How the Fastest of the Fast-Casual Chains Sustain Growth

Fast-casual restaurants continue to outperform quick-service and full-service establishments and post strong gains even while the rest of the industry is having a more difficult time expanding and increasing sales. In our latest reporting, we found that U.S. systemwide sales for the Top 150 fast-casual restaurant chains grew 13.1 percent in 2012, while netting an increase of 9.3 percent more units than in 2011.

While that’s certainly impressive, the fastest-growing fast-casual chains significantly outpaced the average for leading fast-casual operators, with the top 10 chains growing sales 26 percent or more.

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*Technomic estimate
Source: 2013 Technomic Top 150 Fast-Casual Restaurant Chain Report

How are the fastest of the fast-casual chains attempting to sustain their growth? Many of the top-performing chains use a variety of tactics, including:

  • Implementing new and hot trends (if it makes sense with the brand positioning). For example, Smashburger started partnering with local craft breweries in select markets to create beer and burger pairings on its menu.
  • Finding additional revenue streams, by way of catering programs or offering multi-daypart fare. For instance, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit recently unveiled a full-service catering program that is geared toward wedding rehearsals and receptions.
  • Using social media as a marketing tool. Earlier this year, FREEBIRDS World Burritos launched its Carpe 500 campaign to promote menu items with less than 500 calories. A new page on the chain’s website allows guests to build an entree with their favorite toppings and see how many calories it contains. Guests can then share their creation on the FREEBIRDS Facebook page for a chance to win one of 500 free burritos.
  • Keeping relevant through technology, such as creating smartphone applications and reaching out to guests through e-marketing. Recently, Zoes Kitchen launched LIFE, a smartphone app that allows users to place orders, upload receipts, access a nutrition calculator and participate in the chain’s loyalty rewards program.

What other innovative growth strategies have caught your eye among fast-casual operators?

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Naomi Van Til

Naomi Van Til is a Senior Global Data Manager at Technomic Inc. She manages the firm’s Industry Reports, a global series that identifies major players and marketplace dynamics, keeping foodservice professionals smart about performance and trends. In addition, she is responsible for the tracking of chain restaurant and non-commercial financial data that makes up a large part of Technomic’s custom database, The Digital Resource Library, and is utilized within many other company products, such as Market Intelligence Research reports, Consumer Trend reports, custom studies, newsletters and conference presentations.

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