Fast Casual Leaders to Examine Segment’s Future

What do Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises founder Richard Melman, Qdoba Executive Chef Ted Stoner and Cosí Inc. President and CEO Carin Stutz have in common? All will be in Chicago next week to share their insights into the dynamic and evolving fast-casual restaurant segment as panelists at the National Restaurant Association Fast Casual Trends & Directions conference.

The conference, presented by the NRA, Technomic and Digital CoCo, will take place May 17–18 at Chicago’s historic Drake Hotel and at the McCormick Place convention center. Online registration for the conference is available here.

This is an event for fast-casual operators, by fast-casual operators. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders and Technomic’s top analysts how to better market to consumer subsegments such as Millennials, Hispanic guests and affluent diners; build business across dayparts; and leverage technology to not just reach but engage customers.

In his Founder’s Presentation on Friday, Rich Melman will discuss how LEYE expanded beyond its collection of several highly successful casual-dining concepts to launch fast-casual chain Wow Bao and foodlife, an elevated, fast-casual take on a food court.

Qdoba’s Ted Stoner and Cosí’s Carin Stutz will join Nick Vojnovic, president of Little Greek, to talk menu trends and quantified menu research with Nancy Kruse, a menu trends analyst and president of the Kruse Company.

And I’ll offer my take on fast-casual concepts that are driving innovation and growth as well as best practices in menu, service and the dining experience.

Saturday’s lineup at McCormick Place features great sessions on consumers’ changing views of “healthful,” plus strategies for mobile engagement and fast-casual benchmarking. We’ll conclude with the Digital Consumer Choice Awards, honoring operators from across the fast-casual spectrum that are reaping the rewards of effective social-media use.

You can check out all of the action as it happens live and join in what’s sure to be lively conversation by following us on Twitter at @technomic and using the hashtag #fastcasualTD.

Our second annual Fast Casual Trends & Directions conference has been a long time in the making, and I’m excited to join with a diverse group of fast-casual innovators to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for this exciting segment of the foodservice industry. I hope to see you there.


Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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