Fast Casual Industry In 2022: Trends & Challenges

The fast casual industry is the sweet spot in restaurants, providing the best of both worlds. It’s a combination of higher quality, fresher food, served quickly without the option of full-service dining. It’s a unique concept that provides a relaxed experience for the customer. There is limited service or sometimes self-service, in a casual dining area or patrons can take their order to-go. Prices are typically lower than you would find in a full-service dining restaurant. Industry experts put that price point at about $9 to $17 per receipt.

Reasonable pricing, quality food and a comfortable atmosphere is the key to success when examining fast casual industry growth. The fast casual restaurant market size was valued at $125.6 billion in 2019, and is expected to reach $209.1 billion by 2027. It’s growing at a healthy rate of more than 10%.

Looking at the fast casual restaurant analysis here in the U.S., it’s clear that this is a competitive $47 billion industry and growing. Some experts say it’s the restaurant sector growing the fastest right now as pandemic habits have made many customers comfortable with the appeal of something customizable and convenient.

Competition in the Market

As Americans continue to evolve from the pandemic shut-downs, the new way of life is about making healthy food choices even if it means spending a bit more. It is a culture of healthy lifestyles with demand for food that’s delicious, convenient and improves overall wellness. Although we are an on-the-go country, the pandemic has created a shift. Consumer demand shows more people are trying to purposely slow down. Savvy entrepreneurs know it’s a good time to open up a fast casual restaurant to appeal to the trend.

To stand out among the competition, fast casual restaurants need to continue offering healthy options with a more customizable menu. The name of the game is innovation and flexibility.

Patrons also want transparency. They want to know where their food is sourced and/or how it was produced. Can foods come from local farms? It’s a concept that not only provides home-grown appeal, but a way to support the local economy. Consumers are trending toward purposeful, mission-based businesses and community involvement. Customer loyalty is big in this category for fast casual restaurants.

The franchise model proved to be very strong for fast casual restaurants during the height of the pandemic and exemplified the need to have an operational system that can quickly pivot and diversify to drive revenue growth. Having a strong online presence, delivery capability, take out options, contactless technology and outdoor dining were effective strategies that have now become commonplace.

These ideas are not a passing fad. They are here to stay. These innovations were fast-tracked and are now a staple in the industry as patrons insisted on convenience. This means fast casual restaurants are making the investment in digital technology and kitchen automation. Here’s where the flexibility part of the equation comes into play. Restaurants are navigating new territory trying to figure out how technology plays into the customer experience.

The big challenge is that fast casuals must face the facts that to stay competitive you must deal with obstacles like continued employment issues. The need to hire workers, train them and retain them remains a constant challenge. It began at the start of the pandemic when workers were sent home or let go. Welcoming them back with incentives has worked well, but the shortage remains. That’s why it’s part of the balance between the human touch and automation to keep business afloat and profitable. Many brands have learned to accept technology as an answer to the labor shortage. Research and Markets predicts that the global food automation market will reach $14 billion by 2025. It may be pricey in the short term but will likely pay off in the long term. The challenge is about a good customer experience with high quality food prepared efficiently.

Industry Growth

Growth in both fast casual franchises and the QSR franchise model is expected to climb in 2022 and beyond. The consumer demand for meals that are quick, affordable and healthier than fast food is climbing and expected to remain a strong model. By 2024 it will be a $150 billion dollar industry in the U.S.

SoBol is there leading the way. As an acai bowl and smoothie café, our offerings provide heart-healthy, all natural, and fresh products, locally sourced when in season. Our operations are simple, focused, and repeatable with year over year growth.

Not only do we believe in providing fresh ingredients for any diet with a completely customizable menu, but we are purpose-driven. Our company values include being a positive force, caring for others and being passionate in our cafes and communities.

To learn more about our effective and lucrative franchise model, fill out and submit this franchise form and we’ll get the conversation started.