Foodservice Category Trends: ‘Food Fast’ Joins Fast Food

Consumers’ perception of fast food is no longer confined to quick-service, drive-thru restaurants, and convenience stores. Instead, a dual concept has emerged, according to a recent study by Technomic consisting of traditional fast food, and of “food fast,” served quickly with greater emphasis on flavor, quality, and ambiance. A significant percentage of consumers (41 percent) are reporting that their idea of places offering “fast food” has expanded recently to include fast-casual restaurants such as Panera and full-service restaurants offering carryout and curbside service.

The findings are part of Technomic’s “Status and Future of Fast Foods: Consumer Trend Report,” which looks at how consumers are seeking faster, more convenient service from all types of foodservice establishments, including convenience stores, food trucks, and grocers offering retail meal solutions.

“As Americans continue to trade down from full-service concepts, more restaurants are competing for the ‘fast food/food fast’ customer,” says Darren Tristano, EVP at the Chicago-based consultancy. “Both quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are borrowing elements from the other to drive traffic. This represents a host of challenges to operators rethinking their brands. Understanding consumers’ changing perceptions of fast food, as well as competitors’ responses, will be central to success.”

Some key trends worth noting from the report:

Upscaling in limited-service restaurant formats: the development of bustling social settings within contemporary interior spaces.

Introduction of price-driven value elements into fast-casual restaurant menus.

Broadening of full-service restaurants’ service formats to include convenience-oriented platforms like call-ahead and text/online ordering, home delivery, and curbside pickup.

Appearance in big-city markets of revitalized food trucks, offering upscale and gourmet “street food.”

Other select findings include:

Nearly half of consumers (49 percent) say they eat at fast food restaurants at least once a week; about one-fifth of consumers said the same for fast-casual (16 percent) and full-service (20 percent) restaurants.

One out of four consumers (24 percent) say they’ve increased their visits to fast food restaurants in the past year, higher than for any other restaurant segment.

Roughly half of consumers (52 percent) say that a fast food meal should be delivered within five minutes; consumers are willing to wait somewhat longer for items they perceived as “food fast.”

About a third of consumers say they would like to see dedicated take-out areas at fast food (32 percent) and fast-casual (33 percent) restaurants.

Efficient ordering and carryout options at full-service restaurants have strong appeal. Call-ahead ordering for pickup, separate take-out stations, and curbside service interest 40 percent, 37 percent, and 31 percent of consumers, respectively.

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