Today’s younger consumers are more entitled, involved and engaged with controlling the food they order and eat at restaurants. That includes greater control over the kitchen. Today’s service models have moved the back of house into the front of house, giving customers more interaction and insight into what happens as their food is made. In addition, many restaurants have focused on ingredient quality and sourcing, providing their customers information on how and where ingredients are obtained. Consumer spend proves restaurants that give a greater choice are on trend with what diners seek.
The build-your-own or BYO movement isn’t as simple as “what you want on it.” Diners consider in their value equation what it costs to add on items and the quantity of the ingredients. Flavor combinations and creativity drive customization and personalization, and brands that allow this type of interaction drive value. The “Subway model”—or what is more commonly referred to today as the “Chipotle style” of service—creates great value by allowing customers to interact with staff, not only to choose their ingredients but also to specify how much of each they incorporate into the meal.
Technomic tracking finds that fast casual continues to incorporate this format broadly, especially in Mexican burrito and taco shops, “better-sandwich” concepts, Mediterranean grills, Asian roll-your-own sushi formats and, more recently, in the underserved fast-casual pizza segment (one with explosive growth potential). The results speak for themselves: Although BYO formats account for only 22.5% of fast-casual chains, the growth rate for these chains in 2014 was 22%, while other fast-casual operators grew sales 11%.
As more consumers seek transparency in restaurant operations, they will be drawn to open kitchen formats and full-view preparation that provide visual transparency and evidence of food quality during the ordering process. With most preparation (including cutting, slicing and cooking) taking place in full view of customers, the trust factor is immediately built, and most customer questions can be answered with a glance. Removing the mystery behind ingredients and providing a “clean” preparation format gives customers greater peace of mind and builds trust in the operator.
As I see it, fast casual’s success continues to raise the bar for consumer expectations and challenges quick-service and full-service operators to respond. Striving to stay contemporary and relevant, major QSR players like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s have invested heavily into new custom platforms and greater customization options, while open kitchen designs are proliferating in full service. As consumers get more of what they’re looking for, operators who don’t evolve and adapt to the BYO revolution will continue to lose ground and market share.
Note: This content originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Technomic’s Foodservice Digest newsletter.