If there’s one constant in the restaurant industry, it’s change. Changing tastes in cuisines, advancing technology, new kitchen techniques and the ever-present rising
A restaurant’s adaptability to these changes can decide if it stays profitable, and ultimately determines whether or not it survives. The restaurant with outdated prep kitchen equipment can’t keep up with the demand for quick service. The fast food joint that doesn’t have Wi-Fi or kiosks can’t compete with its competitors that do.
It all comes down to what the customers expect – no, what they demand. Without new and loyal customers, there’s no restaurant at all.
So what are restaurant customers looking for in 2015? And are restaurants serving it up, or letting them down?
Choosing healthy – but it is really?
According to Fast Casual’s State of the Industry 2015, nearly 70 percent of restaurants offer a low-fat or “healthy” menu. That’s a pretty big jump compared to the past four years. North Americans are increasingly demanding fresh and healthy alternatives to the traditional quick-serve fare of the past.
Typical quick-serve foods are chock-full of calories, carbs and fat. Fast food giants have repeatedly tried to introduce nutritious menu items, but they haven’t gone over well. Burger King tried healthier fries. McDonald’s even tried cutting carrots in cute shapes for kid meals. Both flopped. The reason? Customers simply don’t associate these brands with healthy foods. In other words, we go to the drive through for a Big Mac or a Whopper with fries – not a salad.
Insert fast casual restaurants.
One of the fundamentals of fast casual restaurants is greener, healthier and locally sourced options. This concept, which has exploded in the past few years, allows customers to pick from fresh veggies and meats and watch their food prepared before their eyes. The calorie count of menu items can vary of course, but this is less of a consideration if the perception is ‘fresh’.
Quality, not quantity
Today’s diners are willing to pay extra if they think they getting a higher quality meal. Millennials are an especially good example of this. Despite lesser average incomes, they’re willing to pass up fast food for a restaurant that serves up a higher quality experience.
In addition to quality ingredients and end product, customers like eateries that let them contribute to a meaningful cause. This is where many newer concepts shine. For example, Chipotle – one of the most successful fast casual concepts – is well-known for insisting on local produce, meats and even their tortillas. Customers feel good about supporting the local economy and sustainable farming and keeps them coming back.
Thinking back 10 years, the idea of ‘fresh’ taking precedent over ‘quick’ was virtually unheard of. Today’s customers expect fresh, handmade meals from quality ingredients, all while being actively engaged – the whole interactive experience.
Fast casuals are delivering on all counts, and show no signs of slowing down.
Find Out More About How Fast Casual is Changing the Restaurant Industry
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Michelle Strong is chief marketing officer at LRS and an advocate for meaningful customer engagement.