With consumer needs and demands changing so quickly, fast casual restaurants have found that sweet spot customers are looking for: faster service, a better experience and quality food. These demands are also prompting competitors in the quick service and the casual dining industry to make changes or risk getting shut out.
In 2013, the NPD Group conducted a survey that showed fast-casual restaurants grew 8 percent over a 12-month period, while quick-service restaurants and casual dining showed little to no growth. The fast-casual outlook for this year is equally rosy.
Now, some quick-service restaurants are taking a page out of the fast-casual playbook.
Fast-food giants such as McDonalds, Taco Bell and KFC (which experienced zero growth, according to the NPD survey), have made moves to either renovate current locations or open new locations that attempt to retain maximum efficiency while offering a more comfortable dine-in experience.
Sbarro Holdings Inc., a food-court favorite for greasy pizza, opened Pizza Cucinova, a Chipotle-esque pizza restaurant, in an effort to shift toward a more fast-casual approach. The pressure is on Sbarro to do something different. Last month, it closed 155 underperforming locations (or 16 percent of all locations) in North America in an effort to improve profitability.
Full-Service Chains Seek Greater Efficiencies
Meanwhile, full-service chains such as Denny’s and IHOP also are making moves in the other direction, responding to trends that show customers forgoing the casual dine-in experience for fast casuals. They’d like to retain the dining experience while adding efficiency, so they’re doing things like adding express units that are more in a fast-casual mode.
Take a step back and you see that both ends of the hospitality spectrum, both quick-service and full-service restaurants, are moving toward the middle, toward cost-conscious diners who want a better customer service experience.
Restaurants that are hesitant to change their ways and adapt are being left behind or are slowly dying off.
What Does Change Mean?
So what does change mean for restaurants looking to develop a more fast-casual approach? It goes beyond serving good food. The best-performing restaurants manage to provide great food, a pleasant dining environment and quicker service that starts the moment a customer walks in the door. Technology is a key reason they’re able to pull it off.
Advanced table-tracking technology, for example, allows restaurants to shave minutes off service times in two different ways.
When customers order, they are handed a small device, and a timer is started. In the service area, workers can see the order times to ensure food is prepared in a timely manner. Then, when the food is ready, runners don’t have to search the dining room for the right table because the technology tells them exactly where to go. The result is happier customers who get their food fresher and hotter and more table turns, which is great for revenue.
Table-tracking technology also provides analytics that managers can use to look for patterns. How long are orders taking to complete? What times of day need more (or fewer) staffers? Which locations are the most efficiently run?
As QSRs and FSRs move to embrace the fast-casual concept, part of the success in differentiating themselves can be observed in new technologies used by today’s successful fast-casual concepts to enhance productivity and the customer experience.
Find Out More About How Collecting Data Can Improve Service
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Mai Lyn Ngo is a marketing coordinator at LRS and ambassador for solutions that create a better guest experience.