Key Strategic Lessons From the Fast Casual Boom

By Elizabeth Blau Founder & CEO, Blau & Associates | August 20, 2017

Co-authored by Tim Martin, Director of Strategic Development, Blau & Associates

Over the past several years, many of us have watched with excitement and interest as the fast-casual restaurant segment has continued to boom. More and more, talented chefs with fine dining pedigrees are bringing their skills, creativity, and experience to concepts built around speed, approachability, and volume. Right now, the ability to offer a gourmet experience at all price points is as compelling to restaurateurs and diners alike.

Lower price points, faster service, and casual spaces allow diners to explore new foods and experience hot concepts with little consequence and more frequency. Furthermore, with a much lower barrier to entry, diners are more receptive to trying new flavors and more adventurous preparations, providing a new avenue for creative expression. Sliders, flatbreads, and tacos are great conduits for new flavor combinations, and people are willing to try foods they already recognize.

Restaurateurs continue to face challenges to the cost of their operations on all fronts, from rent to labor to materials, while still managing a public who expects and demands quality ingredients, innovation, creativity and originality. The trend towards fast casual reflects this reality but provides an opportunity for growth and expansion within it. Regardless of your segment, the increasing pressures on restaurant operators are a reality, and even if you are not currently developing your fast casual concept, the lessons learned from the boom are worth considering.

The following points summarize a few of the key themes that I have taken to heart from the current demand for fast casual restaurant concepts. While they may be lessons learned within the context of this current trend, I personally feel that their application is valid across a much wider variety of segments and concepts. The reality is that market pressures continue to throw up larger and larger hurdles for restaurant operators, and that continues to drive innovation and adjustments to expectation that must be recognized. The more aware we are of these conditions and their implications, the stronger we will be as operators.

Approachability

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.