What is Fast Casual Dining?

Fast casual restaurant concepts offer the convenience of fast food without the full service of fine dining. Fast casual dining consists of a more inviting sit-down ambiance, and often, the ability to build your own meal. This restaurant concept – a mash-up of fast food and casual dining – has been one of the strongest segments in the restaurant industry over the past decade. It continues to thrive as it evolves to fit customer’s needs and preferences.

Fast Casual Dining

By definition a fast-casual restaurant offers the ease and convenience of fast food, but with a more inviting sit-down atmosphere.  The term comes from the concept’s hybrid nature — it’s a blend of fast-food dining and casual dining. Fast casual borrows a little from fast food and a little from casual dining. Fast-casual industry leaders include Panera Bread, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwich Shop, and Chipotle, Mexican Grill. Fast-casual establishments feature a more upscale and diverse menu selection; tend to offer organic and sometimes farm-to-table ingredients. The raw materials used in fast-casual eateries like Chipotle and Panera are often obtained from trusted farms and co-operatives.

Fast casual typically has no table service; orders are placed and paid for, and customers are then directed to an assembly area where their food is ready and waiting for them to take to a table. Some chains use a slight variant — they will take your order, let you proceed to your table, and a food runner will bring your meal to you. The ambiance is more upscale compared to fast food, with restaurants like Panera evening featuring fireplaces.

The Future of Fast Casuals

Some of the largest and most successful fast-casual chains are process-driven. They know how to manage complex — and massive — tasks without sacrificing the quality of their food or service. They hire, train and manage staff in multiple jurisdictions. They move customers quickly through lines during peak lunch hours. They handle food production and food safety for a vast network of restaurants without, they hope, encountering the kind of contamination outbreaks.

Fast-casuals are also not a fixed concept. If these operations were the first to recognize that Americans wanted a new style of restaurant, they must now be the ones to acknowledge that customer behaviors constantly evolve.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, millennials are the major spenders in this area like they are in many other food industry sectors as well. Millennials have 2.3 percent of their meals at a restaurant, which is roughly one trip every other week. As this habit grows, more grocery stores are now offering prepared meals, or improving their existing options. More restaurants and fast-casual chains are offering delivery and making their to-go menu options more accessible.

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