4 New Fast Casual Concepts Catching Our Attention

Fast casual fills that sweet spot between fast food and full service — think Panera versus McDonald’s or, on the other side, Olive Garden. Diners pick fast casual for a host of reasons, including:

  • Healthier, higher-quality menu options
  • Highly customizable menus
  • Choice to dine on-premise or to-go
  • Reduced pressure to vacate table (no wait staff means less pressure to churn guests)
  • Affordability versus full service restaurants (including reduced gratuity expectations)

Each of these factors add to the appeal of customer favorite fast casual restaurants like Chipotle, Five Guys, Wingstop, and Shake Shack. Customers happily pay a bit more for the experience at fast casual restaurants over fast food options, and in return they expect fresh, accurate orders. 

We’re keeping an eye on these four emerging fast casual concept trends. 

Customizable, Curated Creations

Fast casual diners love personalized customization, if social media trends are any indication. Chipotle is a prime example. During the height of pandemic shutdowns in 2020, the fast casual leader made it a point to showcase its customizable menu, even releasing a TikTok video featuring menu hacks. 

Panera also touts its approach to personalization. The chain introduced their You Pick 2 menu option in 2019, which gives guests free reign over their combo choices. Diners can pick from fully customized salads, bowls and sandwiches and dozens of soups, pasta dishes, and even pizza.  

Customized bowls are another approach fast casual restaurants have taken to personalization. This approach can freshen up the menu at virtually any fast casual concept, from pizza to Mexican to Asian, without investing in untested ingredients or expensive equipment. Guests pick ingredients from an a la carte menu and team members layer them in a photogenic, portable, appealing bowl of deliciousness. 

Begone, Boring Burgers

According to PBS, Americans eat some 50 billion burgers each year, many from fast casual chains like Five Guys, Smashburger, and Shake Shack. Competition is fierce, but burgers are also a relatively safe bet. Until fairly recently, burgers were among the more simplified fast casual menu options. 

Over the past few years, burger lovers have come to expect more from burger shops than a few cheese choices and standard toppings. 

Today, some stores offer a dizzying list of options for topping (or even stuffing) their burgers, from expected choices like bacon to quite unexpected, adventurous toppings like the Peanut Butter Bacon Burger at Shake Shack. 

Expanded burger menus can deliver a bigger ROI, since toppings are often priced individually. Creating the burger of one’s dreams can really add up. 

Locally Sourced Menu Additions

Independent fast casual restaurants may have an advantage with this trend, but national brands are embracing “locally sourced,” as well. Diners resonate with menu items that come from farms, bakeries, coffee shops, and other operators located in their community or state. 

This trend follows the larger “locavore” trend that has steadily grown since the early 2000s. Gallup reports that nearly 75% of Americans actively try to include locally grown food in their overall diets, a trend reflected in the popularity of farm markets, community-supported agricultural programs and at restaurants, farm-to-table options. 

Branded App Ordering

While third party ordering partners like DoorDash and Uber Eats are popular among fast casual customers, diners are happy to order directly through a restaurant’s branded app — as long as it works well. 

As Bluedot’s latest “State of What Feeds Us” survey reveals, 35% of restaurant customers placed more orders on apps over the previous quarter, and those customers are likely to spend more when ordering via an app. And, Bluedot found, they prefer branded restaurant apps to third-party app, with more than half of respondents only using restaurant apps. 

On the other hand, diners are apt to close apps when they encounter certain issues:

  • Confusing or complicated ordering process
  • Payment processing issues
  • No coupons or deals
  • No loyalty programs (69% said loyalty programs incentivize their return visits)

Overall, customers said they prefer self-service ordering via mobile apps or in-store kiosks versus ordering from restaurant staff. 

Is your fast casual restaurant on-trend? Don’t worry- Onosys can get you there. 

With the Onosys in-house ordering platform, it’s easy to add and remove menu items to reflect fluctuating inventory, so you can be sure your trendy customers can confidently customize their choices. Improved accuracy leads to happier customers who will return again and again, especially when you use the platform's customer loyalty features. 

Onosys also gives you more control over branding than third-party app partners, who are more focused on speed and building their own customer base than they are on fostering brand loyalty on your behalf.

Learn more about the Onosys platform and set up a demo today!

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