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In recent years, fast casual has cast a shadow over traditional fast food. Touting higher quality, fresher foods, these concepts are becoming major players within the greater foodservice industry. Established fast food brands need not convert to fast casual, but they could stand to learn a few things from these luminaries on the rise.
Steve Jones, managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a professional services and investment firm, says that consumers today value attributes that are not necessarily the same as they were a decade ago.
“What people are looking for are the three F’s: fast, fresh, and friendly,” Jones says. “What I think these quick-serve restaurants are starting to recognize is they’ve got to be doing that.”
Fast food operators should not overhaul their entire concepts to become fast casuals, Jones says, since fluctuations in the economy can affect whether consumers are willing to pay the higher price points that are characteristic of fast casuals. That being said, consumers are more likely to “trade up” during more prosperous periods unless fast food improves on the three F’s, Jones adds.
Most quick serves already pride themselves on being quick, but “fresh” and “friendly” could prove more difficult. As Jones explains, the perception of freshness goes beyond the food.
“The fresh is in the quality of the food, but I would also refer to that as the freshness of the store,” Jones says. “First of all, is the restaurant clean? Has it been updated?”
JLL clients Wendy’s and Arby’s are both making strides in updating their appearance. The new Wendy’s design includes a better view of the kitchen, a lounge area, fireplace, and electric outlets for plug-in devices—all encouraging customers to linger as they often do at fast casuals.
While Arby’s new unit models are about 20 percent smaller than the classic locations, the brand is experimenting with new design elements that harken back to traditional delis. These interior features include wood accents, communal tables, and cooler case displaying the various meats. (Read QSR’s feature on Arby’s recent revitalization.)
“It all has to tie together with the quality of the food, the branding that they’re giving out to the public as well as their physical facility,” he says.
Some quick serves, like Chick-fil-A, have already perfected the friendly component. Jones cautions that a major overhaul in customer service could prove difficult for larger chains using a franchise model.
Nevertheless, a growing host of technology from mobile ordering to mobile payment will also offer companies an unprecedented peek into the mind of their consumers. By collecting more data, Jones says, restaurants—from quick serve to fast casual to fine dining—will better understand their customer and thus be better able to serve them.
By Nicole Duncan