Fast and casual dining

With the number of customers increasing by double digits from quarter to quarter and stock prices nearly doubling from initial-public-offering values, the recent crop of “fast/casual” eateries is experiencing a heady growth spurt destined to bring the sector to early maturity.

Fast/casual restaurants — which include Chipotle Mexican Grill, El Pollo Loco, The Habit Burger Grill, Panera, Shake Shack and Zöe’s Kitchen, among others — are characterized by their use of fresh, high-quality ingredients (often locally sourced and free of antibiotics and additives), hospitality and stylish surroundings.

This trend, which is likely to become a tidal wave, reflects the confluence of two trends – toward “clean” food and quality — that Gerald Celente identified in their infancy and discussed in his book, Trends 2000.

An appreciation of and demand for “clean” food among millennials have played a significant role in the ascendancy of fast/casual dining. In an internal memo obtained by Advertising Age, McDonald’s executives admitted the company is struggling to attract the millennial generation. Chipotle’s management has observed that millennials make up a significant proportion of its patrons.

The increasing business being done by fast/casual restaurants is, of course, taking market share from conventional fast-food purveyors now scrambling to play catch-up. “This demand for fresh and real is on the rise,” Greg Creed, CEO of Yum Brands (owner of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut), told a reporter.

The first major act of McDonald’s new CEO was the announcement earlier this month that, within two years, the chain would serve only antibiotic-free chickens and milk from cows not treated with growth hormones. Carl’s Jr. has introduced an “all-natural” burger, sourced, it says, from cattle free of added hormones, antibiotics and steroids.

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