Keeping Up with New Trends in Fast Casual Concepts Isn’t Always Easy
Guest Post by Rich Lansdale
Fast-casual restaurants are reshaping their format to match what customers want: quality, affordable eats that will satisfy them during their busy day. These days, your restaurant must provide so much more than good food and a great menu. You need to keep up with technological changes, be open about the nutritional value of your food and go beyond great service.
Want to keep on top of the new trends in fast casual concepts so that your restaurant can be a major player? Here are the top trends you need to know to revamp your menu and commercial kitchen.
Vegan, Vegetarian and Vegetable-Heavy Dishes
Vegetable lovers are no longer the minority in your dining room, and they’re in good company. Even those who aren’t devoted vegans or vegetarians often still want meals heavy on plant-based dishes. Tons of restaurants are taking advantage of this move by bringing the farm closer to their guests.
Salad and Go
Based in Arizona, this new chain wants to change the perception of salads, smoothies, bowls and soups. Instead of placing these items at a high price point or asking guests to sit in a dining room, this chain invites guests to their drive-through window or basic outdoor seating. Prices range from $5 to $8, and the convenience rivals any burger chain. Salad and Go is looking to expand, so be ready to see one near you very soon.
Instead of catering to the veggie crowd, Dig Inn uses vegetable-based dishes paired with optional proteins, like poached salmon or roasted chicken. Dig Inn originated on the East Coast, and it already has stores in two states, with another opening in a third state soon. Food is served from big, metal pots reminiscent of a grandmother’s kitchen, and the food is sourced from local farms.
Dig Inn also made sure to design their takeaway boxes to be composted, adding to their environmentally conscious brand. They also plan to buy their own farms to make their food even more local.
This restaurant is combining two trends: the call for healthier food and a more automated experience.
Eatsa, a San Francisco restaurant that seems destined to be a favorite for the tech crowd, already has a line to get in the door. Employees hover around the crowd and help first-time customers navigate the restaurant’s unique order screens. Once a person gets in, they interact with a screen instead of a waiter, and the pre-emptive experience helps speed the process along.
At Eatsa, quinoa-based bowls are served alongside salads and smoothies with the help of a system of cubbies and LCD screens. A person’s name shows up on the screen of a cubby as their order is served, and then patrons take their food to go. Reviews are outstanding, and the unique experience makes each visit super fun.
More Technology More Often
Tech and food seem unable to stay away from one another. These technology-based lifestyles have groomed us to expect convenience at every turn, and app creators are ready to answer the call for faster, more automated service. Pre-ordering, a practice that Starbucks is already using, is a kind of space saver that helps someone in a rush get their coffee faster.
A number of restaurants are looking at this service for grab-and-go orders to help customers get satisfied quickly. The option to pay online makes the visit even faster. They’re also re-evaluating their packaging to make it more sustainable and easier to carry for anyone who can’t stay for a meal.
Providing a smart, interactive screen for customers to use is something that is becoming more popular. These screens are perfect for choosing pizza toppings, appetizers and drinks. Plus, they let a restaurant cut back on staff and keep service moving faster while customers are delighted by the act of choosing their own food.
Disney parks recently introduced special wristbands, called MagicBands, that let customers reserve tables and order ahead and pay for everything with a wrist swipe. So far, the new approach has been successful, though the all-inclusive technology is new. Is this the next move for the everyday restaurant? CEOs are waiting to see if Disney’s big wristband bet pays off before diving in — though the idea of fully automated pre-service is mouth-watering.
A Connection to the Community
If you have a major chain and already have a great, healthy menu with fabulous social media and a cool app, don’t relax just yet. You need a project that delivers beyond the food and technological advancements you offer.
Today’s diners want to feel they are contributing to the community, so it is in your best interest to find a way to make a difference. If you aren’t sure how to start, focus on your brand and let it guide you.
For example, if your place is all about transparency, take a note from Chipotle. Their project, Chipotle Cultivate, is a traveling festival that teaches kids about the origins of food. Participants see great bands alongside celebrity chefs while young ones learn about how to grow and cultivate fruits and vegetables.
Restaurants that cater to families can take it a step further by extending their reach to local schools. One chain that is supporting local communities is Islands Fine Burgers and Drinks. The group works with local schools to keep students motivated and honors individual kids with a Golden Pineapple award.
Visitors love seeing photos of the restaurant’s efforts when they visit and feel better about spending their money on a great burger with the assurance that part of the profit will go to a good cause.
If you aren’t sure where to start, approach your local Chamber of Commerce to see if you can help local small businesses. Offer your dining room for meetings and events, offer free job training to high school students or participate in local festivals. Once you offer to help, the ideas will start coming in, and you will start to see how to make your restaurant more than the sum of its parts.
What other new trends in fast casual have you seen? Let us know in the comments.