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Successs of fast casual influences restaurants in 2012


February 8, 2012
By Canadian Pizza

February 8, 2012, Chicago – If imitation is the highest form of flattery, successful fast casual restaurant chains should be flattered. Other restaurants are increasingly adopting fast casual's winning strategies, according to The NPD Group.

NPD’s foodservice market research reported 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 be upscale 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 biannual census of restaurant unit counts. A recently released NPD report, entitled "Fast Casual: A Growing Market," found 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.

“Many fast casual concepts were positioned as a fresh, made-to-order alternative to traditional fast food options, and consumers responded positively,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD and author of the Fast Casual 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.”

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Riggs said 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. 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.”