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Are full service restaurants evolving to meet fast casual?

In 2015, the growth of fast casual restaurants (FCRs) is outpacing all other restaurant segments. According to market researcher Euromonitor,

The growth of fast casual restaurants is outpacing all other restaurant segments. Full service restaurants are finding ways to adapt - using technology.

The growth of fast casual restaurants is outpacing all other restaurant segments. Full service restaurants are finding ways to adapt – using technology.

Americans spent over $21 billion last year at FCRs.

Fast casual is growing at a healthy 2.6% per year – twice the rate of the industry as a whole. That’s not good news for full service restaurants, unless they can attract fast casual fans.

Today’s diners want choices. They want fresh and wholesome ingredients prepared to order, but at a fair price. And they want it served up fast, in a casual but sophisticated atmosphere, without the fuss of full service.

To capitalize on this trend, FSRs like Denny’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby’s Diner, Cracker Barrel and Wolfgang Puck are launching their own fast casual concepts.

Wolfgang Puck goes Express

When Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc. launched Wolfgang Puck Express on the UCLA campus, it was the first of its kind.

The eatery features the freshness and quality of Wolfgang’s most popular dishes, but in a smaller menu and at affordable prices – perfect for the millennial crowd on campus. It also boasts a unique, casual atmosphere – more laid back than its full service siblings. Guests can even have a peek into the kitchen as chefs create masterpieces right in front of them.

But the restaurant is so popular that lines are often out the door. In fact, the restaurant serves as many as 300 orders per hour at lunchtime. So Wolfgang Puck turned to new technology to enhance the guest experience and to increase staff efficiency.

Hi-tech starts the experience off right

It’s a connected world at Wolfgang Puck Express.

Customers can order lunch or dinner for takeout using the restaurant’s website or mobile apps. By specifying a day and time, their food is ready when they arrive, fresh and piping hot.

But ordering “in” is where the real experience begins.

Customers enter their favorite appetizers, entrees and beverages into an interactive digital menu. Then they are free to move about, sit at a table, relax at the bar or soak in the California rays outside.

However, this “freedom to wander” initially meant the servers had to navigate a hungry crowd, searching for the right table and person for each order. In such a high-traffic venue, the time spent searching meant the food wasn’t as hot or fresh as it could be and the environment could become chaotic.

Delivering the ultimate customer experience

To ensure guests always got their meals at peak freshness, Wolfgang Puck added new table location technology to the mix.

Using Table Tracker technology from LRS, the kitchen can now pinpoint each diner’s exact location.  Whether guests are seated at a table or at the bar, food runners deliver each order directly from the kitchen the moment it’s ready. As for the guests who aren’t seated, the tracker coasters can receive a discrete paging signal, alerting them that their food is ready. So no matter where the guest is, they get their food order promptly.

Behind the scenes, the technology allows the kitchen and management to track each order’s prep time so orders don’t fall behind. The staff always knows which orders to prioritize, and a reporting portal allows Wolfgang Puck management to analyze performance against benchmarks over months of data.

Quality food ordered via the latest technology, served fast and fresh in casual surroundings – exactly what fast casual diners are looking for.

If you can’t beat them…

With fast casual’s rapid growth, full service restaurants find themselves in a new competitive landscape. To maintain growth and relevance, they must adapt.

To evolve, FSRs needn’t abandon the quality they are known for. But, they do have to consider the expectations of the newest generation of diners.

By combining signature dishes, affordable prices and a more convenient environment, FSRs are integrating practices that align with these expectations and trends. Add just a touch of the right technology and these restaurants can create the ultimate customer experience.

Learn How New Technologies are Enhancing the Customer Experience

Complete the form below to download The Value from Technology. This free eBook teaches you how to use technology to create a better guest experience and improve your company’s efficiency.

Michelle Strong is chief marketing officer at LRS and an advocate for meaningful customer engagement.



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