Putting Fresh First
The farm-to-table movement is elevating the game for many fast casual restaurants, trickling down from fine dining establishments to more wallet-friendly eateries. Over the past several years, consumers have demanded greater transparency in the food supply chain, spurring a fervent interest in eating locally and responsibly grown food and knowing exactly where their ingredients come from. Fast casual restaurants have seized the opportunity to cater to the consumer’s demand for freshness and quality while in turn supporting local farmers. What’s more, using better ingredients means eliminating many additives and preservatives, which elevates the menu’s overall quality.
This interest in working more closely with local farmers aligns with the fast casual restaurant movement of prioritizing community development and investment over growth, expansion and IPOs. In a serious sign of commitment, some fast casual brands invest in their suppliers and vendors, taking a major step to ensure the longevity of their relationship and strength of the supply chain.
Service with a Smile
Fast casual restaurants are a particular dining hybrid. A step up from quick service and not quite on par with fine dining, fast casual takes elements from both to create a new experience that resonates well with cost-conscious consumers. Recent trends point to fast casual eateries striving to distinguish themselves from fast food by offering fine dining touches such as runners who clear tables and more sophisticated tableware, such as a fabric tablecloth and proper metal cutlery.
In addition, fast casual restaurants want customers to remember their great service as a differentiator. These businesses place a greater emphasis on training staff on superior interpersonal interactions so that an employee is more likely to greet a returning customer by name — or at least a friendly, “So nice to see you again!
A Focus on Design
Popular fast casual restaurants emphasize not just great food but also great ambience. A growing number of owners and operators are putting more thought into the look and feel of their dining spaces. One approach among small chains is to keep the building’s architecture uniform to preserve branding, while adding unique touches to each restaurant’s interiors. This adds a sense of independence to each location while maintaining a sense of cohesiveness overall. A shop in New Mexico, for example, might have a Southwest color palette and flourish while the New York City location might feature a sleek urban interior.
Making Menu Magic
At most fast casual restaurants, customers are more likely to encounter thoughtful signature dishes designed by highly trained chefs and culinary professionals than they are to find the kind of generic offerings typical of casual menus everywhere. Fast casual offers great food at a great price point, and working with experienced, creative chefs is a big part of making that happen. What’s more, a fast casual restaurant’s reputation often is built on those magical menu items customers can experience only with that dining brand.
Cheers to That
It’s nearly impossible to find alcoholic beverages at QSR locations but fast casual restaurants are standing out from the crowd by incorporating a well curated lineup of libations, usually craft beer and wine, on their menus. While the selection typically isn’t vast, there are usually enough options to satisfy a thirsty crowd, again with budget considerations in mind.
Given the rise of the fast casual phenomenon, it’s clear that consumers are hungry for a new kind of dining experience that caters to their time-strapped lives without draining their wallets. Fast casual restaurants offer an opportunity to make great food, work with great partners and do business a better way.