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US Fast Casual Restaurants market report

Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Fast Casual Restaurants market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Covered in this report

For the purposes of this report, Mintel has used the following restaurant definitions:

  • QSRs (quick service restaurants) – Used interchangeably with “fast food,” QSRs specialize in inexpensive, convenient meals
  • Fast casual restaurants – These establishments are characterized by a higher price point than QSRs though not as high as full-service restaurants
  • LSRs (limited service restaurants) – These establishments provide food services where customers usually select and order items and pay before dining
  • FSRs (full service restaurants) – These establishments have waiter/waitress service in which customers order and are served while seated
  • Casual dining restaurants – These establishments represent the largest segment of the FSR market. Casual dining restaurants have higher pricing than family/midscales but lower than fine dining, and they offer a full bar
  • Midscale restaurants (used interchangeably with family dining restaurants) – These establishments offer the lowest check size of any FSR
  • Fine dining restaurants – These establishments have the highest price point of all FSRs

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Hannah Spencer, a leading analyst in the Foodservice sector, her extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

The fast casual restaurant segment continues to experience steady sales growth fueled by diners’ interest in high-quality ingredients and better-for-you menu options in an accessible format. However, as restaurant segments blur with full service restaurants offering more convenient ordering options and fast food restaurants offering more premium ingredients, fast casuals struggle to retain their distinctiveness. Hannah Spencer
Foodservice Analyst

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Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • The issues
          • Fast casuals lack distinctiveness
            • Figure 1: Dining occasion by restaurant segment, by correspondence analysis, December 2018
          • Fast casuals have a low-value perception
            • Figure 2: Fast casual attitudes, December 2018
          • Fast casuals must attract diners beyond lunchtime
            • Figure 3: Fast casual behaviors, by dayparts, December 2018
          • The opportunities
            • Fast casual visitation is up
              • Figure 4: Year-over-year change in restaurant visitation, December 2018
            • iGens and Millennials drive fast casual growth
              • Figure 5: Year-over-year change in fast casual restaurant visitation, by generation, December 2018
            • What it means
            • The Market – What You Need to Know

              • Segment blurring creates increased competition for fast casuals
                • Fast casual chains fuel LSR segment growth
                • Market Perspective

                  • QSRs focus on plant-based proteins and transparent sourcing
                    • Figure 6: Restaurant segment preferences – LSRs, by gender/age, October 2018
                  • Casual dining competes for off-premise occasions
                  • Market Factors

                    • LSR segment growth will outperform FSR segment
                      • Figure 7: Total US revenues and forecast of restaurants and eating places*, by segment, at current prices, 2018 and 2023
                      • Figure 8: Top 10 fast casual restaurant chain percentage change in sales over prior year, 2017
                    • iGens become increasingly important diners for operators
                      • Figure 9: Population, by generation, 2013-23
                  • Key Players – What You Need to Know

                    • Korean fast casuals proliferate while poke concepts decline in popularity
                      • Fast casuals invest in delivery
                        • Happy hour specials attract evening diners
                        • What’s Working?

                          • Korean fast casuals allow consumers to experiment with international cuisines
                            • Fast casuals and third-party delivery companies define their relationship status
                            • What’s Struggling?

                              • Has poke peaked?
                              • What’s Next?

                                • Dieters are welcome
                                    • Figure 10: Chipotle Lifestyle bowls
                                  • Fast casuals become happy hour destinations
                                  • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                    • Fast casual customers report high satisfaction
                                      • Lack of distinctiveness threatens fast casuals
                                        • Panera and Chipotle are top-visited fast casuals
                                          • Fast casual operators must look beyond lunch
                                          • Restaurant Visitation

                                            • Fast food restaurants have highest visitation
                                                • Figure 11: Restaurant visitation, December 2018
                                              • Fast causal chain visitation highest among suburban dwellers
                                                • Figure 12: Fast casual restaurant visitation, by area, December 2018
                                              • Parents are heavy fast casual users
                                                • Figure 13: Fast casual restaurant visitation, by parental status, December 2018
                                              • Black consumers have significantly lower fast casual restaurant visitation
                                                • Figure 14: Fast casual restaurant visitation, by race and Hispanic origin, December 2018
                                            • Year-over-year Change in Restaurant Visitation

                                              • Consumers are increasingly visiting fast casuals
                                                • Figure 15: Year-over-year change in restaurant visitation, December 2018
                                              • iGens drive fast casual growth
                                                • Figure 16: Year-over-year change in fast casual restaurant visitation, by generation, December 2018
                                            • Fast Casual Chain Visitation

                                              • Panera Bread leads in visitation
                                                • Figure 17: Fast casual chain visitation, December 2018
                                                • Figure 18: Fast casual chain visitation, by region, December 2018
                                              • High-income correlates with Panera Bread visitation
                                                • Figure 19: Fast casual chain visitation, by household income, December 2018
                                              • Chipotle is popular with iGens
                                                • Figure 20: Fast casual chain visitation, by generation, December 2018
                                            • Dining Occasion by Restaurant Segment

                                              • Fast casual restaurants lack distinctive dining out occasions
                                                • Figure 21: Dining occasion by restaurant segment, by correspondence analysis, December 2018
                                                • Figure 22: Dining occasion by restaurant segment, December 2018
                                              • Younger diners more likely to associate fast casual restaurants with socializing
                                                • Figure 23: Dining occasion – Fast casual, by generation, December 2018
                                              • Dads more likely to associate fast casuals with morning meals and sports
                                                • Figure 24: Dining occasion – Fast casual, by parental status and gender, December 2018
                                                • Figure 25: Breakfast/brunch beverages of interest – Coffee, April 2018
                                                • Figure 26: Postmates promotional email “FREE delivery from Chipotle for this super weekend!”, February 2018
                                            • Fast Casual Satisfaction

                                              • More than 9 out of 10 consumers are satisfied with fast casuals
                                                • Figure 27: Fast casual satisfaction, December 2018
                                              • Customer service and menu item variety drive fast casual satisfaction
                                                • Figure 28: Key drivers of satisfaction with fast casual restaurants, net any satisfaction, December 2018
                                            • Fast Casual Important Attributes

                                              • Real ingredients and fresh vegetables are of top importance
                                                • Figure 29: Fast casual important attributes, December 2018
                                              • Baby Boomers prioritize health
                                                • Figure 30: Fast casual important attributes, by generation, December 2018
                                              • iGens and Millennials desire innovative menu items
                                                • Figure 31: Fast casual important attributes, by generation, December 2018
                                              • Hispanic diners crave global and regional flavors
                                                • Figure 32: Fast casual important attributes, by Hispanic origin, December 2018
                                              • Noodles & Company customers seek innovative and plant-based dishes
                                                • Figure 33: Fast casual important attributes, by fast casual chain visitation, December 2018
                                            • Fast Casual Attitudes

                                              • Specials could help drive sales, but fast casuals need to improve value perceptions
                                                • Figure 34: Fast casual attitudes, December 2018
                                              • Younger consumers want portable snacks
                                                • Figure 35: Fast casual attitudes, by age and gender, December 2018
                                            • Fast Casual Behaviors

                                              • Meals beyond lunch remain an important opportunity
                                                • Figure 36: Fast casual behaviors, December 2018
                                              • Younger urban consumers drive fast casual off-premise ordering
                                                • Figure 37: Fast casual behaviors, by gender and age, December 2018
                                                • Figure 38: Fast casual behaviors, by area, December 2018
                                            • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                              • Data sources
                                                • Sales data
                                                  • Consumer survey data
                                                    • Direct marketing creative
                                                      • Abbreviations and terms
                                                        • Abbreviations
                                                          • Terms
                                                          • Appendix – The Consumer

                                                              • Figure 39: Full service dining motivators, by changes in behavior – Restaurant visitation, December 2018
                                                            • Key Driver Analysis
                                                              • Interpretation of results
                                                                  • Figure 40: Level of satisfaction with fast casual restaurants – Key driver output, December 2018
                                                                • Correspondence Analysis
                                                                  • Methodology