Fast Casual Restaurants: How to Embrace the Trend

People are really busy, and people tend to prioritize their careers and personal lives over cuisine. While sitting down to enjoy a meal out is something that will never die, chefs and restaurateurs may want to consider adopting a fast food business model. Getting good food quickly continues to grow in importance for diners, and the National Restaurant Association reports that fast casual restaurants are the fastest growing segment of the restaurant market. And while that may be the case, there is a significant gap between establishments that offer quick service and fast food restaurants. Here are some considerations and benefits to keep in mind.

Fast Food or Food Fast?

There is a difference, and that's where you come in. Your existing concept can be tweaked or replicated as a fast casual restaurant. The term "fast food" conjures up the image of the largest players in the industry, but getting food fast is a model that will continue to grow. The benefits for guests are significant, allowing for a wider demographic, because price points are usually kept low. A low price point doesn't need to mean poor quality, however. Look to the highly established chefs that have started a revolution with LocoL in California. Pricing is comparable to neighboring fast food restaurants, but they feature food that is fermented on-site and only use whole-food ingredients.

Existing menus can be pared down to essentials. Create a stripped-down version of your original menu that includes several options that can be executed within minutes of a guest placing an order. The concept isn't really too far off from a full-service restaurant because everything is prepped in advanced so that it can be ready to eat in no time.

Labor Shift

A model that uses little to no table service eliminates a significant portion of your payroll in the front of the house, freeing up those funds and allowing you to invest in other areas such as the cost of goods. This is necessary in order to offer better ingredients. Guests are after authentic flavors and are increasingly interested in healthier options that still satisfy hunger. A smaller footprint and smaller staff can help you meet these growing demands, but a solid plan and quality marketing are the keys to success in this new, hot, and competitive market.

Menu and Kitchen Planning

Your menu should be straightforward, but offer guests the option to customize dishes. This gives diners the opportunity to not only make their quick dish "their own," but it also increases the chances for return business. Whatever you do, don't be overly ambitious with the menu you come up with. Look at any large, successful brand and you'll notice that they are only doing a few things, but they're doing them really well. What about your cuisine is unique? How can your menu items be made to order quickly without the quality suffering? These are essential questions that need a lot of thought when starting your new venture.

Making sure your menu isn't too lofty isn't nearly as difficult as making your menu items as great as they can be while being served quickly. Depending on your budget, you may want to purchase equipment that can allow you to do more than meets the guest's eye. An example of a costly piece of equipment that can ultimately save you money while simultaneously turning heads is the combi oven. The versatility that a combi oven provides is vast, and the ability to efficiently roast, dehydrate, or sous-vide food overnight opens up more possibilities for your menu. The key to fast casual restaurants and quick service is consistency, and using equipment that has the ability to program recipes and cooking methods can help you do just that.

Perfect Planning

Just because it has a simple format and menu doesn't mean the operation of a fast casual restaurant is easy. In fact, a fast casual restaurant with lower price points doesn't leave much room for error. When most diners are picking up an order, or are in and out in 20 minutes or less, the opportunity to "make things right" barely exists. Positions need to be clearly defined, procedures need to be set and perfected, and consistency needs to rule. Having a solid plan is important, so put the work in upfront. Before you know it, you'll have a product and service that guests can't get enough of.