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There’s no doubt that the fast-casual industry is the most exciting restaurant category today. According to a recent report from market research firm Euromonitor International, global fast-casual sales grew 10.4 percent in 2015 versus 5.7 percent for the entire restaurant industry, while fast-casual traffic was up 6 percent compared with 1 percent for the whole industry.
But while customization-friendly brands like Chipotle helped to define the fast-casual industry, newer, more premium brands are advancing the quality and convenience available in a fast-casual setting.
That’s right: We’ve entered the age of Fast Casual 2.0.
Just like the difference between quick service and fast casual, the difference between fast casual and Fast Casual 2.0 isn’t so black and white. The fast-casual industry pioneered a dining experience where higher-quality ingredients, enhanced hospitality, and cozier dining rooms could mesh with lower prices and counter service, and Fast Casual 2.0 retains those touch points.
But Fast Casual 2.0 brands take those touch points to a whole other level. While they sometimes offer the same kind of menu customization Chipotle made famous, they tend to be more chef-driven, with signature items crafted by a team of culinary professionals. These brands often focus on an overall experience rather than just the value of what they offer; that generally includes an enhanced beverage program with beer and wine. Their ingredients are high quality, often local, usually healthy or without additives. And their growth strategies are tempered, with new-unit expansion and profits becoming secondary ambitions to other long-term goals like community development and an investment in suppliers and vendors.
Want to learn more about Fast Casual 2.0 and how it will affect the restaurant industry in the years to come? QSR will host a panel at the annual National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, entitled “Fast Casual 2.0: The Next Great Limited-Service Wave.” Moderated by QSR editor Sam Oches, the panel will feature Mendocino Farms founder and CEO Mario Del Pero; &pizza cofounder and CEO Michael Lastoria; and Aurify Brands cofounder and co-CEO John Rigos.
The panel will be hosted in room S405 at Chicago’s McCormick Place at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 23.