The Reasons Why Fast-Casual Is So Popular

The Reasons Why Fast-Casual Is So Popular

Why Is Fast Casual Dining So Popular?

Ever since 1999, the market for fast casual food has significantly grown in popularity. Even though the fast food segment has developed, as well, the discrepancy between the two is still noteworthy. This leads to the question: what triggered the popularity of fast-casual dining? But, before we get to that, what exactly does fast casual dining mean?

Defining Fast Casual Dining

This restaurant concept is a blend of casual dining and fast food. Essentially, fast-casual restaurants offer the convenience and ease we associate with fast food. Nonetheless, the atmosphere is more relaxing and inviting. That is not all, though; there are also notable distinctions when it comes to food.

That is to say, restaurants in the fast-casual dining segment use better quality ingredients – especially if we were to compare them to those used in fast-food establishments. Other representative characteristics are fresh and wholesome food (in some cases), first-class décor, a perception of freshness, fair pricing, flexible offerings, friendly and welcoming employees.

As we’ve already noted, the roots of the fast-casual dining concept go back to the 1990s, when chains such as Au Bon Pain and Fuddruckers were opened.

At that time, they introduced a more up-scale dining version, in comparison to the popular and cheap McDonald’s and Subway. What truly separated the two categories was the commitment to providing a better dining experience, both in terms of food and atmosphere.

Fresh Food

In line with a survey conducted by, one of the primary appeals of fast casual dining is, in fact, that the food is made specifically for the customer. On the other side, fast food restaurants usually serve pre-assembled meals.

Furthermore, customers expect high-quality and fresh ingredients. As for the range of food provided by these establishments, it varies. Usually, fast casual restaurants serve sandwiches, Italian food, salads, pizzas, and the list may go on. Also, you'll find that some of the most common types of equipment used to cook and prep these types of foods are: panini grills, fast portion steamers, high-speed ovens, and conveyor toasters.

Moving on, you should note that the prices tend to be higher when it comes to fast casual dining – higher than in the case of fast-food establishments, of course.

Concurrently, the prices are much more affordable in comparison with fancier establishments, as is expected. Still, it would be safe to say that the price-quality ratio is on point – which is one of the main appeals of fast-casual dining.

According to industry experts, the price point ranges from $9 to $13 per receipt.

Pleasant Environment

Generally speaking, quick-service restaurants don’t encourage customers to hang around after finishing a meal. The plastic furniture and the constant hustle and bustle make you want to leave as soon as you’ve finished your meal.

On the other hand, the atmosphere in a fast-casual restaurant is much more pleasant and enjoyable. That is to say, most establishments feature upholstered booths as well as low-key lighting. Thus, they encourage customers to linger over their meals and truly relish them.

Fast Casual Dining Is Attractive

Due to the continued popularity of the fast-casual industry, many chefs wonder if they should go down this path or not.

Even though the fast-food industry is enhancing its ingredients in order to remain competitive, people are more oriented to fast-casual restaurants, as opposed to fast-food restaurants.

That is to say, America has renounced its status as a fast-food nation in exchange for being a fast-casual nation.

It’s a well-known fact that more and more people are eating far away from home. This is due to the fast-paced lifestyles they lead. So, how come the fast-food industry no longer addresses their needs?

For one thing, the quality of the meals is impaired. To be more specific, most of the meals are processed, featuring numerous chemicals.

On the other hand, the fast-casual dining scene offers something else: fairly convenient prices and higher-quality meals. Since more and more people are concerned about nutrition nowadays, they’d much rather pay the extra sum of money in order to get a better quality meal than save some bucks and have a meal that lacks nutritional value.

On that note, the fast-casual food industry considers the customer demands for better food while offering excellent value even for modest means.

Over the years, this industry has shown to be interested in sourcing, health, ethics, and value – features that coincide with the expectations that most customers have of the food industry.

Fast Casual Dining Is Convenient for Families

Another reason why casual dining has grown to be so popular is its convenience for families. In comparison to a full-service venue, fast-casual establishments are much more affordable, while offering food of high quality.

Moving on, fast casual dining restaurants actually incorporate what families are looking for: that is the quality you find in full-service venues combined with the speed of a quick-service establishment.

This could only mean one thing; this provides the best out of the two worlds – especially for families. The ambiance is much more pleasant, which is important for most people. The speed element is just as fundamental, considering that families with children don’t have the time to wait, but they do, however, prefer nutritious, high-quality meals.

That being said, it’s easy to understand why the full-service industry has started to decline.

On the other hand, the casual dining segment isn’t attractive to families with children only. Young people that don’t afford to pay a lot for eating out find the casual dining sector to fit their expectations and needs much better.

The food is fairly priced, the quality of the food is very good, and we must also mention the variety of meals to choose from.

Fast Casual Dining Is Expected to Grow Even Further

To be frank, not everyone understands all the hype about fast casual dining. Nonetheless, it would seem that this food segment is much more appealing to consumers, in comparison with its counterpart – namely the fast food industry. Oddly enough, the fast-casual dining segment is growing, whereas the other ones aren’t.

Presently, the fast-casual dining segment has 5 percent of all restaurant traffic. In 2000, it controlled only 1 percent. As you can clearly notice, the growth was significant and steady.

In return, establishments in the fast food industry have started to implement new tactics, in order to mimic their competition. For example, McDonald’s introduced the option of creating your own burger, for a more personalized approach.

On the other hand, Wendy’s remodeled their restaurants to make them cozier and more welcoming. In the meantime, Subway has added new ingredients such as avocado.

Fast Casual Dining Establishments Are Diversifying Their Menu

In order to address customer demands in terms of dining, fast casual restaurants are introducing several changes, as well. To be more specific, they included breakfast dayparts while expanding their menu, and making them much more diverse.

Why is that? That’s because the restaurant traffic during breakfast hours noted a significant growth, whereas the restaurant traffic during lunch and dinner hours diminished.

This isn’t all, though; according to this source, total restaurant morning meal visits are anticipated to grow by no less than 7 percent in the future.

Moving on, by introducing plenty of breakfast dining options, these establishments aim at addressing the needs of the customers, while altering the type of experience offered.

At the same time, it seems that 84 percent of the consumers indicate that healthy dining options matter to them when it comes to dining out. In the meantime, 57 percent of consumers consider the price when they choose a dining establishment. Nevertheless, they are willing to pay more if the quality of the served food is better.

This is why casual dining is prone to expand even further – because it aims at offering exactly what consumers want. That is to say, it combines fresh meals, high-quality ingredients, a cozy atmosphere, and friendly service.

Not to mention that the breakfast category is a unique opportunity that establishments should take full advantage of. While it’s true that the ever-changing dynamics of the target audience shouldn’t be overlooked, fast casual restaurants should acknowledge change and implement it, when needed.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: casual dining restaurants should understand the way in which the customer profile is likely to change. At the same time, the location’s trade area and the competition are worth taking into account.

The most successful fast-casual chains know how to implement all these elements for unmatched success. They know how to manage important tasks without jeopardizing the quality and freshness of their food.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it would be safe to say that the fast-casual dining industry is continuing to expand. As the popularity of its counterparts is declining, fast-casual keeps growing. As a matter of fact, it is likely to change the facet of the food industry as we know it.

That’s primarily because it incorporates everything the consumers expect from a restaurant: that is high-quality, nutritious meals, a cozy atmosphere, fast service, and fair pricing. With the right approach, the fast-casual dining sector is definitely going to become even more popular in the future.

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