Chipotle

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.

The Surprise in Chipotle’s Test Kitchen

Nate Appleman was working at A16 in San Francisco when, one day in early September, a man named Phil Petrilli decided to introduce himself to the chef.

Appleman was a Rising Star Chef from the James Beard Foundation and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Petrilli was a regional director for Chipotle who admired Appleman’s work.

But Petrilli couldn’t have prepared himself for what the chef would say when he told him he was a fan.

Results Are In for Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill reported financial results for its fourth quarter and full year ending December 31, 2010, including a 24.5 percent revenue increase from 2009, bringing revenue to $482.5 million.

The growth in revenue was the result of new restaurants not in the comparable base and a 12.6% increase in comparable restaurant sales. Comparable restaurant sales growth was primarily driven by increased traffic in the quarter.

Trickle-Down Theory

There was a time when the only place you could find Black Angus beef on a menu was at some of the nation’s finest steakhouses. But these days, Angus burgers are served at McDonald’s, Back Yard Burgers, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Smashburger and are just one of many fine-dining menu items, ingredients, and techniques that were adopted by quick-service and fast-casual restaurants over the last decade.

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.

The New Kids’ Meals

Kids’ menus have come a long way from the days when they were little more than sandwiches, soft drinks, and small fries for the small fries.

As parents increasingly seek out food that is healthful and nutritious for their children, particularly in light of America’s growing childhood-obesity crisis, restaurants have sought to provide menu items that are not only good for kids, but also taste great.

Starbucks Twice as Good as McDonald's in Media Impact

Media measurement technology firm General Sentiment released its newest brand analysis, the Fall 2010 Fast Food Industry Report. The report highlights the brands that made the most significant media impact online between September and November. Despite declining nearly 20 percent since the summer, Starbucks still topped General Sentiment’s Impact Value rankings, more than doubling the totals of second and third place brands McDonald’s and Burger King.

2010 in Review

Reporting by Blair Chancey, Sam Oches, Daniel P. Smith, Robin Van Tan, Barney Wolf & Lori Zanteson

1. BK Sold to Brazilian Investors

Becoming the decade’s biggest restaurant buyout, No. 3 burger chain Burger King Corp. was acquired by 3G Capital, a New York firm backed by Brazilian investors, for $3.3 billion in September. —BC

2. The Food Truck Obsession

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