift to “food as a lifestyle” is the new mantra. This means you must create an overall experience, one that not only impacts the guest while in the restaurant but also when they are outside the four walls, in ways that will create new lifestyle expectations: better health, better taste, better quality, better lifestyle.
Innovation is the only way to stay competitive. The consumer is already two steps ahead of us now due to the mass adoption of social media and technology, which have created a whole new level of consumers who are highly adaptable, flexible, curious and armed with seemingly endless choices. This is the biggest opportunity that has hit the American business scene since the evolution of the auto industry. Tech bubble, ha! The golden age of the restaurant business is about to change in ways that will impact hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. alone and will create tens of thousands of entrepreneur millionaires over the next 20 years. Read More