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Made to Order: CHD Expert Evaluates the Fast Casual Restaurant Landscape of the United States

Todayis educated consumers demand healthier and more sophisticated food – and Fast Casual restaurants are meeting their needs with ease.

(Chicago, IL – November 17, 2015) – (Chicago, IL – November 17, 2015) – In today’s evolving foodservice landscape, changing consumer preferences often lead to new ways of doing business – and may even give rise to new concepts and categories. As Americans take charge of their health and seek out more wholesome dining options, the Fast Casual segment has risen to meet these demands. CHD Expert, the Chicago-based foodservice data and analytics firm, recently looked at the Fast Casual landscape of the United States to evaluate the latest trends and explore why this segment is taking the foodservice industry by storm.

As of November 2015, CHD Expert’s database has data and restaurant information for more than 62,400 Fast Casual restaurants across the USA, which makes up 9 percent of the total US restaurant landscape. CHD Expert defines a “Fast Casual” restaurant as an establishment with a limited-service or self-service format that serves innovative food suited to sophisticated tastes that is prepared to order with fresh (or perceived as fresh) ingredients. Fast Casual restaurants are classified under the Limited Service Restaurants (LSR) segment and make up 18 percent of the total LSR landscape in the United States.

Fast Casual restaurants are well equipped to cater to a more educated diner. Today’s consumer is more engaged with the food they eat, and make choices that indicate a greater overall concern with what’s being put on their plate. In addition to issues of sustainability and dietary restrictions, diners are also keeping customization and healthy options top of mind. They’re demanding that restaurants offer more nutritious and sophisticated food, which can be a challenge for more traditional Quick Service restaurants.

As these trends expand throughout the US, so does the popularity of Fast Casual restaurants. While some might believe that health-conscious diners reside mainly on the coasts or assume that customization is a foodservice fad, in reality it seems that these shifts are happening across the country. The five states with the highest percentage of the state’s restaurant landscape being made up of Fast Casual restaurants are DC – Washington & DC (15%), Texas (13%), Georgia (12%), Colorado (12%), and Utah (11%).

The diversity and span of the Fast Casual landscape also applies to menu type, as a variety of cuisines can be adapted to the “made to order” model. The top five Fast Casual menu types in terms of number of units include Mexican (18%), Sandwiches (14%), Barbecue (12%), Hamburgers (9%), and Varied Menu (6%). For a full breakdown of the top 10 Fast Casual Menu Types, see Figure 1.


Figure 1. Top 10 Fast Casual Menu Types in Terms of # of Units.

Fast Casual fare can be good for the body, but it can also be good for the wallet. The average check of a Fast Casual restaurant ranges from $8 to $12.

A handful of “superstar” Fast Casual brands have grown to transform the foodservice landscape by tapping into emerging consumer demands and developing foodservice programs that may one day fundamentally alter the way the next generation of Americans dines out. Chains make up 45 percent of the Fast Casual restaurant landscape. The top five most prevalent Fast Casual chain restaurants in the United States, in terms of number of units, are Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop (8%), Chipotle Mexican Grill (7%), Panera Bread (6%), Panda Express (6%), and Five Guys Burgers and Fries (5%).

In total, there are 482 Fast Casual chains in the United States, and they continue to do well year-over-year. The highest growth for Fast Casuals occurred in 2012 and 2013 when Panda Express and Chipotle Mexican Grill gained popularity. In 2013, the Fast Casual market experienced a 3.83 percent positive market change, up from a positive 3.43 percent market change in 2012. While year-over-year market changes slowed in 2014 and 2015 (as of October 2015 there was a 1.4 percent positive net market change), the Fast Casual market as a whole continues to grow year-over-year as new units and concepts enter the landscape. From 2009 to October 2015, the market grew 14 percent. See Figure 2 for a breakdown of growth per year.

Figure 2. Fast Casual Market Year-Over-Year.

“Up and coming” Fast Casual restaurants are also experiencing growth. Shake Shack, for example, experienced such positive growth that it went public with only 36 units in operation in the US. Likewise, Tender Greens, the “farm to fork” California-based fast casual chain with only 22 units, has attracted a big investor – Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group. (Meyer is also behind Shake Shack.) Tender Greens is the first company that Union Square Hospitality Group has bought into rather than develop, and the investment means that Tender Greens may expand outside of California.


Investments or no, the Fast Casual landscape still has room to nurture and grow new concepts. In 2007 the burger chain Smashburger only had 3 units in operation. Today they operate over 300 restaurants. Which Wich Superior Sandwiches experienced similar growth, adding over 250 units from 2007-2014. Other growth leaders in the Fast Casual segment include Mooyah, Salata, and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. See Figure 3 for a breakdown of this development.


Figure 3. Growth Leaders in Fast Casual

Traditionally, the Away-From-Home landscape has been dominated by drive-thru and Quick Service establishments; places with limited menus and without an offer of table service. Today, Fast Casual chains are changing the way many Americans think about “fast food” and eating on the go. In many of these establishments, the menu is only limited by the customer’s imagination.

Understanding the Fast Casual landscape is vital for foodservice professionals, suppliers, and other industry experts interested in keeping up with the latest trends and profitable ventures.

“Fast Casual brands are becoming big players in the foodservice industry. As they expand, so will the vendors and manufacturers that supply them,” notes Brad Bloom, VP of Sales and Marketing at CHD Expert, The Americas. “As Americans spend more time and money supporting the Fast Casual landscape, opportunities in this segment will continue to grow. CHD Expert is happy to be able to provide the comprehensive data that foodservice professionals need to contact these operators and get in on the ground floor of this flourishing segment.”

To obtain detailed information on the Fast Casual foodservice landscape, please contact Brad Bloom: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


About CHD North America

CHD Expert is the worldwide leader in collecting, managing, and analyzing data for the Away-from-Home Global Foodservice Market. Our services include foodservice market research and analysis, lead generation, appointment setting, email and direct mail campaigns, call center solutions, data analysis and database tools. We help our clients achieve their business goals through competitive intelligence, foot printing, detailed foodservice market reports, distributor lists, restaurant chain reports, and online research.

For more than 20 years CHD Expert has been dedicated to providing a global vision of the foodservice industry (in Europe, The Americas, and Asia Pacific) and supplying foodservice manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, sales and marketing professionals with the most comprehensive and accurate foodservice census; housing intelligence for more than 5 million operators worldwide.

For additional information, please visit https://www.chd-expert.com or call 1-888-243-0154.