Fast-casual Dining: Taking the Food Industry by Storm

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Fast-casual Dining: Taking the Food Industry by Storm

Do you remember when fast food was the hot new dining trend? The cheap food craze faded and people are no longer happily eating it. The restaurant space has changed and is directly affected by the demographic. Customers have shifted their favor to “fast-casual” dining.

This new idea has taken the industry by storm. Fast-casual dining is essentially a restaurant that offers the ease and convenience of fast food complimented by an inviting “sit-down” atmosphere. They usually offer a menu with better quality ingredients and have a unique architecture that stimulates the perception of fresh, wholesome, food.

Who doesn’t love a chef-driven restaurant with quick turnaround times?


The millennial demographic are looking for healthier options, but because of their busy schedules, they don’t want to spend the time to sit down to eat. The proof is in the numbers. Fast casual restaurants earn less than 50 percent of their profit from full sit down meals. Instead, they see an increase in demand for speedy meals.

Let’s face it; consumers are looking for the best value proposition. So the question is, what sets these restaurants apart from places cheaper sit-down places like Applebee’s?

Fast casual restaurants usually include:

  • Menu
    • The menu usually has better quality food and ingredients that include healthy options. They also appeal to millennials by offering vegetarian options, locally sourced food, and alcoholic beverages.
    • Customers order off a large menu board, just like at Wendys or Taco Bell, and can sit down and enjoy their meal in a leisurely fashion, similar to dining at Applebee’s.
  • Unique Architecture and Equipment
    • The architecture is behind the perception of healthy. Restaurants like Noodles and Company or Chipotle allow customers to see inside the kitchen. They often allow customers to customize and choose their meal while directly talking to the “chef.”
    • The commercial equipment allows the customer to see exactly what they are getting and removes the need for wait staff. People are basically serving themselves and are more confident that they will enjoy their meal. Additionally, the speediness of the food preparation increases traffic for lunch and turns tables over faster.
    • Lastly, having an exposed kitchen with a “food bar” lets the retail space have more tables to serve a higher volume of customers with fewer employees to serve them. Talk about a win-win!
  • Area/Location
    • It is common construction companies, such as Horizon Retail Construction, to conduct a survey to test the surrounding demographic. The intent of the survey is to build in an area that is saturated with people in a higher income bracket.
    • People love to eat when they are out and about. It benefits the business to be surrounded by retail. When people are shopping, they can work up an appetite and take a break to recoup.
    • Fast-casual restaurants will have outdoor seating and sometimes include a drive through or take out service.
  • Price
    • Customers are willing to pay more money when the food is perceived to be better. This is driven in part by health-conscious consumers who are much more aware of the nutrition of the food available at restaurants.
    • The average price for fast food is about $5-7. The “optimal” price for a fast-casual lunch is around $7-10.

The Restaurant Rat Race

The broader restaurant industry has been struggling and seen a serious decline in sales. Quick service and full-service have plateaued while fast casual is growing in the double digits, even in the midst of a recession. This growth has incentivised bigger brands, like Dennys and Cracker Barrel, to join the race. Instead of waiting around for customers to adapt, the food industry has decided to replicate the competition.

Many of these chains have decided to create a totally new restaurant as a scaled-down version of itself. Dennys created a new restaurant called The Den. They still have the Grand Slam on the menu so to empower their brand.

Tons of companies are following suit:

  • Cracker Barrel created Holler & Dash which is a biscuit concept to target a younger audience.
  • Texas Roadhouse released Jaggers as a lunch spot for quick quality burgers.
  • Sbarro introduced a build-your-own joint and specialty pies to give an artisan feel to their already existing product.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings invested in two different chains—R-Taco and PizzaRev.
  • Starbucks released a breakfast and lunch menu to offer food and get customers in during lunch.

Chipotle and Panera Bread have become influencers in the food industry. They both hold top spots in their respective food categories and have seen a massive increase in revenue. Panera, recently acquired by JAB holding company, has seen their sales triple.

It is obvious these big players are adapting to the fast-casual trend for a reason. The market for fast-casual food has grown by 550 percent. Americans spent more than $21 billion at fast casual restaurants last year alone.

So what does that mean for the construction market?

Fast-casual dining now controls 5 percent of all restaurant traffic, mainly because of the consistency in the atmosphere. Consumers like to feel as if they have been there before. This idea plays a crucial part in success. Retail stores like Target, Aspen Dental, Verizon, and Walgreens see incredible results because they appeal to the need for familiarity.

Horizon Retail Construction has generated hundreds of famous stores simply because they can build and replicate architecture at a tremendous scale, such as:

  • Best Buy
  • Eyemart
  • Foot Locker
  • H&R Block
  • Sbarro
  • Verizon
  • Marcus Theatres
  • Starbucks

Their list of clients is immense, but that does not deter them from advancing into the fast-casual market. Because Horizon Retail Construction uses a remote workforce, they can immediately scale and build in multiple locations. Their attention to detail allows them to cohesively work with their clients to generate a perfect end product.

If all of the big brands are making the move, shouldn’t you?

It is evident that fast-casual dining will expand. Updating stores has proven to be an ineffective way to adapt to this change in dining culture. Begin with a new idea, establish familiarity and increase breadth in your existing brand. Now is the time of growth in this industry and Horizon Retail Construction can help you go from the drawing board to making money in the blink of an eye.

Click here for more information or to schedule a meeting with Horizon Retail Construction.

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