Last month, Fast Casual published an article that asked if the fast casual market is over saturated or if it’s still absorbing fast casual concepts.
The article raised a good question – as an industry do we reach a point where we don’t need another fast casual restaurant? Or is the solution to a crowded marketplace simply finding the next big thing?
Consider the better burger segment that has exploded on the scene within the last few years. Restaurants like Shake Shack, Smashburger, Mooyah, Five Guys, The Habit and recent hard hitter Jake’s Wayback Burgers (I mean a nine patty burger – who can resist that?!) have taken the fast casual segment by storm. Burgers are hot – hot – hot right now. But how long will they be hot? And how long before the market becomes oversaturated with better burger places?
Unfortunately, I don’t think the answer is a simple yes or no. I’ve mentioned in other articles that picking a niche is crucial. When Shake Shack defined themselves within the better burger niche, they also chose being kind to the planet, using humanely raised beef and artisan-produced ingredients and a commitment to customer service. In my opinion, committing to a niche and then bringing that commitment to the customer comes alive in your product.
Ultimately, I believe specialty niches will continue to pop up. If they commit to their niche from all aspects – culinary, community and commitment – then they can follow Shake Shack’s successful path.
So what will be the next specialty niche we see in the fast casual industry? Predicting BBQ seems a good choice – Dickey’s Barbecue Pit was recently named the Fastest Growing Restaurant Chain by Technomic’s Top 500 Annual Report. Shane’s Rib Shack is another concept that seems to be growing quickly, and Lillie’s Q (a full-service BBQ restaurant in Chicago) recently opened a train station outpost that serves up a limited menu, fast casual style. BBQ may be on its way to being the new better burger!
Mediterranean is another hot concept right now as a fast casual segment. While Daphne’s Greek Café has been around since 1991, smaller local concepts like Roti, Maoz and Gyroville have all sprouted up in the past few years. I think they have a good, healthy concept that many people will be open to trying (especially the healthy part – it’s a big trend right now!).
Those are my predictions – more barbecue and Greek flavors throughout the fast casual segment in the next few years. Eventually, they will move beyond the “specialty” category and establish their own niches – fast casual dining isn’t going anywhere.