Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fast Casual Foods-Evolution of eating out practices in the US

Eating out practice is a part of the societal evolution with the growth of modern industrial and business environment forcing families to spend less and less time in the kitchen to feed them. Such dining out is in vogue all over the world, it is most conspicuous in America and Europe. Over a period of time the concept of eating out has seen a sea change from formal dining to dining on the side of the streets. Remarkably fast food joints and food trucks have grown phenomenally that they are threatening the very foundation of established restaurants which provide ambiance and fine quality food preparations to be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. Fast food restaurants serving products made mostly from frozen products offer low cost foods at a fast pace. These food caterers, mostly in chain mode, have hundreds of outlets across the country with standardized eateries, characteristic of each chain. A new catering concept called fast casual started a few years ago which seems to have caught the fancy of people as reflected by dramatic growth of this sector and though they are also fast food outlets, their food offerings are much superior in quality to those served by fast food set ups, though they may cost 50% to 100% more. Here is a take on this new trend.

"While fast casual chains do not compare to the robust revenue stream of restaurant giants like McDonalds, the industry has witnessed growth rates not seen in the quick service industry. It is reported that sales of fast casual outlets rose by 10.5% in 2014, compared with 6.1% for fast food chains. Notably, industry leader Chipotle is enjoying 20% annual growth rates. Combining ambience and meal quality comparable to casual dining with the convenience of a quick service chain, the fast casual industry has been a model for current and future success. A number of factors, including affordability in conjunction with quality, taste, convenience, and customer service, form the basis for fast casual outlets.In general, a fast food meal costs between $5 and $7 while offering average food quality, no table service, and limited customization. Conversely, the fast casual concept incorporates affordability with high quality ingredients. While the typical cost of fast casual meals is more expensive than their quick service counterparts, consumers are afforded more natural ingredients and custom meals. As mentioned previously, Chipotle Mexican Grill is at the forefront of the rapid growth. Chipotle offers made-to-order meals with plenty of options for customization. As consumer habits shift to healthier life choices, ingredients labeled organic, fresh, and non-GMO are associated with higher prices. As a result, the average Chipotle customer spends $11.56 per visit with prices continuing to rise as a result of commodity price fluctuations. However, the sector still maintains high volume sales, indicating that people prefer quality and hygiene over low prices. (For more, see: 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)"

Rise of fast casual food outlets also saw the emergence of food trucks which offer foods made from fresh raw material though they do not have very comfortable sitting facilities, most of them serving foods to customers on the sides of designated roads. They enjoy the advantage of shifting their operation to places where customer density is high. Fast casual restaurants, on the other hand provide seating facility and serve many customized products prepared in full visibility of the customers! Look at India where fast food restaurant concept is emerging now, most of them being of American origin through some of their offerings are "adapted" to local flavor preferences. There are a few Indian traditional food caterers who have started fast food outlets serving standardized  ethnic foods while road side vending is also growing with millions of cart based and van based caterers doing decent business in almost all towns and cities in the country. Of course these street food vendors cannot be compared to food truck business in the US, especially in terms of hygiene, sanitation and safety.


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