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Fast-casual restaurants—eateries that are in between typical fast food chains and traditional casual dining—are a growing segment in Canada. As noted by Global News, this industry category enjoyed double-digit growth last year (http://globalnews.ca/news/2061932/in-canada-new-breed-of-fast-food-chains-are-eating-mcdonalds-lunch/), and Foodservice and Hospitality Magazine reports this trend is expected to continue in the upcoming year (http://www.foodserviceandhospitality.com/the-fast-casual-segment-remains-an-important-player-in-2016/). The growth in this segment points to the increasingly health-driven choices made by consumers, who are looking for that "sweet spot" that offers both quality and convenience.
Franchises in the fast-casual space are worth considering, but they do need to be creative and progressive in marketing and operations to be ahead of the increasing competition. While this space is still less saturated than the traditional restaurant categories, staying on top of trends as they evolve is what will ensure the continuing success of a fast-casual brand in Canada.
To get to the bottom of the fast-casual market, you need to know what makes it different from fast food staples and traditional casual dining.
A fast-casual eatery usually offers high-quality menu items with healthier, fresher ingredients at a higher price than some fast food chains. Specific options, such as organic or gluten-free, are often highlighted, and alcoholic beverages might be available. Metal or glass dishes are used to serve the food rather than plastic or paper packaging, and the ambience is a bit more upscale. It is worth noting, though, that several traditional and new fast food chains are also offering more health-driven items, and can also offer some great healthy franchising opportunities.
Customers at a fast-casual restaurant usually order and pay for their food at a counter and can see it being prepared, as opposed to having servers who take the order, bring the food and handle the bill at a traditional casual dining restaurant.
Because of the differences between a fast-casual chain and a traditional casual or fast food one, fast-casual brands must be able to identify and adapt to the needs and wants of customers. Some fast-casual chains, for example, use posters or menu boards to highlight how their dishes are made and point out any health benefits. This allows customers to immediately see that the brand is offering healthy alternatives. In a similar vein, the ambience and marketing should also reflect an understanding of when and why customers decide to eat out.
Community connectionFast-casual restaurants are often involved in their communities. They may partner with local schools, sports teams or other organizations and be involved with a national charity. Not only does this help make owning a franchise more fulfilling for the franchisees, but it also helps them get to know the local customer base on a more personal level than is possible through daily business alone.