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Fast-Casual Dining Trend

Posted: February 20, 2014, 5:11 p.m.,
by Stefanie Dunlap.

In an ever-changing world, the types of businesses that show up on the market are based on consumer wants and needs. More specifically, restaurants must tap into new food trends to ensure their customers are more than satisfied. One of the current food trends is fast-casual dining. Everyone is always on the go, but they still want fresh, home-style food, and fast-casual definitely fulfills those needs.

What is fast-casual dining?
Fast-casual combines the quickness of a fast food restaurant with the atmosphere and food quality similar to a full-service restaurant.

Frank Paci, CEO of McAlister’s Deli, explained the factors that have made fast-casual dining increasingly popular. “There are a couple things driving this. Fast-casual maintains high quality food and keeps in mind the time constraints on consumers,” Paci said. The combination of a casual atmosphere and getting your meal quickly is a recipe for success.

McAlister’s Deli focuses on allowing consumers to customize their options.

Photo by Mike D. Merrill
Photo by Mike D. Merrill

“Back in the day, it took quick-service restaurants forever to prepare the food, not allowing for customers to customize their meal,” Paci said. At these types of restaurants, customers are encouraged to add and substitute toppings and ingredients in their meals.

McAlister’s Deli is not the only fast-casual restaurant chain to achieve immense success. Keith Richards, C.D.O. and founder of Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, took a slightly different approach with his fast-casual restaurant.

“My wife and I traveled to Greece in 1997 and when we returned back home in Birmingham, Ala., I realized that the market was lacking a good Mediterranean restaurant,” Richards said.

A year later, Richards founded Taziki’s, and now he has 32 restaurants in nine states. Richards noted that when he designed the Taziki’s menu, he wanted to guarantee it would contribute to each customer being able to quickly choose a food item.

Photo by Amy Tripp Meyers
Photo by Amy Tripp Meyers

Reasons for success
One reason this section of the restaurant industry has thrived is because of its diverse target audience. Paci and Richards agreed that the audience for fast-casual restaurants varies from families to college kids to seniors; fast-casual dining invites any slightly health-conscious individual into their restaurants.

People expect fast-casual dining to offer healthy choices and incorporate fresh food into their menus. McAlister’s Deli ensures this higher quality of food through its research kitchens where the staff always uses high-quality ingredients and easy preparation methods.

Similarly, Taziki’s preps specifically for each meal and receives fresh produce daily. The Greece-inspired restaurant also brings in the appropriate technology and kitchen appliances to help prepare the food.

Lastly, fast-casual is not only successful because it directly gives consumers what they want, but it also is a smart business venture.

“Fast-casual restaurants have a larger return on investment than most full-service restaurants. They also give more opportunities and benefits to franchisees,” Richards said.

Growth of the industry
Fast-casual dining may seem like it has reached its peak, but Paci and Richards are confident it will continue to grow. Richards estimated that Taziki’s will be in 30 to 40 states within the next five years; it is currently working on opening stores in Louisiana and Texas. Similarly, McAlister’s Deli plans to open 25 more restaurants during 2014.

The importance of tapping into what consumers want is evident through the rise of fast-casual dining. People such as Paci and Richards recognize that people want to have a fast meal, without sacrificing the quality of food. Listening to your consumers and realizing what they want are crucial aspects of having a successful business.

These types of establishments can make themselves unique by combining the concepts of fast and casual as it fits their vision. Although McAlister’s Deli and Taziki’s are only two examples of fast-casual restaurants, their success makes it clear that this section of the food industry invites creativity and is not going anywhere.


  1. Post comment

    I really enjoyed this article because I find myself eating at fast-casual restaurants more and more. Fast-casual dining establishments are growing all over, especially right here in Tuscaloosa. These establishments attract students and people who have limited time to spend eating each day. I agree that fast-casual dining is not at its peak. I believe that this is just the beginning of this type of dining. In my opinion, these places are more attractive because they make it easy to substitute ingredients and customize orders without feeling like it is a hassle for the workers. I think that fast food restaurants will be the ones who will suffer the most in the long run from the success of fast-casual places, because people are realizing how easy it is to get a quick meal that offers healthy options. I believe that it will evolve even more over the years because I think traditional restaurants see how successful fast-casual restaurants are and will want to modify their establishments to keep up with modern trends. There are many of these fast-casual restaurants in Tuscaloosa, my favorite ones being Chipotle, Panera, Jason’s Deli and Newks. Panda Express has been a huge hit with students, and I think that we should expect more of these restaurants to open over the next couple years.

  2. Post comment

    I found this article to be interesting and educating at the same time. McAlister’s and Tazikis are two of my favorite restaurants. I hear my friends and I constantly saying there is not enough hours in the day. It is great that we can still have a fresh and healthy meal while also being fast. I liked the part about fresh produce daily because that is what most people are looking for in a place to eat. The fact that you can also customize your meals helps sway restaurant goers to pick a fast casual dining experience. Great article Stefanie!

  3. Post comment

    Great Article Ms. Dunlap….Well written..I wish we had a McAlister’s in Katy TX.


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