The New Crew: Fast Casuals Setting the Industry on Fire

Photo courtesy of Shake Shack

Fast casual concepts are pretty popular these days. Since most diners are looking for higher quality ingredients that are locally-sourced, fast casual has been able to provide what theywant for at a relatively inexpensive price. 

This also means a lot of fast food brands have taken a hit. When a guest used to find himself at McDonald’s for a quick Big Mac, he’s now heading over to a venue like Matchbox to get a quality burger with ultra fresh ingredients. And the setting isn’t too bad either. Like Matchbox, most fast casual concepts offer a comfortable atmosphere with a lively bar and overall cozy experience. Much different than any ambiance at a local McDonald’s. 

So with the ongoing rise of fast casuals, we thought it’s best to check out which brands are currently on top. With our Foodable Labs' data, we're able to determine which casual dining brands are outshining the competition. The final score of each brand is based on a total of 500 and made up of five tracking categories which include, sentiment, influence, engagement, location-based actions, and mobile engagement.

We looked at the latest findings in the Foodable Labs' data and found a few casual dining brands that are really standing out. Here’s what we learned.  

Shake Shack - Score: 479.64

Photo courtesy of Shake Shack

It’s no surprise that this fast casual chain is currently leading the pact. Shack Shake began as simply a New York City food cart back in 2004 and has quickly grown into a massive chain serving up must-try burgers and shakes. Locations can be found all over - not just in New York City - and are popular among hungry eaters that want quality for a good price. 

And speaking of quality, the burgers found here are made out of 100% Angus beef (meaning without any hormones or antibiotics added), making guests feel good about their choices. But it’s not only burgers that customers flock to Shake Shack for, it’s also the hot dogs, which are made with all-natural beef and served on a potato roll. Plus, some locations (Madison Square Park, Fulton Center and the Dubai Airport) offer breakfast, adding another reason why people can’t get enough of this brand.

“This modern day 'roadside' burger stand serves up the most delicious burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, shakes, beer, wine and more. An instant neighborhood fixture, Shake Shack welcomed people from all over the city, country and world who gathered together to enjoy fresh, simple, high-quality versions of the classics in a majestic setting,” states the company’s website.

And with all this success comes some big crowds, meaning massive lines (especially in the New York City locations). Thankfully, Shake Shack now offers a new app that allows customers to pre-order without the pain of standing in line. Another huge plus for the fast casual giant.

Panera Bread - Score: 479.12

Photo courtesy of Panera Bread

What’s in a name? A lot when it comes to this fast casual brand. Panera Bread is known for it’s freshly basked breads ranging in a variety of styles and flavors (think: tomato basil and Asiago cheese). The breads can come in sandwich form but can also be served alongside soups, salads, and other entrees.

The company’s motto is to provide healthy food that tastes great, while offering a relaxing setting you want to sit in and enjoy: 

“And we believe that good food, food you can feel good about, can bring out the best in all of us,” says the company’s website. “Food served in a warm, welcoming environment, by people who care. To us, that’s good eating and that’s why we’re here.”

The You Pick Two combo deal is popular among many customers who want the best of both worlds (choice of two: soup, salad or sandwich) and want to have it all for under 600 calories. However, you no longer have to visit the restaurant to get the food you want, thanks to the convenience of home or work delivery Panera Bread now offers. And with the Panera at Home items, you can even find what you’re looking for at a local grocery story and cook up your own Panera Bread-inspired meals. The website even has helpful recipes to get you started.

Tender Greens - Score: 476.56

Photo courtesy of Tender Greens

Founded in 2006, the California-based chain has been making its mark in the dining scene. Priding itself on offering “farm-to-fork cuisine” that is always fresh and “farmer's market sensible,” you know you’re getting high-quality products when you hit up your local Tender Greens. 

Locally-sourced ingredients ranks high on the chain’s list, working with those close by to get not only the freshest products but to also keep the brand “green.” The company website states this:

“Establishing partnerships with local ranchers and purveyors is an important hallmark for Tender Greens. Most of our produce comes fresh picked daily from Scarborough Farms in Oxnard, an investor in Tender Greens, who provides the restaurants with fresh-picked produce daily in reusable eco-friendly containers.”

Salads, soups, and sandwiches are the big sellers on the menu, all of which can be found for $12 or less. Each location has its own specialty items - depending on what the chef wants to create that day - and also offers housemade cheese, cured prosciutto, and jams.