What's in the future for build-your-own fast casual, QSR concepts?

July 13, 2015 | by Nicole Troxell

With a push from online ordering channels, customizable assembly line concepts continue to explode in the fast casual and QSR space. They are driving change in decades-old methods of service, said Justin McCoy, VP of Marketing for Cousins Subs.

Allowing customers to build their own pizzas, sandwiches, burritos, for example, creates a space where guests have a vested interest in returning. They're invested in the process, enabling the trend to evolve in the restaurant space. Customization demands transparency in the quality and preparation of menu items that consumers want, Solomon Sarway, co-founder Posh Tomato, a fast casual concept.

Fast casual vs. QSR

The customization trend is moving ahead for both fast casuals and QSRs, McCoy said. While fast casuals have lead the way, it's a matter of catching up for QSRs.

"However large QSRs are reacting to consumer demand and testing this trend in their concepts as well as going against operational models that have been in place for decades," he said.

There will likely be overlap in customization for both fast casuals and QSRs, although fast casual concepts tend to be more conducive to the customization trend because they offer the ability to get fresh, made-to-order food quickly with the option to eat inside a restaurant or to carry out.

"Fast casual concepts that are adopting the customization trend seem to be easily integrated into large metro markets and urban areas, but there appears to be room to grow in smaller metro markets," Sarway said

 McCoy agreed.

"There will still be a warm place for QSR (in customization), since there is always a time when guests need to be on the run and only choose from a set menu of recognizable go-to options," he said.

Distinctions aren't necessary in terms of customizable products, however.

"Whether it’s pizza, subs or burgers, guests will have a desire to customize it if you have a variety of ingredients to add to or remove from your product," he said.

DIY, present and future

Many consumers are just beginning to warm to the DIY trend.

"We’ve only scratched the surface of the DIY trend, as many concepts are in initial test phases of kiosk and comparable DIY ordering methods," McCoy said.

Consumers are demanding quality ingredients and better-for-you menu offerings as they become more aware of their eating habits, according to Sarway.

"The future is about customization becoming better, faster and stronger. The customization trend is largely popular in the fast casual space, and we are noticing QSRs and FSRs following suit. We see this trend further developing to become an even more specialized and transparent experience," he added.

However, it is imperative that DIY concepts have a unique aspect of their business to differentiate them from competitors, he said.

Cousins Subs is exploring the trend via kiosk ordering platforms, allowing guests to place their order, customize it, and pick it up once it’s prepared or have it delivered to their table without having to stand in line or interact with a cashier.

The build-your-own concept also provides restauranteurs consumer insight for menu innovation by observing guest preferences and needs.

"The DIY/customization/build-your-own trend is taking off in the pizza industry and there are certain menu items that we recognizing as crowd favorites," Sarway said. "We are seeing vegetables and leafy greens as a popular topping trend among customers right now and expect that demand to grow as the search for healthier, fresh food continues."


Topics: Trends / Statistics


Nicole Troxell / Nicole’s work has appeared in business, education, technical, and travel publications. She is currently the editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.
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