The lines between quick service and fast casual have blurred to unprecedented degrees. You can thank the digital revolution of COVID-19 and how convenience became a trademark of brands across foodservice, sit-down restaurants included. Yet one thing that hasn’t vanished—the entrepreneurial nature of the sector’s most innovative category. 

Fast casual exploded out of the Great Recession due to its variety and nuance. In some ways, it was the counter-service world’s long-awaited answer to the strength of independent restaurants. 

And so arrived brands of every food category and background, all capitalizing on the strengths of both segments, but with designs to grow. COVID didn’t change this. In truth, it might only serve to accelerate it. Fast casuals are emerging more connected and stronger than ever, with tech-centric models and even drive-thrus. 

Regardless of what’s changed, though, the unique DNA of these upstarts continues to fuel fast casual’s trajectory. Our annual 40/40 List is now in its sixth iteration, recognizing 40 brands with fewer than 40 locations that we believe can be the next big thing. This group has weathered the storm and is ready to thrive in the most dynamic operating environment on record.

Check out the entire 40/40 List here.







Fast Casual, Special Reports