Fast-Casual Restaurants Have Ability To Win Over Both Sides Of The Customer Base

LOS ANGELES , February 13, 2013 () – Fast-casual restaurants, in theory, have the ability to corner the market from the quick-service industry through the casual-dining realm. The reason is simple: A fast-casual concept like a Baja Fresh or a Chipotle Mexican Grill can appeal to both sides of the customer base.

For casual-dining aficionados, a good fast-casual restaurant is a step above fast-food quality, but at a price cheaper than your standard family-restaurant meal. As for fast-food connoisseurs? To them, fast casual is fast food. Just without the drive thru. Trust me, fast-food lovers don’t differentiate.

What makes for a successful fast-casual chain? Surprisingly, the answer (the top answer, anyway) isn’t price. According to a recent survey by market research firm Consumer Edge Insight, 51% of all U.S. fast-casual customers cite best-tasting food as their primary reason for going fast casual. The other top reasons: good service (46%), cleanliness (45%) and highest-quality food (43%). Cost was not listed on the survey.

As a consumer, none of this data surprises me. Consumers tend to feel in general that better-tasting food is connected to a fast-casual restaurant. The fact that cost isn’t listed as a major factor on the survey shouldn’t surprise you either. Because fast-casual customers typically associate better-tasting food with fast casual, they expect to pay a little bit more than a combo meal at McDonald’s or Burger King.

With customers increasingly looking for healthier food options while at the same time still watching their wallets, fast-casual concepts have the potential to be the mothership. If they play their cards right, they can win it all.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence Inc. He considers fast-casual food to be fast food. And for fast-casual restaurants, trust him when he says that’s a good thing. He can be reached at

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