Yet fast casual remains a singular force in food service, one that continues to dominate the cultural landscape. So, a little more than a decade into its reign, we thought we’d check in on the industry: what do consumers want from a fast casual experience, what are they actually getting, and how can operators start to bridge the difference? What concepts most excite consumers, which seem passé at this point, and what can QSR and casual dining operators learn from all of this? These are some of the questions we set out to answer in our 2019 Fast Casual Food Industry Report.
The Cheesecake Factory, everybody’s favorite ‘everything under the sun’ casual dine-in, is going fast casual, rolling out a piloted pan-Asian fast casual concept in a tony Los Angeles suburb. The new location, called the Social Monk (more on the name and the monk later) will look to capitalize on food service and fast casual trends, and when an avowed leader of the casual dine-in segment is jumping into the fast casual life raft, it merits some contemplation (yes, that is a monk joke).
You don’t need a business blog to tell you that fast casual is big (we know: you come for the business but stay for the fun).
With lower overhead than dine-in restaurants and a fresher, less industrial factory vibe than QSRs, they have been the thing that food dreams are made of ever since Chipotle went from 16 Colorado stores to national dominance in a little under five years.
Chipotle has a cheesy problem, more specifically a queso one. After testing the new product in Colorado and California, the food purveyor—whose last 18 months have been, well, challenging—rushed it to market with much, much fanfare and the results have been less than impressive. According to Business Insider, only about 15% of customers are actually ordering the product, and it's reception on social media has been somewhere between caustic and molten.
Pieology and Blaze are both in the midst of rapid expansions as they compete to become the nation’s fast-casual pizza of choice. Both have over 100 national locations and impressive sales numbers: Pieology’s average unit volume last year was $1.5 million, Blaze’s system wide sales were $100 million and are projected to spike 85% this year.