Zagat, the restaurant rating service, issued its first-ever report on the fast-casual industry this week, finding that the quality of the food—and the people responsible for the menu—was a top priority for fast-casual customers.

The report found that a full 94 percent of consumers ranked food and ingredient quality among the most important attributes of fast-casual restaurants. In addition, 65 percent of consumers said they would be more likely to visit a fast-casual restaurant if it was “gourmet” or chef-driven, while 78 percent agreed that they’d like to see more local chefs open fast-casual restaurants.

Cleanliness (46 percent), value (45 percent), and convenience and speed (39 percent) followed food and ingredient quality as the most important attributes of fast casuals. Décor and ambiance trailed behind at 7 percent.

When it comes healthful trends that have dominated the restaurant industry conversation in the last few years, only 5 percent of customers stated it was very important to them that fast casuals have gluten-free options, while 69 percent said it was not at all important. Meanwhile, GMO-free foods and organic foods ranked higher as very important to consumers (19 percent and 14 percent, respectively), as did made-to-order foods, which were very important to 54 percent.

Zagat’s report also ranked the top fast-casual brands (with 2–50 locations) in 16 major U.S. markets. Top performers included Cambodian sandwich brand Num Pang in New York City, healthy eating chain LYFE Kitchen in San Francisco, Rick Bayless’s Mexican joint Tortas Fronteras in Chicago, kebab upstart Pincho Factory in Miami, and the growing falafel brand Amsterdam Falafelshop in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Luke’s Lobster, Torchy’s Tacos, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Dog Haus, and Tender Greens were among the brands that ranked in the top five in multiple markets.

Click here to learn more about Zagat’s fast-casual report, which surveyed more than 6,000 consumers across the country.

By Sam Oches

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, News