How Casual Restaurants are Elevating Their Brand

Adding gourmet options can boost your revenue and your reputation.
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You can make 'fine-dining' affordable to your customers by coming up with artistic plating presentations and implementing seasonal menu changes. (Photo: IriGri/Shutterstock)

One of the top restaurant trends for 2018 is putting a gourmet spin on the everyday quick-service restaurant (QSR). Think gourmet tacos, wagyu sandwiches, superfood salads and fancy food trucks — fine dining without the pomp and circumstance.

“Fine casual is chef-driven casual dining with a quick-service model,” explained Jay Bandy, restaurant guru and president of Goliath Consulting Group.

Bandy said adding gourmet options to your menu can elevate your restaurant’s brand and increase check averages — both of which help drive sales and profits. Here’s what he said restaurants need to know about the trend before jumping on the fine-casual bandwagon.

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“[Customers’] desire to experience the ‘finer’ things in life is hindered by their economic standards. Fast-fine and fine-casual dining are the tools that experienced chefs and restaurateurs are utilizing to capitalize on this trend.” -Jay Bandy (Photo: Jay Bandy)

The rise of fine-casual dining

According to Bandy, economics is one of the top drivers of this trend of hybridizing fast food with fine dining. College graduates and young professionals are currently facing unprecedented amounts of debt, while being increasingly exposed to high-end culture on social media, so they crave elegance they can’t afford.

“Their desire to experience the ‘finer’ things in life is hindered by their economic standards,” he said. “Fast-fine and fine-casual dining are the tools that experienced chefs and restaurateurs are utilizing to capitalize on this trend.”

For example, instead of a burger patty with a pinch of chopped onions and a thin slice of cheese, these consumers could get a never-frozen lamb burger with goat cheese, “while only spending a few extra bucks,” he said.

While many of these consumers are more interested in the local, authentic cuisine experience than saving a buck, the price tag for gourmet options can be a hindrance. These fine-casual restaurant concepts are far more affordable than dining in a restaurant with the added overhead of white tablecloths and other “fine-dining” necessities.

Related: How to Appeal to Millennial Diners

Gourmet food trucks

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Serving your menu on wheels can be an effective way to test new ideas for your brick-and-mortar establishment. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Food trucks, in particular, have found their niche in the fine-casual trend, said Bandy.

“Street food in America once evoked images of greasy hot dogs, cheesesteaks or gyros, but now these themed kitchens-on-wheels provide everything from spicy Indian fare to gourmet foie gras tacos.”

For many brick-and-mortar restaurants, food trucks can serve as an incubator for testing out and perfecting innovative ideas for the establishment, he said.

“By limiting patrons’ choices to a handful of options, food trucks can not only create unique dishes, they can also come up with artistic plating presentations that please millennials’ desires to share their meal as an ‘experience’ on social media platforms.”

Related: 5 Benefits of Adding a Food Truck to Your Brick-and-Mortar Restaurant

The necessity of an evolving menu

Because consumers today are more focused on flavor, ingredients and presentation than ever before, if your menu doesn’t address those demands, it could cause you to get left behind, Bandy warned.

“Evolution of menus has always been necessary. Now it means adding local ingredients, more sophisticated preparation and flavors. These can boost business by using them as limited-time offers and seasonal items. Plus it gives the brand ‘new news’ to promote the items, local farmers or whatever resonates with the brand.”

Related: How to Change Your Restaurant’s Menu

Stay true to who you are

Before jumping on the fast-casual bandwagon, Bandy advised restaurateurs first talk to their customers and staff to identify what should be changed — if anything. Staying on top of industry trends can be helpful for owners wanting to stay current, but chasing trends that aren’t relevant to your target market can be dangerous for a restaurant’s business.

“Be true to who you are,” he advised. “It is important for a restauranteur to define the concept they wish to present before deciding which market sector to target.”

Remember, there is a large population of diners to whom the economic value of a meal outweighs the importance of ingredient sourcing and artistic presentation, he said.

“If a traditional fast food establishment opted to source all burger-patty beef locally and improve their presentation, causing a price increase in the end product, this portion of the market may feel betrayed by the lack of value they are accustomed to and seek out other restaurants.”

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