Sorry for interrupting, this website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Learn more
Accept & Close

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 and how fast are its rates of growth? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Definition

This Report will examine consumer attitudes toward the fast casual dining segment. It will investigate frequency of visitation to fast casual restaurants, consumer comparisons to other dining segments, and fast casual cuisine interest. This Report builds upon previous Reports with this title from 2017, 2016, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

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. There is no waiter service, no alcoholic beverages, and a low price point. Examples include: McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Pizza Hut.
  • Fast casual restaurants – These establishments are characterized by a higher price point than QSRs though not as high as full-service restaurants. Fast casuals do not offer waiter service and may or may not serve alcohol. Examples include: Chipotle, Panera Bread, Shake Shack, and Blaze Pizza.
  • LSRs (limited-service restaurants) – These establishments provide food services where customers usually select and order items and pay before dining. Food/drink may be consumed on the premises, offered as carryout, or delivered to the customer’s location. These may also sell alcoholic beverages. LSRs include both QSRs and fast casual restaurants. The “other” category within LSRs (as seen in the Market Size and Forecast) includes snacks and non-alcoholic beverage bars, cafeterias, grills, and grill buffets.
  • FSRs (full-service restaurants) – These establishments have waiter/waitress service in which customers order and are served while seated. These may also sell alcoholic beverages and offer carryout services and include the following restaurant segments: midscale, casual dining, and fine dining.
  • MMI (Mintel Menu Insights) – MMI is a quarterly census of restaurant brands covering all commercial segments and US census regions/divisions, with trends going back to Q2 2004. MMI tracks more than 30 unique menu item attributes including flavor, preparation (physical and/or cooking), menu type/section, cuisine type, menu claims, etc, grouped into six major categories from macro restaurant, menu, plate, item dish, and beverage to micro ingredient detail.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Diane Kelter, 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.

Even as things change, they still remain the same. The concept of quality food at an affordable price that launched the fast casual segment has remained a key association. However, as dining habits shift and the landscape gets more competitive, fast casuals look beyond what worked in the past and focus on what lies ahead, including more premium beverages and automation as well as the showcasing of specialty concepts on a mainstream stage. Diane Kelter
Foodservice Analyst

What you get

What's included

Why buy from us?

Succeed

Our reports will provide you with market data, consumer research and competitive intelligence to succeed in your market.

Instant Access

Buy now and you'll have instant access to the information you need to make the right decisions.

Opportunities

Find out what's next in the markets that matter to you: where opportunities lie and what challenges you will face.

Trusted

A business Superbrand, Mintel is a source you can trust. We have been defining and refining the Market Intelligence mix since 1972.

Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • The issues
          • Fast casuals struggle to capture dinner appeal
            • Figure 1: Restaurant segment preference, by dining occasion, November 2017
          • Chipotle needs to make an effort to reach broader demographics
            • Figure 2: Chipotle visitation, by gender and age, November 2017
          • The opportunities
            • Premium beverages allow fast casuals to serve more dayparts
              • Figure 3: Fast casual beverage areas of interest, by gender and age, November 2017
            • Seafood a key menu opportunity for fast casuals
              • Figure 4: Fast casual restaurant interest, November 2017
            • Fast casuals can promote premium snacks
              • Figure 5: Interest in snacking at fast food and fast casual restaurants, by age/household income and socioeconomic status, November 2017
            • What it means
            • The Market – What You Need to Know

              • Staying afloat with iGen trends
                • QSRs combat fast casuals on the definition of value
                  • Quality control becomes more proactive
                  • Market Perspective

                    • The competitive landscape:
                      • Legacy segments bring a focus back to tradition
                        • Beverage operators accentuate key social experiences
                          • Retailers aim to make grocery shopping more than a routine chore
                            • Figure 6: At home and away from home food sales, November 2014-November 2017
                        • Market Factors

                          • Maintaining quality when fresh, real produce is the norm
                            • Pinpointing iGen preferences
                              • Ride sharing is the norm
                                • International cuisine is less foreign
                                  • Health is a lifestyle
                                  • Key Trends – What You Need to Know

                                    • Keep your eyes on the fast fine segment
                                      • The flexibility of the common bowl
                                        • Specialty concepts go mainstream
                                        • Fast Casual Menu Analysis

                                          • Moving beyond soda
                                              • Figure 7: Menu incidence of non-alcoholic beverages in fast casuals, O4 2015-Q4 2017
                                              • Figure 8: Menu incidence of alcoholic beverages in fast casuals, Q4 2015-Q4 2017
                                            • Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine are having a moment in the spotlight
                                              • Figure 9: Growth and decline in menu incidence of menu item cuisine types in fast casuals, Q4 2015-Q4 2017
                                            • Avocado momentum is not slowing down yet
                                              • Figure 10: Growth and decline in menu incidence of ingredients in fast casuals, Q4 2015-Q4 2017
                                          • What’s Working?

                                            • The fast fine movement gains steam
                                              • What is it?
                                                • Why is it growing?
                                                  • Restaurants leading the way:
                                                    • What’s next for this category?
                                                      • The evolution of the “bowl” meal
                                                        • What is it?
                                                          • Why is it growing?
                                                            • Restaurants leading the way:
                                                              • What’s next?
                                                                • The food hall expansion opportunity
                                                                  • What is it?
                                                                    • Why is it growing?
                                                                      • Restaurants leading the way:
                                                                        • What’s next?
                                                                        • What’s Struggling?

                                                                          • When a mission isn’t enough to rely on
                                                                            • Words without trust lose their meaning
                                                                              • Certain menu items aren’t meant to be promoted with the “real food” halo
                                                                              • What’s Next?

                                                                                • Former “niche” cuisines will continue to gain mainstream attention
                                                                                    • Figure 11: Social media sentiment for “by Chloe,” January 2017-January 2018
                                                                                    • Figure 12: Social media persona for “by Chloe,” January 2017-January 2018
                                                                                    • Figure 13: Social media word cloud for “by Chloe,” January 2017-January 2018
                                                                                • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                                  • Panera Bread maintains strong momentum
                                                                                    • Chipotle visitors are satisfied overall
                                                                                      • Parents are more likely to consider fast casuals an ideal dinner spot
                                                                                      • Fast Casual Visitation

                                                                                        • Panera Bread leads in visitation after a year of momentum
                                                                                          • Figure 14: Fast casual restaurant visitation, November 2017
                                                                                          • Figure 15: Fast casual restaurant visitation, by region, November 2017
                                                                                        • Chipotle’s core consumers are young men, but the chain needs to reach broader demographics
                                                                                          • Figure 16: Chipotle restaurant visitation, by gender and age, November 2017
                                                                                        • Generation X can’t be overshadowed at Panera Bread
                                                                                          • Figure 17: Panera Bread visitation, by gender and age, November 2017
                                                                                          • Figure 18: Panera Bread visitation, by age and HH income, November 2017
                                                                                      • Satisfaction across Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & Company

                                                                                        • Methodology
                                                                                          • Overall satisfaction for Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & Company
                                                                                            • Figure 19: Key drivers of satisfaction with Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & company, November 2017
                                                                                          • Despite Chipotle’s issues, consumers who visit the chain are satisfied
                                                                                            • Figure 20: Key drivers of satisfaction with Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & company, November 2017
                                                                                          • Panera Bread is hitting all the right notes
                                                                                            • Figure 21: Key drivers of satisfaction at Panera Bread, November 2017
                                                                                          • Noodles & Company could replace appetizers with snack-based offerings
                                                                                            • Figure 22: Key drivers of satisfaction at Noodles & Company, November 2017
                                                                                        • Fast Casual Associations

                                                                                          • Traditional fast casual associations remain strong
                                                                                            • Figure 23: Fast casual associations, November 2017
                                                                                          • iGens are accustomed to build-your-own concepts more so than other generations
                                                                                            • Figure 24: Fast casual associations, by generation, November 2017
                                                                                          • Real food and quality ingredients are equally important to highlight
                                                                                            • Figure 25: Fast casual associations, by generation, November 2017
                                                                                          • Fast casuals present a dinner opportunity for families, Black diners
                                                                                            • Figure 26: Fast casual associations, by area, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 27: Fast casual associations, by parents and nonparents, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 28: Fast casual associations, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2017
                                                                                        • Dining Out Occasions by Restaurant Segment

                                                                                          • The formality of dinner is not ancient news quite yet
                                                                                            • Figure 29: Correspondence analysis – Occasion preferences, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 30: Restaurant segment preference, by dining occasion, November 2017
                                                                                          • Fast casuals can create a niche for less-traditional dining occasions
                                                                                            • Figure 31: Happy hour restaurant segment preferences, among select demographics, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 32: Interest in snacking at fast food and fast casual restaurants, by age/household income and socioeconomic status, November 2017
                                                                                          • Weeknight dinners present more opportunities than social weekend dinners, but younger consumers are more open to both
                                                                                            • Figure 33: Restaurant segment preference for dinner on a Friday night, by generation and location, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 34: Restaurant segment preference for a weeknight dinner, by parents and nonparents, November 2017
                                                                                        • Fast Casual Restaurant Type Interest

                                                                                          • Is 2018 going to be the year of seafood?
                                                                                            • Figure 35: Fast casual restaurant type interest, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 36: Fast casual restaurant interest, by fast casual restaurant interest, November 2017
                                                                                          • Women crave more healthful restaurants while men prefer comfort and indulgence
                                                                                            • Figure 37: Fast casual restaurant type interest, by gender, November 2017
                                                                                          • Hispanics and Asians crave fast casuals they can identify with
                                                                                            • Figure 38: Fast casual restaurant type interest, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2017
                                                                                          • Pizza love is strong among iGens
                                                                                            • Figure 39: Fast casual restaurant type interest, by generations, November 2017
                                                                                          • Fast casuals expose consumers in a lower socioeconomic status to various cuisines
                                                                                            • Figure 40: Fast casual restaurant type interest, by socioeconomic status, November 2017
                                                                                        • Fast Casual Opportunities

                                                                                          • Transparency is still critical for fast casuals
                                                                                            • Figure 41: Fast casual opportunities, November 2017
                                                                                          • It’s time to look beyond the soda fountain
                                                                                            • Figure 42: Fast casual beverage opportunities, by age and gender, November 2017
                                                                                            • Figure 43: Fast casual opportunities, by parents and nonparents, November 2017
                                                                                          • Family-style meals might appeal to Asian and Hispanic families
                                                                                            • Figure 44: Fast casual opportunities, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2017
                                                                                        • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                          • Data sources
                                                                                            • Consumer survey data
                                                                                              • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                • Abbreviations
                                                                                                  • A note on socioeconomic levels
                                                                                                  • Appendix – Infegy Methodology

                                                                                                      • Theme definitions
                                                                                                      • Appendix – Demographic Profiles

                                                                                                          • Figure 45: Population by generation, 2013-23
                                                                                                          • Figure 46: Generations, by race and Hispanic origin, 2018
                                                                                                          • Figure 47: Distribution of generations by race and Hispanic origin, 2018
                                                                                                      • Appendix – Key Driver Analysis

                                                                                                          • Interpretation of results
                                                                                                            • Figure 48: Level of satisfaction with Chipotle, Panera Bread, Noodles & Company – Key driver output, November 2017
                                                                                                            • Figure 49: Level of satisfaction with Chipotle – Key driver output, November 2017
                                                                                                            • Figure 50: Level of satisfaction with Panera Bread – Key driver output, November 2017
                                                                                                            • Figure 51: Level of satisfaction with Noodles & Company – Key driver output, November 2017
                                                                                                        • Appendix – Correspondence Analysis

                                                                                                          • Methodology