Fast casual restaurant
A fast casual restaurant is a type of restaurant that does not offer full table service, but promises a higher quality of food with fewer frozen or processed ingredients than a fast food restaurant. It is a relatively new and growing concept positioned between fast food and casual dining. The typical cost per meal is in the $8–$15 range. The category is exemplified by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Culvers, and Panera.
The concept did not become a popular and common one for restaurants until the early to mid-1990s, and did not truly become mainstream until the end of the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s.
During the economic downturn beginning in 2007, fast casual dining saw an uptick in sales from the 18–34 demographic. Customers with limited discretionary meal spending tend to use it on dining perceived as healthier.
Counter service accompanied by handmade food (often visible via an open kitchen) is typical. Alcohol may be served. Dishes like steak may be offered. The menu is usually limited to an extended over-counter display, and options in the way the food is prepared are emphasized. Health-conscious items have a larger-than-normal portion of the menu. Some restaurants may emphasize high quality ingredients like free range chicken and freshly made salsas. While full table service is not offered, conveniences like non-plastic utensils and plates are common.
Publisher and founder of FastCasual.com Paul Barron is credited for coining the term "Fast Casual" in the late 1990s. Horatio Lonsdale-Hands, former Chairman and CEO of ZuZu Inc., is also credited with coining the term “Fast Casual”. ZuZu, a handmade Mexican food concept co-founded by Lonsdale-Hands in 1989, filed a U.S. Federal trademark registration for the term “Fast Casual” in November 1995. In the July 1996 edition of Restaurant Hospitality, editor/associate publisher Michael DeLuca calls Lonsdale-Hands a “progressive pioneer in the burgeoning ‘fast casual’ market segment.”
The company Technomic Information Services defined the term "fast casual restaurants" as meeting the following criteria:
- Limited-service or self-service format
- Average meal price between $8 and $15
- Made-to-order food with more complex flavors than fast food restaurants
- Upscale, unique or highly developed decor
- Most often will not have a drive thru
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- Julia Moskin (July 25, 2014). "Hold the Regret? Fast Food Seeks Virtuous Side". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-27. "These ambitious new chains make up only a sliver of the nation’s $683 billion restaurant industry. But all are within its swiftest-growing segment, “fast-casual,” a subset of fast food that includes places like Chipotle and Panera, whose offerings are marketed as a rung or two higher than those of Burger King or Taco Bell: fewer frozen and highly processed ingredients, more-comfortable seats, better coffee and (sometimes) healthier food."
- "Fast Casual – Insights for Innovative Restaurants". FastCasual.com. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
- "2010’s Twenty Largest Fast-Casual Franchises". BlueMauMau. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
- Jargon, Julie (1 February 2010). "As Sales Drop, Burger King Draws Critics for Courting 'Super Fans'". The Wall Street Journal (Yahoo! Finance). Retrieved 1 February 2010.
- Wheelen, Thomas L.; Hunger, J. David (2006). Strategic Management and Business Policy: Cases (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-149460-2.
- "Fast Casual Trademark Serial Number: 75017852".
- "Formula for Success". Restaurant Hospitality 80 (7): 81–86. July 1996.
- "What exactly is fast casual?". Franchise Times. January 2008. Retrieved 23 January 2011.