Taking Advantage of the Fast-Casual Cuisine Trend
By John Signorelli Executive Chef, St. Regis Houston | July 31, 2016
With the current, customer-driven focus on a more "fast casual cuisine", including those of varied and authentic ethnic origins, the direction of today's mainstream cuisine is one which tends to veer far from the classic protein/starch/vegetable triad located at "10, 2 and 6 o'clock" on the well-worn plates of many full-service or casual dining restaurants. This lasting trend of fast casual is more towards a cuisine which stays true to the items' origins by sourcing authentic and better ingredients for their distinct flavors, resulting in an overall higher quality of food, served more quickly than any tablecloth-clad establishment can match.
Savvy eaters today, however, crave something more than just this. The fast casual movement must provide An Experience, in conjunction with a great meal, to be deemed memorable and noteworthy, so that the customer feels satiated in both mind and heart, as well as in their stomach.
By providing fast casual cuisine in a creative and well thought-out environment, by a service-minded staff who genuinely care about the guest's experience, and by offering a fairly-priced menu which contains flexibility and originality, often with the food preparation taking place in full view, this established niche of restaurants is now capturing a greater percentage of the hungry who no longer care to eat fast food at quick service restaurants, and are purportedly too busy or simply unwilling to devote time to a more formal setting. This equates to a role model formula for the operators' success: repeat business + increased revenue generation. Now who wouldn't be open to getting onboard that gravy train?
Today's Chef-driven fast-casual concepts rise well towards the top of current movements in the culinary scene, with a focus on the gold standards of locally grown produce, natural ingredients, minimally processed food, and a positively impactful environmental sustainability.
As for professionals in the hotel industry, we can learn a lot by keeping a keen eye on what is happening outside our protected realm of our big boxes, with regards to the fast casual scene, as well as with other industry segments too. We can also ensure that WE are the ones setting the culinary pace for stand-alone restaurants to mimic and envy, and take action to establish how these fast casual concepts are executed within our restaurants in a way which is meaningful for the guests, and operationally sustaining for us.
Incorporating such unique gems as in-house butchery and charcuterie, and baking from-scratch artisanal breads, for example, help to provide the creative "hook" one needs to differentiate our restaurants from the one across the street.