What Fast Casual Is and Why Some Companies Don’t Measure Up

The fast casual restaurant segment stormed onto the dining scene in the mid to late 1990’s and has really never looked back. The timing was perfect as there was no middle ground between the QSR segment and fine dining, and many consumers were looking for different dining options that fit in with their increasingly mobile lifestyles and decreasing margin of time. But it wasn’t just the choice that resonated, it was the options that resonated. Deeper, richer flavors with textures and nuances that weren’t available at many QSR’s is what many guests were looking for, and the fast casual segment was there to greet them.

Over the last 20 years we’ve seen many different iterations of fast casual restaurants created to try and capture the guest with their approach to better food choices, served in a unique service model in a more contemporary enviornment. Many of those concepts have been very successful. 

Having spent the last 13 years of my career immersed in the fast casual segment I am amazed that many organizations call themselves fast casual when they are really in the casual dining segment. This not only creates great confusion for guests, but also a lack of focus for the restaurant concept. Trying to be something you’re not is a dangerous proposition, and can do serious damage to your brand.

The idea of fast casual is rooted in the idea that you can get a high quality meal with engaging service in an efficient manner. The beauty of the fast casual model is you order your food, get exactly what you want, and it’s ready for you as you pay for it. If the execution does not match that model, it is not fast casual. It may be casual. If you order, get a number, and sit down and wait for your meal it is casual dining. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But calling a casual dining concept fast casual is setting an unrealistic expectation for the guest, and creating undue stress on the employees working in the restaurant. 

Not every concept translates to the fast casual model, nor should they. The restaurant world needs all kinds of concepts, for all sorts of occasions, and whatever segment a restaurant finds itself in, it should be embraced in order to deliver the best possible experience to the guest.

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Bobby Shaw

I am a former restaurant company executive with a passion for developing existing and future leaders to achieve high standards. I love helping organizations develop strong people cultures with an emphasis on leadership development that result in top-notch operations and better business results. I have over 30 years in the restaurant business in all facets of operations, from my start at McDonald's in the grill area in 1984 to overseeing 200+ restaurants with Chipotle Mexican Grill from 2002-2012 to leading Freebirds World Burrito's resurgence from 2013-2016 to working with the Salad and Go restaurant startup as CEO in 2016/2017. My real world experience transcends the typical operations background with a focus in leadership development and coaching. At the core of my background and experience, I believe that how leaders get results is just as important as getting them, and what got them where they are, won't necessarily get them where they want to go. I work closely with individual leaders and companies to improve their results through understanding how their strengths impact the overall results. My goal is to help business leaders and companies learn how to leverage the strengths of their employees by understanding their strengths and what they’re good at, and using that knowledge to positively impact their entire organization.

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