Fast Casual Focus, pt. 2: Healthier Options and Fresh Preparation Styles
Here’s my final installment of the recent series of fast casual dining and the lessons we can learn from the popular new restaurant model:
Consumers are becoming increasingly more health conscious these days — a good thing, of course, for public health — and the average diner’s savviness keeps going up. Nonetheless, Americans are still in a hurry and used to their fast food fixes, so any restaurant that can offer a combination of these two elements is bound to be popular. Herein lies much of the success of fast casual restaurants. Because orders are largely customizable — you choose from an array of ingredient options that are often in front of you — people can choose the healthiest options both on the menu and under the counter. It’s possible to see whether or not something looks fresh, and to choose between an array of options varying in nutritional value.
Of course, not every restaurant has entirely customizable choices — you may have some options, but not about every single thing. Still, knowing that consumers are eager for healthier choices is valuable to any restaurant. Whether it’s offering fresh, organic vegetables, more vegetarian dishes, gluten free fare, or simply lower fat entrees, chances are your customers will appreciate the effort. One note of caution: many vegetarians (and people with other special dietary needs) feel ignored or slighted by places that offer a vegetarian sandwich as a boring, tasteless afterthought. If you’re going to offer these healthy choices, put as much effort into making them unique and delicious as you do with the rest of your food. Otherwise this portion of your customer base won’t be returning, and they might take their friends with them.
Fresh Preparation Styles
One reason many diners enjoy restaurants built in the fast casual model is for their fresh preparation styles. If you’ve ever been to Chipotle or Moe’s, two similarly fashioned “mexican grill” style restaurants known for their burritos, you know how it goes: you walk to the counter, say what you want (burrito, tacos, burrito bowl, etc.), and choose from a variety of ingredient options visible to you right at the counter. There’re different meats, cheeses, salsas, guacamoles, etc. Compared to standard fast food fare, they’re fresher ingredients, and consumers also simply like being able to see their food being prepared. Watching your burrito be rolled inspires more confidence than having it come from some back room somewhere, it seems. Other fast casual restaurants do the same with salads; Panera, while not preparing your food directly in front of you, has a bright and visible bakery section and an open air preparation section — even though you don’t watch them make it, you could if you felt like creeping.
A few lessons can be learned here. For one, bright open spaces with clean, contemporary lines and glass separating food from customer are popular. Similarly, many diners like being able to see their food, especially as it’s prepared. Not every restaurant can pull this off, obviously, but many diner style restaurants have the potential for open grill areas and interaction between cook and customer. If your establishment could pull this off, it might be worth considering. Even if that’s not an option, you might consider displaying unique or freshly made items: fresh-baked bread, muffins, etc. can be placed behind glass at a counter for an attractive display and visibility.
I’ll see you next week, but until then contact us here.