2020 Future of Fast Casual Report

April 22, 2020

A decade ago, fast casual underwent a genesis. Once a niche category with a few players spread across a handful of cuisines—say, Chipotle and Baja Fresh covering Mexican and Panera Bread and Corner Bakery tackling the bakery-café space—fast casual suddenly became the hottest thing in foodservice. The Great Recession pushed casual customers to trade down, while the rise in foodieism drove young consumers—particularly millennials—to seek out higher-quality eats.

Fast casual stood right at the intersection of value and quality, and for the last 10 years has filled in every corner of the U.S. with every manner of food served quickly and affordably.

But, just like any other trend, fast casual has also worn thin on some. And with mobile ordering and off-premises experiences giving quick-service chains a boost in competition for market share, could it be that fast casual isn’t the darling it once was? Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, says that, prior to the coronavirus, the fast-casual segment was experiencing lower growth rates compared with years past, especially as oversaturation in restaurants created difficulty for expanding chains to find opportunities to drive unit volumes necessary to building sustainable restaurants.

QSR partnered with Tristano in this first-ever Future of Fast Casual Report, which explores consumer sentiment toward the fast-casual industry prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The report offers valuable insights into customer preferences and ordering habits within fast casual. And while the pandemic and resulting economic downturn will drastically alter the restaurant landscape, the report’s findings offer a glimpse at what customers wanted from their favorite restaurants before the coronavirus—and what they will likely want once it’s in the rearview mirror.

“Although great uncertainty exists from the COVID-19 crisis, insights from this report will help suppliers and operators plan their strategy and manage scenarios for the current year,” Tristano says. “The report data and insights remain relevant as the industry prepares and plans to navigate the new normal.”

Here, we’ve dug deeper into six menu categories within the fast-casual space to explore how brands were innovating—pre-coronavirus—in an effort to rise above the competition. Take a glimpse at some of the data below, and click on the category links to get a deeper dive into the state of fast casual, including insights from Tristano on each of the six categories.

Breaking it Down

Pizza & Burger: Where the fast-casual heavyweights go from here

Tacos & Seafood: Two categories with plenty of runway for growth

Asian & Barbecue: Are they too niche to jumpstart national chains?

FC category frequency

FAST CASUAL CATEGORY
PERCENT WHO HAVE VISITED IN LAST 30 DAYS
Asian/Noodles
26%
Bakery café
37%
Barbecue
18%
Burger
57%
Chicken
33%
Healthy – Mediterranean
9%
Healthy – Salad
11%
Healthy – Vegetarian or Vegan
7%
Healthy – Other
6%
Mexican – Burrito
39%
Mexican – Taco Shop
18%
Pizza
41%
Seafood – Fish/Fried Fish
17%
Seafood – Poke
4%
Seafood – Lobster/Crab/Shrimp
10%
Sandwich
36%
Other
2%
Reasons to Return

WHAT REASON WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO RETURN TO A FAST CASUAL IN THE FUTURE? (CHOOSE TWO)

Appealing menu
45%
Value for money
34%
High-quality standards
27%
Service
24%
Convenient location
24%
Ability to customize/build your own
20%
Uniqueness of menu
10%
Appealing atmosphere
7%
Advanced ordering technology
4%
Kids menu available
2%
Other
1%
Most recent fast-casual experience

Ordered and ate onsite
48%
Ordered onsite for carryout
32%
Ordered in advance for pickup
9%
Ordered for delivery direct from the restaurant
5%
Ordered for delivery from a 3rd party delivery company
5%
Ordering in the Future

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO ORDER FROM FAST CASUAL IN THE FUTURE? (CHOOSE TWO)

In person, at counter
74%
Online via restaurant website or app
48%
In person, at kiosk
39%
Online via 3rd party delivery service
18%
By telephone
13%
Using a voice-enabled speaker or device
8%
High-Priority Characteristics

FAST CASUAL CHARACTERISTICS
PERCENT WHO SAY SOMEWHAT OR EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
Location
84
Speed of service
84
Price
84
Satisfy a craving
84
Usage of high-quality ingredients
81
Low-Priority Characteristics

FAST CASUAL CHARACTERISTICS
PERCENT WHO SAY SOMEWHAT OR EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
Location
84
Speed of service
84
Price
84
Satisfy a craving
84
Usage of high-quality ingredients
81
Customer Frequency
QUICK SERVICE CUSTOMER FREQUENCY

Every day
8%
A couple times a week
25%
Once a week
27%
Two to three times a month
19%
Once a month
12%
Once every 2–3 months
4%
Less often than every 3 months
2%
Never
1%
FAST CASUAL CUSTOMER FREQUENCY

Every day
4%
A couple times a week
14%
Once a week
23%
Two to three times a month
29%
Once a month
30%
Once every 2–3 months
0%
Less often than every 3 months
0%
Never
0%
MIDSCALE RESTAURANT CUSTOMER FREQUENCY

Every day
3%
A couple times a week
6%
Once a week
10%
Two to three times a month
18%
Once a month
26%
Once every 2–3 months
22%
Less often than every 3 months
10%
Never
4%
CASUAL DINING CUSTOMER FREQUENCY

Every day
3%
A couple times a week
7%
Once a week
10%
Two to three times a month
19%
Once a month
29%
Once every 2–3 months
19%
Less often than every 3 months
11%
Never
3%
FINE DINING CUSTOMER FREQUENCY

Every day
4%
A couple times a week
5%
Once a week
6%
Two to three times a month
8%
Once a month
13%
Once every 2–3 months
17%
Less often than every 3 months
34%
Never
14%
Methodology

The Foodservice Results team conducted a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of fast-casual consumers in the U.S. using an online survey sample. Participants in this research were screened for frequency of use as well as numerous demographic characteristics in order to ensure that the respondent base was reflective of the U.S. fast-casual market. Leveraging insights from numerous industry experts, the finalized survey was completed by 1,004 fast-casual consumers during fieldwork. To ensure a relevant respondent base was achieved, all participants were screened to only include those who had at least one fast-casual occasion in the last 30 days. An extensive cross tabulation of the respondent sample data was conducted in order to identify major trends, demographic/behavioral themes, and other nuances in the data. Following analysis of all data, this report was developed to communicate key findings and important data from the study.

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