The Casual Conundrum: Diners Expect More from Fast Casual

Sidewalk Cafe Menu Blank for Writing

Sidewalk Cafe Menu Blank for Writing

Call me old fashioned (or just old), but I remember when I was growing up we had four options for dining out – a local pizza place, McDonald’s, the “fancy restaurant” with the real tablecloths and the diner. Being picky or having high expectations for the dining experience wasn’t really an option. You just went where you went and ate what you ate.

Good Lord have things changed.

My kids now have upwards of 40 dining options in a 10 mile radius – and I live deep in the suburbs. Last night, we literally had a fifteen minute debate over which Hibachi place we wanted to go to (of the 4 local options – FOUR. LOCAL. HIBACHI. OPTIONS!).

I provide the above as context for some research we conducted here at Full Contact on the fast casual restaurant space. As a working mom with two kids, fast casual is a frequent savior for me. It’s the go-to when there is no time to make a meal, when we need a break from the weekday meal monotony, or when we are running between errands and just need a quick bite. I think many people view fast casual as a savior for the reasons I note above, but according to our research, that does not mean that people don’t still have high expectations for what fast casual restaurants should provide.

 

According to our survey* of 751 adults, diners seek benefits more often associated with a sit-down restaurant experience from their fast casual counterparts. For example:

  • 58% of those surveyed want better customer service and 48% were looking for a “more comfortable restaurant experience.”
  • In addition, 39% said they are seeking seasonal menu items and 38% said they would like to see more “unique food offerings to try for a limited time.” So, while they value the reliability of your standard menu offerings, they want you to give them new and interesting options to consider when they visit.

In the coming weeks we will share further findings about the restaurant landscape but for now, if you manage any sort of restaurant brand in this hyper-competitive category (FOUR HIBACHI OPTIONS!), I suggest you consider not just the brands you compete against but also how the increase in competition has fueled the expectations of today’s diner.

 

[Note: Survey hosted by ProdegeMR. Responses gathered from 751 Adults age 18+; balanced to US Census on age, gender, region and household income]

 

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