The Story Behind 'Fast Casual Nation' and the Film's Mission

From its first screening at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Show to becoming available on demand earlier this year, the journey to "Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats" has been a long one. However, much longer than that, the story of this full-length documentary actually began a decade ago.

Ten years in the making, the idea of "Fast Casual Nation" first sparked even before the word "fast casual" was invented. Before fast casual was defined, before Foodable founder and the film's executive producer, Paul Barron, coined the term in 1993, foodservice experts began seeing a shift — consumers wanted the high-quality ingredients of casual dining with the convenience of fast-food restaurants. The way America was eating began to transform and Barron knew he had to document the story as it unfolded.

"One of the passion points behind this film was attempting to capture the amazing insights of some of the fast casual pioneers. The Fast Casual Industry Council, which was born from the Fast Casual Alliance, was just an idea of how we could bring thought leaders in fast casual together to forward the overall mission of segment growth," he said. 

"Clearly, the mission was achieved with the fast casual segment now nearing $70 billion [in sales]. But more importantly, this film bridges the gap of restaurant innovator and leaders to the modern-day consumer. The ideas and mission from over 15 years ago are all being played out in the restaurant landscape today — and the film clearly shows how all of this became reality."

The Fast Casual Industry Council, formerly known as the Fast Casual Alliance and which launched in 2010 (as a response to the then new and growing field that was unlike any other segment foodservice had seen before), was designed so that senior executives from the segment could join together and discuss common concerns, advising the National Restaurant Association along the way. 

Don Fox, CEO of fast casual sandwich chain Firehouse Subs and Member of the FCIC, and who also starred in the film, had high hopes for the mission of "Fast Casual Nation."

"Before the rise of fast casual concepts, consumer choice was generally narrow in terms of quality, affordability, and convenience. If you desired quality, it meant paying substantially more and being willing to forgo convenience. ...If you wanted affordability and/or convenience, you were limited to the universe of fast food restaurants. The accessibility to fast casual brands has allowed many customers to satisfy all three of those desires, without compromise," Fox said.

"There are still many Americans who are not fully aware of the array of choices out there. My hope would be that 'Fast Casual Nation' inspires a spirit of adventure and discovery among consumers."

Larry Reinstein, industry veteran, fast casual consultant, president of LJR Hospitality Ventures, and who was also featured in the film, agreed.

"The impact we are seeing as a result of 'Fast Casual Nation' is celebrity chefs and creative restaurateurs providing consumers with unique, signature food and beverages able to be served in multiple formats. I hope and expect to see an increase in fresh local ingredients being the components of meals that will be available to a greater percentage of the population at more affordable prices," Reinstein said.

"Technological improvements in food service equipment will also make it faster and easier to produce higher-quality, more consistent products. The quality of ingredients will continue to improve due to increased local farming providing easier access to fresh ingredients. ...Technology will be the major disruptor and a willingness to embrace change [will be] key to restaurant success," he added, speaking on where he sees fast casual heading. "...Environment and social experience will drive people to restaurants in a more significant way than quality of food. High-level food will become an expectation."