Living in Leeds, one thing has become apparent when visiting the city centre. The amount of new restaurants that have opened in the past 18 months is astounding, many of which are of the "fast casual" variety. When I first heard this term I was slightly confused as to what fast casual dining actually was, I could gather from the name that it involved your food coming quickly in a casual environment, but how and why have these dining experiences become so popular?
Food manufacturers have been making products for the well-established casual dining market for years now, and the growth of fast casual dining seems to have been an evolution of this market. Fast casual has carved its own niche between fast food outlets and full-service restaurants; this appears to be an emerging market that has really caught on with the general public. People want quality food at good value for money while avoiding the unhealthy stigma attached to traditional fast food outlets. This is often achieved through having limited menu options and more informal service arrangements than the more traditional table service we have become accustomed to in restaurants.
In 2013 the fast casual industry saw a 1.7% rise in sales and an increase in visits of 0.9%, this goes along with a 4 year compound annual growth rate of 2.1%. These figures may not seem outstanding when taken at face value, but when we take into account the current economic climate any growth is remarkable. People are visiting more fast casual restaurants as they provide good value for money and match many people's lifestyles. A full fine dining experience is not something many people have time to appreciate between work, going to the gym, and everything else we include in our schedules. The nature of fast casual restaurants also lends itself well to parents, with 45.4% of visits to fast casual restaurants being made by parties with children.
This market is currently dominated by chains that have made themselves into household names, Nando's and Wagamama for example, but this is not stopping independent restaurants getting on board and being successful. In Leeds one of the most popular restaurants in the city centre being the independent Red's True Barbecue (who have opened another restaurant in Manchester) where you can be waiting about 60 minutes for a table, which may not be everyone's idea of fast casual dining but it is a testament to how good the food is. Thankfully their relaxed attitude towards service means you can leave the restaurant and they will call you when your table is ready, and let me assure you the wait is worth it. The opening of Trinity Kitchen in the city has also allowed diners to experience dishes from different establishments, many from London without their own physical property in Leeds, in one relaxed environment.
This growth is not just seen in Leeds. Obviously London has seen its fair share of restaurants opening, including Wahaca opening branches all over the city; and Giggling Squid opening restaurants in Sussex, Surrey, South Oxfordshire, and Kent. The demand for fast casual dining only seems to be increasing, and if that is the case it is fine with me.