Christine Blank

High Prices? No Problem

Fast casuals thrive despite higher check averages.

Zaxby's new Cobb Zalad offers premium fast casual menu item for a higher cost.
Zaxby's has found success with its new Cobb Zalad, despite its higher price point.

The fast-casual category has been the fastest-growing restaurant segment over the past two years, according to market research firm Technomic, as operators in the category continue to effectively balance higher-quality, convenient foods with a more upscale environment.

This success has come even as fast casuals offer higher price points than traditional quick serves. A recent Technomic report found that consumers are happily paying more at fast casuals in both the lunch and dinner dayparts.

Fall Flavors Show Up Early

Pumpkin reigns as operators rush to capitalize on popular seasonal trends.

Krispy Kreme released its pumpkin-themed fall lineup a month early this year.
Krispy Kreme released its pumpkin-themed fall lineup a month early this year. Krispy Kreme

Quick-service operators are launching seasonal menu items earlier this fall in an effort to beat their competition to the punch. From pumpkin doughnuts to caramel apple frozen yogurt, fall-flavored menu items are popping up across the industry even before the season has officially begun.

“We usually launch [fall products] in October. But this year, for the first time, we are bringing them out in September,” says Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme. “That’s what the industry seems to be doing.”

Daily Deals Evolve

Operators still look to daily-deal services to drive business.

NYC Bagel Deli sold more than 10,500 Groupon deals for the brand last May.
Corey Kaplan, owner of NYC Bagel Deli, says customers bought more than 10,500 Groupon deals for the brand last May.

Two years ago, daily-deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and a host of other regional and national players boomed as customers clamored for discounted products and services. Many of the sites eventually closed up shop as the trend faded and the space became too saturated.

Italian Invasion

Brands rush to fill the fast-casual Italian niche.

Brands are applying the fast casual model to modernize Italian cuisine.
This rendering shows the potential interior of Fazoli's yet-to-be-named Italian fast casual.

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Modern Italian cuisine is the next big thing in fast casual. Or at least, that’s what some major quick-service operators are banking on.

Fazoli’s and Sbarro each plan to debut a fast-casual Italian concept in the near future, following in the footsteps of successful regional brands fusing popular Italian dishes like pasta and pizza with the growing trend toward premium ingredients and customization.

Mobile Makeover

Mobile marketing use increases as quick serves try to attract on-the-go customers.

Burger King used a geo location marketing campaign with its french fries launch.
Burger King used a geo-location marketing campaign with its french fries launch in 2011.

Quick-service operators increasingly have the ability to target their customers right where they are. The industry’s use of mobile marketing has grown exponentially over the last two years, and marketers are projected to spend $1.2 billion on mobile display advertising (not including smartphone apps, mobile coupons, and other mobile ads) by 2014, according to eMarketer.

The Table Service Upgrade

Firehouse Subs, BurgerFi add table service to score real estate in Florida town.

Fast casual brands added table service to open on Winter Park's Park Avenue.
Park Avenue in Winter Park, Florida, only allows restaurants with a table-service model.

The city of Winter Park, Florida, was in a quandary. Up-and-coming fast-casual concepts Firehouse Subs and BurgerFi wanted to move into the town’s upscale dining and shopping district, Park Avenue, but business owners and city officials were worried that the posh image would become tarnished with the addition of limited-service operators.

As a compromise, the two brands did something unusual in the quick-service industry: They added table-service components.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Burger King’s new delivery service could open doors for other brands.

Wrap concept BSkis in Chapel Hill successfully delivers food to campus students.
College eateries like [B]Ski's in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have already found delivery to be a major sales vehicle.

Burger King hopes its new delivery service will be a great profit-driver for the chain, as the company is banking on customers to put in large orders for office lunches, birthday parties, and other gatherings in the select cities where the service is offered.

But it may not be the only brand with a careful eye on the BK Delivers service. Other non-pizza quick serves might be hoping for its success to validate investing in the space, which could open new sales opportunities in urban communities.

Nurturing Boston

Quick serves step up to support volunteers, responders after Boston bombings.

The Boston Fire Department was treated to free meals at Firehouse Subs.
The Boston Fire Department was treated to free meals at Firehouse Subs' Copley Square location.

As soon as he learned about the April 15th Boston bombings, Dave Tucci, the New England area representative for Firehouse Subs’ DMA, called the Firehouse franchisee closest to the bombings.

Tucci was relieved to find out that all employees at Firehouse’s Copley Square location, just one mile away from the first blast, were OK. The store’s only damage was its sign, which was lying on the ground. Still, the atmosphere in the area was chaos.

A Quick-Serve Rebound?

Technomic report shows strong growth for some chains in 2012.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit enjoyed the best growth among quick service restaurants.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit enjoyed the best growth among quick-service restaurants in 2012.

In a sign that the economic landscape might finally be rebounding for quick serves, early results from Technomic’s upcoming “Top 500 Restaurant Chain” report reveal that the fastest-growing limited-service restaurant chains in the U.S. realized average sales increases of 22.3 percent between 2011 and 2012.

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