If there’s one constant in the universe, it’s change. Perhaps this old expression has never been truer than in restaurants and dining.
Whether you’re partial to fast casual, fast food or full service, the landscape is in constant motion. Changing cuisines, advancing technology and the never-ending evolution of customer attitudes and expectations.
In LRS’ recent research paper, The Gravitational Pull of Fast Casual, we traced the meteoric rise of this successful segment which covered changes in technology and business operations, as well as the diners’ unique perspective.
Here are some notable ways that dining out has changed over the last 15 years.
#1 The new star is still rising
Before 2000, the major growth trends had been in the quick service segment, with full service holding its own as well. Diners could choose inexpensive fast food from the local drive-through, or they could pay a bit more to enjoy a full, sit-down meal.
But around the turn of the century, fast casual was born. Newcomers like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread sported the speed of QSRs with the food quality of full casual. The trend took off and is still going strong today. Since 2000, the segment has grown more than 550 percent, outpacing both fast food and full service.
#2 Dining in vs. dining out
Why the large increase? It isn’t due to inflation in restaurant margins, as most operators will tell you. Heads of household are busier than ever, which means they have less time to cook. That accounts for much of the 43.5 percent rise in away-from-home food costs over the last 15 years.
#3 A change in tastes?
Not counting “good ol’ American” favorites, what was the favorite cuisine in 2000? One can argue that, due to pizza delivery, it was Italian. But for dining out, both Mexican and Chinese foods gets the nod.
Today, it’s less clear-cut, especially with the adventurous palettes of millennials. At least 77 percent eat ethnic foods when dining out each month, and half of those do so weekly. The “Top 3” are still leading in 2015, along with other traditional favorites. But Technomics reports that the next big wave includes Moroccan , Korean, Cuban, Peruvian and more.
#4 Focus on Nutrition
In 2000, fast food franchises were trying to out-do each other’s “super size” campaign. A decade and a half later, diners are turning to healthier options – demanding them, in fact. Add in new menu-labelling requirements, and consumers are hyper-aware of the food they’re eating.
Today, fast casual has answered and risen to this challenge. For example, FCRs tout sourcing local, organic ingredients and eliminating hormones and GMOs. FSRs are following suit, and even QSRs are adding in healthier choices. Operators are increasingly aware that not adding these choices may damage their bottom line.
#5 Technology rules
In 2000, if you wanted to order pizza, you had to do it the old-school way – by calling with your phone. Today, technology drives a radically different customer experience. Customers want to browse the menu, make reservations, order take-out or delivery and more. In fact, it’s rare to find a restaurant without a mobile-friendly online presence.
And inside the restaurant? LRS started the hi-tech charge with our first guest pager back in 1995. Since then, technology has transformed the customer experience and operations everywhere. From the moment diners walk arrive, they expect amenities such as WiFi, digital menus and ordering kiosks. And behind the scenes, table management and kitchen applications make the operation more efficient.
What will the next 15 years bring?
While no one can look ahead and make predictions with absolute certainty, we can make reasonable guesses based on the massive momentum behind fast casual and its effect on other segments. What will these segments be like in five years as the gravitational pull of diners’ preferences continues to draw them together? It all depends on the ability to adapt.
Find Out More About the Explosion of Fast Casual and it’s Impact on the Other Segments
Complete the form below to download the LRS research paper The Gravitational Pull of Fast Casual. This free report examines the explosion of the Fast Casual segment, how diners’ changing preferences are impacting all three of the main categories (quick service, fast casual and full service) and the ways in which all three segments must evolve to compete.
John Weber is the chief technology officer at LRS and an expert in operational efficiency and creating a memorable guest experience.