From the Editor's desk: September-October 2015

Fast-casual opportunity
Colleen Cross
September 28, 2015
The Canadian restaurant landscape is undergoing a sea of change, but pizzerias are in a great position to ride it out.


We’ve been hearing much of late about the growth and popularity of fast-casual style restaurants.

In our feature story “The Rise of Fast-Casual,” Brandi Cowen talks to the experts in an effort to pin down just what this trend is, and more importantly, what it means for the pizza industry.

Fast-casual restaurants may be defined as providing healthier fare than you might get at a typical quick-service restaurant, plenty of choice in items, technology options such as online ordering or free Wi-Fi, and sometimes even table service.

With such an appealing formula, the relatively new sector accounts for one per cent of the total foodservice market in Canada, and it is predicted to grow. It’s no surprise that behind the growth of fast-casual restaurants is a rising tide of millennial customers who crave a change of pace, control over their options and value for money.

Is the growth of fast-casuals a threat to pizzerias? Sitting smugly on the fence between quick-service restaurants and sit-down locations, they seem to present the best of both worlds. They are cafeterias but with nicer ingredients. They are healthy dining but without pretention. They are more expensive than fast food but less expensive than sit-down dining.

With traffic in both quick-service and full-service pizzerias down in Canada over the past year, it makes more sense to view fast-casual as a success story rather than a threat. Its strong, steady growth is telling us something. But what?

It’s telling us people eating out may want to grab-and-go but they also want the experience to be about more than just food. A recent NPD Group CREST
research report suggests consumers believe the top benefits to eating out involve the experience and how good it makes them feel. It’s telling us people like to have a bit of control over how much they spend when eating out and over which ingredients they consume. It’s telling us that, like Goldilocks, diners can find the “just right” option that offers value and makes them comfortable.

Pizzerias make some high-quality, innovative pie, but it’s the concept of pizza itself that offers the advantage: it is designed to customize and it is designed to share. Pizza already meets important criteria for the millennial crowd.

Appealing to this crowd may be more a matter of tweaking your formula than changing course altogether. If you aren’t already doing so, consider offering vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and organic options. If you’re not ready to change your menu, a pizza of the week is a great way to test the waters. Offer a range of drink choices. Encourage socializing with communal tables as Winnipeg’s Pizzeria Gusto does (see page 16).

Finally, teach your staff to provide excellent customer service, a commodity that can elevate your business. Remember the well-worn adage coined by Bain & Company: “It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.”

Strong trends like this may best be taken as a consideration when making changes in your restaurant and not as a reason to rock the boat. As Pizzeria Gusto owner Bobby Mottola wisely suggests in this issue, “Focus on your own business, be open to change. And listen to your guest.”


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