Fast Casual Trends for 2016

Fast casual restaurants are becoming the go to dining establishment for Generation Z. They are the establishments that answer the need for speed married with a healthier menu than the standard fast food restaurant.

Interestingly enough, fast casual restaurants are not immune from yearly trends.

Through the last few years, there has been a major shift in what we consider fast casual and how those types of restaurants appeal to the next generation. The primary answer to that is taking what used to be complicated and interesting and making it basic and accessible. Today’s diners are tech savvy, connected and relatively ethnic devoid. Food is food. They don’t need to call it Italian… it’s just pizza. It’s not Mexican… it’s just a burrito. But they want those foods to be cutting edge with fresh ingredients, alternatives to old stand-bys, and though it’s just a burrito, it should be the way they want it. So when we look at the twenty-something set, we know they come to dine with enthusiasm, friends, a diverse pallet and a smart phone. They also may dine out more than once a day. They are savory, and want to eat healthy.

With this in mind, trends to watch for in 2016 should include:
Food Halls
Please everyone at once. Taking a cue from the old mall food courts we remember, food halls have begun popping up around the country, combining many types of food offerings in one location. Whether multi-focus or single focus, food halls offer the diner an opportunity to appeal to exactly what he/she wants, even if the rest of the party wants something different.
Savory. Simple. Experimental.
Sweet is a passing fade that has now given way to a fuller pallet. Put away the yogurt with strawberry swirl and pull out the beets, avocado and mint yogurt bowl.
Dining Out Alternatives
More and more on-demand delivery services are springing up. The newest push online is for ordering pre-packaged meal kits. Don’t be afraid of this trend. Embrace it. This generation is complimenting their favorite restaurants by wanting to create the exact dish at home. Make it possible.
Technology Driven Food Delivery
Get on board. Your customers are savvy and have the ability to order from an app. UberEats, Grub Hub, Yelp, Amazon Prime Now are making it viable to establish delivery-only establishments aimed at getting your foods to the customer quickly. Certainly the costs of delivery will rise, as those services will take their share. But when you have a customer who simply must have an Asian chicken salad from Panera right now, rest assured, they will be willing to pay for the convenience factor.
Natural Food
No GMOs, nothing artificial, all natural. Sugars, salt, and fats should be replaced with other flavor components. Time to start removing as much of the processing of food as we can. It’s not just the food consumed in restaurants that make the natural aspect though. It is also knowing that the company is doing the right thing by the environment and its employees. Fast casuals should put an emphasis on conservation and treatment of employees.
Fast Casual establishments are the way for Generation Z. How might these trends come into play in 2016? Let’s take a look back in 2017 and see. I’d be will to bet we continue to see this segment grow – but only if they can meet the changing needs of the customer.


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