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The Rise of Fast Casual Dining and What the Independent Restaurant Owner Can Learn from It.

Fast Casual JI Restaurant Consulting

I wasn’t too long ago when restaurant goers had only three options for going out: fast food for a quick bite, casual dining for a fun night out, and fine dining for that really special occasion. Nowadays those lines are little grayer.  If you haven’t noticed already, fast casual as well as polished casual have come into the picture and is giving independent restaurant owners run for their money.

What is fast-casual? Think Panera, and the fast expanding Shake Shack. Similar to fast-food in service, fast-casuals have raised the bar with premium food products and sleek, contemporary décor and leaving paper plates at the door. Consumers see them as a step up from fast food, and are even willing to pay the extra few dollars.  Polished-casual restaurants are full service restaurant offering more contemporary fare such as T.G.I. Friday’s and the Cheesecake Factory.

The Nation’s Restaurant News reported that 85% of Americans surveyed went to a fast-casual restaurant at least once a month.  They also reported that 82% of Americans surveyed went to a casual dining restaurant once a month.

Among the few reasons people go to these places is because of consistency. The expectations of the dining experience are being met on a regular basis. They can go in every day and order the same thing, and get the same thing. The service is the same as well, usually quick and efficient. They operate with standardized systems in place which keeps the customer experience the same, time and time again.

Independent restaurant owners could learn a lot by observing the systems of a fast casual restaurant. The food component alone is crucial to success. In a corporate or franchise restaurant, there are specifics on how to make every single menu item down to every little measurements. Many restaurants even post pictures of what the dish is suppose to look like and written instructions.  This controls portion size which also allows control on food costs and accurate cost reporting.  Many times, in an independent restaurant environment, there are no standardized recipes or systems in place to ensure consistency.  How many times have you gone to a restaurant and were disappointed because the food or service wasn’t as good as last time?

The success of McDonald’s is not because they have the best burger or food in the world, rather it is because customers know exactly what they are getting time and time again.  Of course, this is all related to delivering a positive, memorable experience to the guest. Even though fast-casuals charge more than traditional fast-food places, consumers willingly pay because they are well taken care of.   They get what they expected.

In any case, the systems in place essentially give employees the tools to satisfy their customer’s needs. Judging by market trends, these fast-casual restaurants have their systems mastered. They will continue to gain their piece of the market, and independent restaurant owner need to be more attentive to their operations to stay in the game.