The fast-casual restaurant industry sector started to evolve in the 1990s. When consumers started to look for healthier options and with better ingredients than fast food offered, fast casual really took off in the 2010s. Also in part, by effects from of the “Great Recession,” i.e., rising living expenses and food costs increasing.

There were roughly 12,300 fast casuals in the U.S., with sales of about $19 billion.

According to a “Fast Casual Nation” article in the Washington Post, this sector changed the way many people dined. They were looking for an alternative between traditional fast-food and the casual-dining categories.

In response to fresher and better-for-you food, healthier concepts began to evolve.

And they continue to change the way people eat. Here are eight reasons why we think the healthy fast-casual category is here to not only stay but also grow.

  • Millennial, Gen Z and younger demographic are demanding better quality and more transparency. Their eating habits are much different than their parents and previous generations.
  • Food interests are not necessarily flavor specific, i.e., Mexican or Asian. The more general healthy menu items are capturing a much wider audience and frequency.
  • Consumers have become more health conscious. This has been a key driver to the healthier concept.
  • Company employees, which tend to be from this younger demographic are demanding this kind of foodways. This is particularly true when catering.
  • It offers a lot of a lot of variety and protein options. This has been proven true by many industry research studies.
  • It satisfies the needs for growing market segments. These segments include vegan, gluten free at the top of the list.
  • The baby boomer generation is turning to healthier food options. They see this as a tool to add longevity to their lives.
  • Plant based menu alternatives appear to be here to stay. At least for the foreseeable future. Sustainability and healthy kids menus are also a demand from today’s customer.


The healthy fast casual category is on fire. Nothing is totally recession proof, but we’ve been able to not only survive but also thrive during these difficult pandemic times. Some say this is a trend that will eventually fade. Customer demand for healthier food alternatives is something that will not. It is going to continue to maintain momentum and grow.

Clay Donato is vice president/development for SoFresh He and his family have extensive restaurant experience in the United States and Canada.

Fast Casual, Outside Insights, Story