A fast, casual conversation with Paul Barron

Sixteen years ago, Paul Barron coined the term "fast casual" to describe a new kind of restaurant. Today it's a $500 billion dollar market segment. Panera Bread, Qdoba, Chipotle, Noodles & Company, Panda Express are all household names.

When I wanted to know what was next for restaurants, I naturally turned to Paul for his insight. He is consistently one or two steps ahead. 

Paul formed DigitalCoCo, a digital agency that quickly became a leader in the restaurant industry. His knowledge of social media, mobile and restaurants are intriguing to say the least.  

1. What were you noticing in the industry when you identified Fast Casual?

In the mid 90’s we as an industry were experiencing a shift of the consumer and a need for the restaurant industry to begin to introduce new options. Technology and how consumers were gaining information about food and restaurants were changing.

It was a time when consumers were beginning to experiment due to the introduction of the Food Network which was born in 1993. For the first time food knowledge was making its way to the masses.

2. What is the future of the restaurant industry? What will we be talking about 12 months from now?

The next evolution for the industry will be customizing the experience even more than it is now. Think gourmet level Fast Casual, not celebrity chefs but close to that level with local and regional concepts. 

The creation of micro brands that have turned into power house brands like Chipotle are just the beginning on how experience will change everything we know about the restaurant business. Think in terms of how Apple redefined an old standard, one where they thought change would never come, the record industry and the mobile industry.  

Steve Jobs changed the experience and created a new evolution of a consumer expectation that is now seeping into so many new channels as a consumer culture, including the restaurant business.

3. How closely do you watch consumer behavior trends?

Consumer science is how I discovered Fast Casual in the first place, the only difference is that now I have tools like social media and advanced technology that is ramping up my discovery of trends and event shifts in consumer behavior much faster.  

In just the past few years my idea of mapping the global restaurant consumer through the use of big data is beginning to pay off with understanding and identifying trends well before they become mainstream. Locally sourced and the health halo, food trucks and mobile dining, mobile food interaction and ethnic are just a few that have already made their way into my book “The Chipotle Effect” drafted over two years ago. Read More

Posted on June 13, 2012 and filed under Fast Casual.