George Green

Sloco, Jeremy Barlow & Food Fast

I consider myself a grizzled, old, cynical foodservice veteran.

After two decades in the industry, growing up in one of the nation’s top food cities, and eating hundreds of items from dozens of concepts each year, it is very hard to impress me. For this reason, I have never written an entire column on a single concept or operator.

Enough About Social Media, Here’s the Deal

Over the last four years, I have heard dozens of presentations on social media.

Most of had a common theme of: Social media is the hot new thing, its growing rapidly, and your company must be there. For lack of a better term, I have generally held the position of being an early adopting agnostic.

It was the same when the alarm sounded about the Y2K bug and the H1N1 flu a few years ago. I paid attention, did some research, and got myself involved personally and professionally in case all the hype was true. Over this time, I have reached a few conclusions.

The (Mid) Year in Review

In both my business and personal life, I always take a few minutes in July to look over the first half of the year to recalibrate and get ready for the next six months. Let’s take a look at how the industry has fared in the first half of 2011.

Interpreting the Top 100

Every year, many of us anxiously await the release of Technomic’s Fast Casual Top 100 report. Technomic’s Darren Tristano, one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, gave me an interview and a sneak peek at the report. Here are his thoughts, followed by a few of my own.

Darren, what is the size of the fast-casual segment (2010)?

Mr. Green Goes to Washington

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Each of the last two years, I have been fortunate to take part in the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. The NRA provides briefings on top issues, and attendees hear from some great speakers. However, the most important work happens when the 500 attendees get bused over to meetings with their congressmen and senators.

Yes Ron, There is a Fast Casual

Last October, I attended an industry conference and saw Panera’s founder Ron Shaich moderate a panel of great industry leaders. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I also had the chance to ask Ron a question about the development and future of the fast-casual industry. Ron answered by noting that there was no such thing as fast casual and that no consumer says, “I am going to go to a fast-casual restaurant.” Needless to say, this caused quite a buzz amongst those of us in the segment, and there has been a bit of a debate going on since then.

Insider Fast-Casual Favorites

I am often asked what I think are the hottest or best fast-casual concepts. I think it’s important to tackle that question from the consumer perspective first. Like many others in the industry, I love checking out the competition. Over the last several years, many colleagues and I have made a point to visit as many concepts as possible whenever we’re together. Out of these 50 or more concepts, here are the ones that stand out the most. This list is based entirely on the quality of the experience and not buzz in the press or industry.

Top Fast-Casual Trends for 2011

Continued Commodity Pressures

Many of the forces that caused the crazy commodity price increases several years ago are still at work: concerns about supply, rising energy costs, growing worldwide demand, and financial speculation through recently developed financial instruments. As most restaurateurs have neither the means nor knowledge to protect ourselves through contracting things out, we will continue to feel this inflationary pressure throughout 2011 and beyond.

Rise and Shine, Fast Casuals

Seven years ago, at the height of the Atkins craze, our sales were down especially at breakfast. Our amazing artisan breakfast pastries and breads stayed on the shelves. And our customers stayed at home instead of just coming in to get the specialty coffee drink that had accompanied their breakfasts.

These customers often picked up grab-and-go sandwiches and salads while in the store making their other purchases, so categories beyond breakfast were hurting too. Then eggs came to the rescue.

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