America's favorite fast-casual chains
The fast-casual market has grown to be very diversified, with chains focused on pizza, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines, ultrahealthy options and more. Still, it’s the sandwich chains that are winning praise from consumers. Interestingly, food and beverage scores and value scores look similar for the favored fast-casual and quick-service chains, showing that the industry darling segment is facing pressure from QSRs putting increasing focus on high-quality food, and further blurring the distinction between the two segments.
1. Newk's Eatery
Overall Score: 60.8%
Newk’s isn’t resting on its lunch traffic. In a move to boost its dinner business and gain the favor of busy consumers—especially parents—the fast casual launched large-batch takeout meals last year. Structured similarly to fresh-food options in grocery stores, the Express Market offers family-size portions of grilled proteins and sides, which can be used to build a meal on their own or combined with consumers’ at-home staples. “Guests coming in for lunch also want high-quality dinners at home, so we’re making it easy for them to pick up the center of the plate for dinner by offering premium flame-grilled proteins ready to take home,” said Stewart Slocum, Newk’s CMO, in a statement.
That convenience factor is one of the reasons Newk’s was named the top fast-casual chain by consumers: Seven in 10 rate that chain as very good in the convenience and takeout category. The chain is consistently named one of the chains that has mastered delivery when it comes to consumer satisfaction.
2. Firehouse Subs
Overall Score: 59.2%
3. Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers
Overall Score: 57.2%
While many brands with a single-food focus have struggled to take hold, it’s been a winning strategy for Raising Cane’s. More than half of consumers rate its super-focused menu of made-to-order chicken fingers, slaw, Cane’s sauce, fries and Texas toast as very good. With an average check around $7, about half also rate the chain’s value as very good.
4. Jason's Deli
Overall Score: 56.9%
5. McAlister's Deli
Overall Score: 56.5%
Another chain emphasizing convenience, McAlister’s rolled out a new prototype in September that added an on-the-go counter near the front of its restaurants for easier pickup, as well as a dedicated window for takeout and catering orders and a check-in touchscreen. At the same time, the company introduced a new kids and family program with more affordable, better ingredients.
The Technomic Ignite: Consumer program is an ongoing study that tracks the performance of leading chains by measuring the consumer experience. This report includes the top chains in the U.S. by sales, plus 53 additional chains to round out categories or capture regional data. The data represents responses from over 100,000 consumers, collected from Q4 2017 to Q3 2018. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statements, on a scale of 1 to 5.