Taco Bell's Move to Sell Hard Drinks: Fast Food to Fast Casual?


With Taco Bell's late night hours and inexpensive menu featuring filling foods such as the crunchy Nachos Bellagrande and the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, this chain has long accepted its reputation as the perfect ending to a typical millennial's night, where there may have been dancing, dining and a drink or two.

But this week, Taco Bell is planning to join the ranks of its competitors, such as Burger King, Starbucks and Chipotle, with a move that could elevate this fast-food restaurant into one with a touch of fast-casual flair. The company announced that it aims to sell hard drinks for the first time in the United States, more specifically by a new franchise opening this summer in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood.

While it doesn't expect the drinks themselves to be a huge source of revenue, Taco Bell acknowledges that beverage options are driving a consumer's restaurant choices. In a survey conducted by Technomic Inc., 21 percent of people said that drink choices played a deciding factor on where they took their business. 

This company has largely aligned itself with the millennial generation, and its decision to dabble in beer, wine and frozen cocktails is probably a step that further caters to the young professional's needs, however it is a choice that could mar its image as an affordable place for late-night munchies.

"We are always trying to stay relevant and listen to what the people want," Rob Poetsch, Taco Bell's director of public affairs, said. "I think it's no secret that Taco Bell and late nights are synonymous. This model we're testing is much more experiential." Read More

Posted on June 11, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Restaurant News, Restaurant Trends.

Inside the "Build Your Own" Meal Revolution

Fast Casuals like Chipotle and Panera continue to thrive while McDonald's and the traditional fast food brands still suffer. The hottest trend within the fast casual segment is proving to be "build your own". 22.5% of fast casuals offer the build-your-own option. Even though this is relatively a low percentage– these concepts have doubled in growth compared to non-BYOs. 

So what does this growth drive from?

Millennials love to customize so its no surprise that Chipotle ignited the trend with its assembly line style burrito ordering process. This format has shown success beyond Mexican food in make your own pizza shops such as Blaze Pizza and Pieology Pizzeria. And next up in this style of fast casual is the Asian inspired ShopHouse, brought to you by the creators of Chipotle. With currently 10 shops and growing, ShopHouse features customizable rice, noodle, and salad bowls. But, the competition is fierce with plenty of copycats are out there following the format and trying to be the next Chipotle. Ghengis Grill boasts build your own stir fry with 115 restaurants to date. There's even a fast casual called My Ceviche where customers can build their own raw fish bowls. What BYO concept do you think will be the next success in this thriving segment? Read More

Can Starbucks Become the Next McDonald's?

In yet another case of customers demanding great tasting and high-quality food, Starbucks is planning to expand its food offerings in hopes to become "The New McDonald's." Long gone are the days when quality suffered at the hands of speed and convenience.  As McDonald's sales continue to suffer, Starbucks looks to step in, and with more than 20,000 locations, they have the size and power to compete.  The coffee chain has been adding sandwiches and salads to its menu, and they're ones customers won't feel guilty about ordering. 

Analysts say Starbucks is the only large chain that offers millennial parents foods that they can feed their children without embarrassment or hesitation, all with the convenience of a fast-food chain. Starbucks knows the importance of capturing the millennial audience and their kids by serving organic, kid-friendly snack options such as greek yogurt and fruit squeezes. Today's kid consumers are savvier and more aware of what they are eating -- they aren't just looking for a happy meal with a toy.  Read More   

No Toss-Up: Restaurants Jumping on Fast-Casual Pizza Trend


Step aside burritos, freshly-baked baguettes and gourmet burgers. A new fast casual contender has arrived on the scene and it wants to be on top -- with extra toppings, of course.

Pizza. It's no shock that it's made it's way to the fast casual sphere. Pizza is a classic, consumer favorite for its convenience and for the fact it's meant to be shared. But now, individual-sized pizzas can be customized and fired up in a few minutes to cater to the customer.

National Restaurant News has selected some of the rising stars of fast-casual pizza. They are currently small regional chains, but have large appeal. Unlike traditional pizzerias, known for quick deliveries and large pies, these restaurants allow guests to assemble smaller pies to how they see fit.

Get to know Arizona's Fired Pie, California's Blast 825 and &Pizza in the Washington, D.C., area. Read More

Posted on May 29, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends, Restaurant Trends.

"Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats" Premiered in Chicago

Foodable WebTV Network reached a major milestone this past Saturday. As part of the 2015 NRA Show, Foodable unveiled its first screening of "Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats," a full-length documentary that leads the viewer through the cinematic tale of how the fast casual segment rose to its glory.

Not only were guests treated to a cocktail reception and an intimate VIP dinner of American-comfort-food classics at the Virgin Hotel's Miss Ricky's, attendees were also privy to be the first to hear more great news: Foodable and the National Restaurant Association revealed their partnership. As of now, their two new ventures include a film festival and the Foodable 5-Star Awards, which will be taking place at the NRA's Restaurant Innovation Summit in San Diego this coming October. Can't wait to see what other exciting things this teamwork will bring to the table of the food industry!

Missed out? Check out photos from the premiere and watch the trailer here.

Dining Out Trends Shifting to Fast Casual

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 2.49.08 PM.png

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.

Investors Willing to Pay for Fast-Casual Restaurant Shares

Shake Shack

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think fast casual is here to stay. In this past year, the restaurant industry has risen to feed the growing appetite that millennials and affluent diners have for fast casual. Consumers have become more health-conscious and more keen on being aware of where their foods are sourced from, but are also more selective on how to spend their time -- the busy millennial generation is one of constant motion. They're running around and they want their food to keep up with them.

The fast casual sphere is where those two priorities meet in the middle: healthier than fast food, with service nearly as quick. It's no surprise with this growing popularity that investors are willing to pay just whatever for fast-casual restaurant shares. Will another restaurant crop up and match the success of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which has opened up 1,800 restaurants since it opened its doors in 2005? 

In shares, Shake Shack has shook things up and is the shining performer. Its growth has gone up 260 percent since the end of January. Shake Shack's current stock price values each of its restaurants at $40 million -- four times more than the stock market value of a Chipotle restaurant and 15 times the value of a McDonald's restaurant. Read More

Posted on May 6, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends.

Chipotle: The First U.S. Chain to Phase out GMOs



Chipotle is used to the limelight. From being the model of how a top fast casual should be run, to its recent news last week that revealed it would begin taking to the streets by offering delivery, Chipotle is a brand name that is used to branding itself across news headlines. If you're on this blog, you should know that the Chipotle phenomenon inspired an entire book of theory. Regardless of whether a consumer is a Chipotle fan, there is no denying that this fast casual has made its mark on the foodservice timeline.

This week, it's no different. Chipotle has once again made history as the first national food chain to completely rid its menu of genetically-modified ingredients. While the Food and Drug Administration insists GMOs are safe, activists have been questioning this claim. Due to the "lack of consensus" over these concerns in recent years, Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells said that the company felt it was best not to use GMOs at all. 

This Monday, Chipotle posted an ad on its website that proclaimed it provided "Food with Integrity" and that it was "G-M-Over It." The Denver-based chain had already been using mostly non-GMO ingredients, but made its final changes on its tortilla products. Chipotle said that suppliers plant non-GMO corn varieties for its tortillas, and that instead of using soybean oil --which may be made from genetically-modified crops to be resistant against disease --, the company is now using sunflower oil to cook its chips and taco shells. 

Best of all? These changes did not result in significantly higher costs, so the prices will remain the same for consumers. In the future, Chipotle plans on removing additives from its tortillas, as well. What other steps will Chipotle take to meet the growing consumer-consciousness on good ingredients? Read More

Posted on April 28, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Nation, Restaurant News.

"Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats" Premiering at NRA 2015!


Fast casual fans, time to call in for seat reservations because you won't want to miss out on this! FoodableWebTV Network is teaming up with the National Restaurant Association to bring you the biggest film to hit the food service industry.

For one night only, "Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats" is premiering at the 2015 NRA Show. The different flavors of the restaurant segment's progression and the upcoming of fast casual will be served to you in one plate of this entertaining, artistic, informative, easy-to-digest and revolutionary documentary. 

Guests to this May 16 premiere event will enjoy a cocktail reception and step and repeat before the screening. Notable attendees include Chief Innovation & Member Advancement Officer Phil Kafarakis, as well as representatives from more than 75 different restaurant brands around the world.

Watch and be inspired by the rise of fast casual to the food service throne. How did this segment become king? Sample a small taste of this sweeping story in this bite-sized trailer below! 

The Healthy Fast Casual Challenge: Good For You vs. Good Taste


Celebrity chefs are taking on the healthy fast casual challenge: how will the food service industry keep up with the consumer demand for good-for-you food without sacrificing the good tastes they love? On top of that, these hungry mouths want it fast, want it fresh and want it on a frugal budget. 

"Make it better for me, but I don't want to give anything up. I want less salt, no antibiotics, no trans-fats, more fruits, more veggies. I don't go out to restaurants to give stuff up; I go to restaurants to be tantalized," Greg Dollarhyde, CEO of Veggie Grill, said to summarize the modern-day customer.

That's a tall order, but the fast casual segment is ready to dish out. With the support of celebrity chefs and the farm-to-table trend that is popularizing across the nation, sales at healthy fast casual chains totaled an estimated $384 million in 2014 -- almost a 30 percent increase from the previous year. 

Rather than choosing foods based on what's being left out, such as fat, sodium and carbs, most people are choosing foods on the benefits added in, such as antioxidants and omega-3s. Fast casual restaurants are responding to this switch from avoidance diet to add-in diet by packing in the locally-sourced vegetables, grains and meats.

The marketing message is earth-friendly. Rather than alienating customers by labelling themselves with terms such as vegan or vegetarian, restaurants prefer catchy phrases like "veggie-centric."

How else has fast casual responded to this desire for "honest foods"? Read More

"Which Wich" Makes Ordering Sandwiches Fun, Expands In the Northeast

This growing sandwich franchise with a progressive ordering concept already has 330 locations nationwide, the majority in California and the Southwest, and it's  still growing!  

So what makes "Which Wich" special and different from the other generic sandwich chains out there? In today's competitive  Fast Casual market, everyone is trying to make their mark. Fresh ingredients, good prices and quick service are becoming the standard shtick for these sandwich chains. Which Wich has a fun concept marketed to millennials where the guest is in control of their ordering process. Their order is completely customizable. Upon entry, each guest picks out a sandwich bag with either a build-your-own option or a signature sandwich design. They then grab a sharpie to mark which style they choose, add ingredients or any other modifications. The customer writes their name on the bag, hands it in and waits for their name to be called, while doodling during wait time. Doodled bags can then be hung in the "art gallery". This is truly an interactive Fast Casual experience that consumer can't seem to get enough of. Read More 

22-Year-Old Entrepeneur Starts Wokworks

With the rise of fast casual comes many entrepreneurs and their new ground-breaking concepts, ready to take the fast casual crown and become the next Chipotle. That is exactly what Brennan Foxman decided he was going to do at the age of 22. This New Jersey native started an Asian-inspired restaurant serving up predesigned and build-your-own stir-fry entrées. While studying abroad in college, his friends may have been out partying, but Brennan chose to work on restaurant business models instead. He noticed that the majority of fast food used wok cooking with high heat and fresh ingredients.  He loved the idea and brought it back to the states.  After a year and a half of business planning and being turned down by more than 20 banks, Wokworks was born on 1935 Chestnut St in Philly.  Read More

Fast Casual Chains to Watch In 2015

While Chipotle may have paved the way for Fast Casual, there are some new kids on the block with innovative concepts and smart business strategy ready to make their mark. Have you seen any of these brands pop up in your neighborhood? These are some top picks for Fast Casual stardom:

  Sandwich from Mendocino Farms  | Foodabletv.com

Sandwich from Mendocino Farms | Foodabletv.com

Chop't Creative Salad Company is already the leader in the premium salad fast casual segment. Currently, the chain has locations in New York and Washington DC but it is growing at a rapid pace. With over 50 toppings and seasonal specialties, there is nothing boring about these salads.

Mendocino Farms is a unique upscale sandwich chain based out of LA with 9 locations so far. They focus on local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients and like to reconstruct fine dining entrees to the sandwich level. Their innovative menu and modern twists on classic sandwiches is what sets them apart from the rest. 

Old world meets new school at Roti Mediterranean Grill.  They have a classic take on traditional mediterranean cuisine so it is authentic yet trendy enough to appeal to Millennials with gluten-free options and "freebird" chicken. Originating in Chicago they have already expanded east to New York and DC. Read More

Next up: Wendy's Tries To Keep Up With Fast Casual

The competition is heating up as fast food chains try to stay in the game with the fast casual movement. We are seeing some creative and over the top strategies from these QSRs– specifically with messages that they too care about health and sustainability. 

Realizing that consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it gets to their plate, Wendy's has launched a new ad campaign. To showcase the freshness of their food, the Wendy's commercial follows a head of lettuce from the farm to the table. Using a GoPro camera and promoting the healthy "my food is straight from the farm" trend, Wendy's is targeting the health-conscious millennials who demand to know where their food is coming from. What do you think of Wendy's strategy?  Click here to watch "Wendy's Romaine Lettuce Journey".

Fast Food Tries To Keep Up With Fast Casual

After massive suffering due to competition from Chipotle and other fast casuals, McDonald's is realizing it's time to regroup! Their most recent CEO has been booted as he led one of their worst revenue years in decades.  As of Monday, McDonald's has pledged to make itself a "modern, progressive burger company". So far the company that virtually started fast food has struggled to find the formula to keep up with consumers desire for healthier and fresher food options. With a new CEO in place, the company's first order of business is to switch to chicken raised with fewer antibiotics. Analysts suspect it won't be long before we see kale on the menu, despite an ad that once unapologetically praised its famous Big Mac saying "it will never be kale".  

Other fast food brands are making changes to keep up with the competition brought by the Fast Casual movement. Burger King is removing soda from being an option on the kids menu and will recommend juice or milk instead. Wendy's most recent ad campaign shows a head of lettuce traveling from the farm to your plate as a way to promote freshness.  Read more

Fast Food Doesn't Mean Diet Disaster

In recent times, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of healthy options being offered at fast food and fast casual establishments. Even with the vast offerings it is still up to the consumer to adjust their orders accordingly if health is a concern. Many dishes are large portions and full of sodium, sugar and high in calories. Nutrition information is now readily available either posted on menus at the restaurant or on the companies website, which takes the guesswork out of knowing exactly what you are consuming. So how are consumers eating healthy when they visit restaurants? 

  • By holding the "Special Sauce" and steering clear of tuna and chicken salad. Both of these are diet pitfalls, generally being heavy on the mayonnaise and packing a high fat and calorie count.  
  • Going light on the cheese and sauce and load up on veggies. This is done by getting the dressing or sauce on the side and choose lighter options like salsa, mustard and pico de gallo. 
  • Ordering smaller or lunch-sized portions or splitting with a friend. Often health-conscious diners wrap up half to take home before we even start eating. 

Read More

Is Denver the Capital of Fast-Casual?

  Photo from Chop Shop in Denver, CO  | Foodable Web TV Network

Photo from Chop Shop in Denver, CO | Foodable Web TV Network

Denver seems to be a hub of the fast-casual trend, largely in part due to it having the right demographic. The city is filled with millennials and affluent customers who are looking for quick and convenient but also healthy food options. There have been multiple success stories of brands starting in Denver, such an Chipotle and Smashburger, but many brands have moved there and expanded.  

Consumers like variety and there are options for each person's dietary needs. The accessibility to gluten free and dairy free options are plentiful. The quality of the food is becoming even better due to chefs from high end restaurants bringing their flare to fast casual. People are more aware nowadays of locally sourced and organic and higher end ingredients due to the availability of information. They can now watch chefs on television and go online to access the latest food trends. Read more

Posted on March 5, 2015 and filed under The Chipotle Effect, Fast Casual.

Cracker Barrel Next to Jump on the Fast Casual Bandwagon

  Photo of a Cracker Barrel restaurant  | Crackerbarrel.com      

Photo of a Cracker Barrel restaurant | Crackerbarrel.com    

This traveler’s favorite highway exit rest stop is getting a makeover! The old timey country store/eatery is in the works to revamp and join the fast casual movement. The company’s strategy to expand the brand is no surprise considering fast casual now makes up the majority of food services sales. As the concept is still in its early stages of development, there are minimal details available, but we can expect to see the new format by July 2016. Do you think the brand has what it takes to create a successful fast casual with a new twist on Southern Hospitality? Read More

Fast Casual: Here to Stay

 Interior of the fast casual restaurant, Pitfire | Foodable WebTV Network  

Interior of the fast casual restaurant, Pitfire | Foodable WebTV Network

Look out America! Fast casual dining has entered the food industry, and it isn’t going leaving anytime soon. Restaurants in this category, such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Shake Shack, have watched their sales skyrocket in a short period of time as consumers are proving the successful idea of charging extra for a better product in an easy-going atmosphere.

While this area of food service is relatively new, consumers and restaurant operators can agree that the system is only getting stronger. In promoting higher-quality food, a more transparent environment, and sustainable practices, fast casual restaurants are making it their mission to emphasize an overall pleasurable experience from start to finish. It’s an experience that has everyone talking and longer-standing fast food chains rushing to adopt the same approach.

At this point, with society discovering the best “bang for their buck” when it comes to a valuable dining experience, the model of fast casual is here to stay. Read more here.

The Rise of the Chipotle Empire and the Decline of Quick Serve

  Cartoon of Steve Ells from Animated Video by Chipotle  | chipotle.com

Cartoon of Steve Ells from Animated Video by Chipotle | chipotle.com

No one can argue that the “fast casual” restaurant chains are making their debut in America. The idea of higher-quality ingredients served at an efficient rate for a few more bucks out of your pocket is redefining the food industry, while forcing the larger fast food chains to adapt or give up the fight.

Steve Ells, Founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, initiated the rise of this new business model with the opening of the first Chipotle in 1993. Combining a passion for culinary arts, a little support from family and friends, and eventually an investment from a major restaurant chain, McDonalds, his restaurant has risen to a multi-billion dollar company in the span of two decades. Where did this restaurant plant its roots and what has made it so successful with the American public?

Applying this idea of “fast casual” service largely differed from the fast food model on which McDonalds had built their empire, and eventually led to their split with the chain in 2008. Not only did Chipotle succeed from the idea of serving “food with integrity,” they created an entirely new business model that revolutionized the existing models in the industry and left fast food chains, including McDonalds, struggling to keep up. Read more about Chipotle’s history here