CHICAGO (February 8, 2012)—If imitation is the highest form of flattery then successful fast casual restaurant chains should be flattered because increasingly other restaurants are adopting their winning strategies, according to market research company The NPD Group. NPD’s foodservice market research reports that fast casual is the only restaurant segment continuing to grow throughout the current economic times, which has motivated chains in other restaurant segments to renovate and upgrade and enhance menu selections to compete with fast casual chains.
Fast casual restaurants are considered to beupscale quick service restaurant (QSR) concepts that offer more service, higher quality food, and have a larger average check size than other fast food restaurants.
Although still relatively underdeveloped, major fast casual chain units increased by a double-digit rate over the last three years, according to NPD’s Recount®, a bi-annual census of restaurant unit counts.
A recently released NPD report, entitled Fast Casual: A Growing Market, finds that even with this unit growth, consumer demand outpaced the rate of unit expansion, reflecting higher levels of consumer satisfaction with the fast casual experience. In addition, several leading fast casual chains have built strong customer loyalty.
Source: The NPD Group/Fast Casual: A Growing Market (Restaurant visits-CREST®, Unit counts ReCount®)
“Manyfast casual concepts were positioned as a fresh, made-to-order alternative to traditional fast food options, and consumers responded positively,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD and author of the Fast Casual: A Growth Market report . “Although some fast casual concepts faltered, consumers responded positively to the concepts that offered a new fast food dining experience. The segment benefited from fast food consumers trading up and full service consumers trading down.”
Riggs says that QSRs have taken heed of fast casual’s success and have begun offering more premium products, healthier options, and are upgrading interiors with a more upscale and modern look. She said that traditional fast food operators can compete with fast casual restaurants if they pay attention to consumers’ wants and needs, especially in terms of the freshness and quality of food offerings.
“Fast casual concepts are in an excellent position for growth relative to the overall industry,” says Riggs. “However,the same growth opportunities are available to any restaurant operator able to innovate, provide value for money, and not just keep up but surpass competitors.”