CHICAGO -- Operators in the fast-casual  restaurant segment tend to distinguish themselves from fast-feeders by highlighting their higher-quality offerings, more sophisticated atmosphere, and enhanced service at prices that aren't much higher than those at quick-service  restaurants (QSRs). However, new research from Technomic Inc.  reveals that customers don't necessarily make those distinctions between the two.
Using data from its ongoing Consumer Brand Metrics: Restaurants study, which tracks consumer attitudes on more than 60 attributes of a restaurant visit, Technomic’s new Understanding Fast-Casual Restaurants and Their Consumers report shows that while consumers have generally higher expectations for fast-casual outlets -- except when it comes to takeout capacity -- their expectations are not largely different than those they have for quick-service chains.
For instance, 94 percent of customers rate food quality as important or very important when deciding which fast-casual restaurant to visit, compared to 92 percent of those who rate it similarly when deciding on a QSR, a difference of just 2 percentage points. Similarly, there is only a 3-percentage-point difference between fast casual and QSR in the number of customers who value atmosphere and service as important or very important for each segment.
Additionally, while customers rate fast-casual restaurants higher than QSRs, when it comes to their actual performance in terms of food quality, atmosphere and service, there is only a slight difference. According to Technomic, this suggests that fast-casual operators should question whether their differentiators are enough to make them stand out from fast food.