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A decade ago, fast casual underwent a genesis. Once a niche category with a few players spread across a handful of cuisines—say, Chipotle and Baja Fresh covering Mexican and Panera Bread and Corner Bakery tackling the bakery-café space—fast casual suddenly became the hottest thing in foodservice. The Great Recession pushed casual customers to trade down, while the rise in foodieism drove young consumers—particularly millennials—to seek out higher-quality eats.
Fast casual stood right at the intersection of value and quality, and for the last 10 years has filled in every corner of the U.S. with every manner of food served quickly and affordably.
But, just like any other trend, fast casual has also worn thin on some. And with mobile ordering and off-premises experiences giving quick-service chains a boost in competition for market share, could it be that fast casual isn’t the darling it once was? Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, says that, prior to the coronavirus, the fast-casual segment was experiencing lower growth rates compared with years past, especially as oversaturation in restaurants created difficulty for expanding chains to find opportunities to drive unit volumes necessary to building sustainable restaurants.
QSR partnered with Tristano in this first-ever Future of Fast Casual Report, which explores consumer sentiment toward the fast-casual industry prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The report offers valuable insights into customer preferences and ordering habits within fast casual. And while the pandemic and resulting economic downturn will drastically alter the restaurant landscape, the report's findings offer a glimpse at what customers wanted from their favorite restaurants before the coronavirus—and what they will likely want once it's in the rearview mirror.
"Although great uncertainty exists from the COVID-19 crisis, insights from this report will help suppliers and operators plan their strategy and manage scenarios for the current year," Tristano says. "The report data and insights remain relevant as the industry prepares and plans to navigate the new normal."
Here, we've dug deeper into six menu categories within the fast-casual space to explore how brands were innovating—pre-coronavirus—in an effort to rise above the competition. Take a glimpse at some of the data below, and click on the category links to get a deeper dive into the state of fast casual, including insights from Tristano on each of the six categories.
FC category frequency
Reasons to Return
Most recent fast-casual experience
Ordering in the Future
The Foodservice Results team conducted a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of fast-casual consumers in the U.S. using an online survey sample. Participants in this research were screened for frequency of use as well as numerous demographic characteristics in order to ensure that the respondent base was reflective of the U.S. fast-casual market. Leveraging insights from numerous industry experts, the finalized survey was completed by 1,004 fast-casual consumers during fieldwork. To ensure a relevant respondent base was achieved, all participants were screened to only include those who had at least one fast-casual occasion in the last 30 days. An extensive cross tabulation of the respondent sample data was conducted in order to identify major trends, demographic/behavioral themes, and other nuances in the data. Following analysis of all data, this report was developed to communicate key findings and important data from the study.