Upcoming Trends in the Fast Casual Restaurant Industry
Fast casual restaurants are the fast food scene’s newest trend. These restaurants have skyrocketed in popularity over the past five years, with consumers delighting in the availability of healthier fast food alternatives. The meteoric success of this niche has restaurateurs throughout the country asking, “What’s next for this sector of the restaurant industry?”
A wider variety of cuisines
In the eyes of many consumers, the fast casual restaurant trend started with Chipotle. Their healthy offerings and quality ingredients were a welcome change from the usual fast food scene, but their offerings were solidly within the category of Mexican-inspired cuisine.
Now, as more fast casual restaurants are entering the marketplace, there’s a much greater diversity of food options. From Mediterranean to Asian, fast casual restaurants are becoming markedly more diverse.
More burger-focused restaurants
Fast casual burger restaurants (think Shake Shack and Five Guys) are having a massive influence on the burger marketplace, which is the U.S.’s largest dining–out category. These chains are expanding rapidly due to their high-quality and natural ingredients, cooked to order meals, and a huge emphasis on customer experience.
In a country that’s in love with hamburgers, it’s a trend that consumers are more than happy to support. And, hamburgers aren’t the only well-loved food item making waves in the fast casual industry. Pizza is vying for a share of the market, too.
Fast casual restaurants are seeking out the brunch demographic
Traditionally, fast casual restaurants have been go-to’s for meals like lunch and dinner, but that’s slowly changing. Take Toast Cafe, a casual eatery in North Carolina that opened in 2005 and seems poised for big growth as the company seeks to expand to 25 cafes by 2016. The owners realized that there was a lack of better breakfast options within this restaurant niche, and set out to change that. Continued expansion in the brunch arena is also good news for potential franchisees—they can own a business that closes by mid-afternoon, leaving more time for other obligations outside of work.
Toast Cafe is just one example of how fast casual restaurants are experimenting with different types of food, along with timing that doesn’t fit squarely into the operating schedules of many other restaurants. It’s no surprise that their popularity is skyrocketing.
Fast casual restaurants are going public
Fast casual restaurants are raking in money, and their success has led to many of these businesses going public. According to the EY Global IPO Trends Report for the 4th quarter of 2014, there was a record 288 deals in the fast casual industry, worth $95.8 billion. This trend will only continue, with restaurants like Shake Shack, Wingstop, and more regularly becoming public companies.
The influx of cash means that these companies can open more storefronts and enter new markets, or even acquire other companies as they continue to grow. Which is great news for consumers who are dedicated to eating healthier food with less preservatives, without spending the time or money needed at a traditional sit-down restaurant.