By Skip Cass, CEO at LRS
Even though fast casual has been the fastest-growing restaurant segment for a few years, there remains confusion among industry insiders about what the term even means. To some, it signals fresher, higher quality food. To others, it conveys a certain price point, atmosphere and friendliness of service.
Certainly, the category encompasses all of these things, but this much was crystal clear in a Technomic study published last year: When it comes to consumer expectations of fast casual restaurants, speed is king.
In fact, the Consumer Brand Metrics survey found that customers expect fast casual restaurants to serve up meals just as quickly as fast food alternatives. For each of the two segments, 90 percent of respondents rated speed as an important factor in picking a restaurant.
Think about that for a moment: Even though the food at fast casuals is better quality, fresher, and served in a more relaxed, less chaotic atmosphere, customers expect it to be served at the same speed as a fast food burger and fries.
From fast casual, consumers demand the best of both worlds: quality and speed. That’s quite a tall order.
However, the best fast casuals have found ways to pull it off, turning the concept into a win-win for consumers and businesses — consumers can get a fresher, healthier meal that fits today’s fast-paced lifestyle, while businesses turn more tables and generate more revenue.
Today’s Millennial Consumer Won’t Compromise on Speed
Demographics are a prime driver of the demand for speed.
Generation Y — the estimated 80-100 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 — currently represents the nation’s largest population cohort. In fact, it’s the largest population cohort in U.S. history, even bigger than the Baby Boom. (In a decade, Gen Y will represent 75 percent of the workforce, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.)
One thing to remember about Millennials is that they were raised in the age of speed and convenience, from on-demand services to smartphones that put the Internet in our pockets. They shun malls for online shopping and are open to buying groceries online.
They also dine out more than older generations, averaging four meals a week at restaurants. And research shows they ’re not just hitting up a burger joint every night — they want something fresher, healthier and environmentally responsible. Good food without the fuss, and fast.
Given the characteristics and preferences of this enormous group of consumers, is it any wonder that the fast casual segment has taken off?
How Businesses Meet the Need for Speed
So, if speed really is the gold standard for success in fast casual, how do businesses meet expectations while also delivering fresh, high quality food with a high degree of consistency?
Improvements in technology are a big part of the answer, and today’s cutting-edge tools do far more than speed up food delivery.
Coaster-style pagers, pioneered by LRS some 20 years ago, have evolved into sophisticated data-gathering systems that shave minutes off food delivery while also providing sophisticated analytics and data reporting that improve overall restaurant efficiency and performance.
With the LRS Table Tracker, for example, a pager-type device reads a tag on the customer’s selected table and broadcasts the location. Improving delivery times by an average of 20 percent, servers don’t waste time wandering around looking for table tents. And, the system helps the kitchen and service staffs ensure each order is delivered within a specified time.
Fast is Important, but Overall Guest Experience is the True Goal
However, such efficiencies are just the start of what Table Tracker delivers for fast casuals.
The bigger picture includes service data compiled over time to help ensure consistently high quality service across shifts, from day to day and even from location to location. Gone is the guesswork about how many servers are needed for the lunch or dinner rush. Gone are uncertainties about which locations perform best against service delivery benchmarks or where a business can find efficiencies to maximize profits.
All of these questions can be answered with data for businesses that have the right tools in place.
So, while speed might be a keystone ingredient for fast casual success, a winning recipe really depends on achieving a better managed, more efficient restaurant every day. Today’s customers want it all: fast, fresh and a consistently high quality guest experience.