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Fast casual still leading the way

Darren Tristano felt the need to apologize for a key point in the data he presented to attendees of the Restaurant Leadership Conference.

“We’re all probably tired of hearing about fast casual and how well it’s doing,” the executive vice president of Technomic said during a breakout session that opened the conference, “but there’s a lot we can learn from it.”

To begin with, fast casual is driving growth in the restaurant industry, up 13.2% in sales in 2012 compared to an industry average of 5.1%.

“Fast casual is still a bright spot in the industry,” Tristano said, noting consumers’ willingness to both trade down from full-service restaurants and trade up from quick-service.

“As consumers are dealing with less disposable income, they’re choosing very carefully,” he said. “We’re moving into an era of fast casual, and [the future] is likely to be around fast casual.”

Tristano made his comments during a session titled “The Rules of the Game Have Changed! Playing to Win Requires New Strategies and Tactics.” There, Technomic president and CEO Ron Paul reported restaurant sales grew 5.1% to $254.1 billion dollars in 2012 for the top 500 chains.

Broken out by category:

  • Fast casual grew 13.2%.
  • QSRs grew 4.6%.
  • Polished casual grew 4.1%.
  • Casual grew 3.6%.
  • Family style was flat at 0% growth.

Paul said he anticipates that growth will slow in 2013, predicting “modest” overall industry growth at 3.6%.

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