Dining Out Trends Shifting to Fast Casual

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Just when we thought fast casual couldn't possibly grow any faster than it already has, this sector is surprising us yet again with its astronomical success. According to Technomic, the fast casual segment experienced a 12.8 annual growth. Americans spent $30 billion last year dining at fast-casual restaurants -- nearly double the No. 2 grown sector in the industry.

"The money is there," restaurateur Steve Zhao, who described his newest venture as an Asian spin on Chipotle Mexican Grill, said. "This demographic is the younger folks. They want good food, creative atmosphere and fast -- fast is always better."

The fast casual business model promises limited table service, but higher-quality food. Unlike fast food, these restaurants aim to serve meals with few or no frozen or processed ingredients. An average receipt runs $9 compared to a $5 bill at a drive-thru. And instead of cracking, upholstered booth seats, fast-casual establishments are also elevating the eating experience with cutting-edge décor and flexible menu offerings.

"It's changing the eating world out there," Jay Kitterman, director of Lincoln Land Community College's Culinary Institute, said. He pointed to a recent National Restaurant Association report that indicated for the first time, consumers last year spent more of their food budget at restaurants than grocery stores.

Not only has that changed, but the language of food marketing has, as well. Customers want customization, they want made-to-order dishes, but most importantly, they want something that aligns with their values -- something healthy, fresh.

"I was in an airport...and the Wendy's ad said, 'We value fresh ingredients,'" Illinois Stewardship Alliance program director Lindsay Record said. "The whole language, narrative with fast food is changing." Read More

Posted on May 12, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends.