A new trend for fast-casual dining is starting to challenge traditional fast-food operators, as the sector grows its market share rapidly.
That's the news from food service analysts NPD Group, which said that fast-casual restaurants, which combine the ambience of a full-service restaurant with the speed and delivery of a quick-service restaurant, had built a 3% share in the £49.2b food service market in the UK.
And in the 12 months to March 2012, the fast-casual sector posted a 3.6% increase in consumer visits and sales growth of 2.5%. That compares with a 0.9% increase in consumer visits and 1.6% sales growth for quick-service restaurants (QSR), often seen as the bright spot in the food service sector.
NPD said that chains such as Chipotle, offering Mexican food and Vapiano, with its fresh take on Italian food, epitomised the attributes of fast-casual dining. Others include Nando's, where consumers pay for their meals when ordered, enabling them to leave when they choose without waiting for the bill. Food is priced to enable young consumers to dine out, bridging the gap between fast food (with an average spend per trip of £3.47) and full-service dining (average spend £9.46).
Guy Fielding, food service director for NPD Group, said: "Fast-casual restaurants offer consumers a culinary adventure that is high quality, convenient and affordable. Its strength lies in offering consumers food, service, and design that combines operational excellence with a focus on quality. Its success is a clear sign that consumers are willing to pay for 'menu value,' and are not solely focused upon 'value menus' even in these economically challenging times.
"Fast-casual dining may be a new trend in the UK, but other food service providers should take note of its performance. In the USA, fast-casual dining is now four times the size of the fine-dining market. Its success in the UK is the beginning of a new way of dining; this is definitely not a blip."
By Neil Gerrard
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