Although "fine casual" isn't a term that has really caught on
yet, growing chains such as Fresh to Order may be doing for fine
dining what fast casual did for fast food. But is this a trend
that will change the way we look at how fine food is seen and
served, or is it simply a fad, a bit of fancy nomenclature
hitching its wagon to fast casual's rising star?
Not only fresh ingredients, but freshly prepared, too. Source:
Fresh to Order.
Fresh to Order, or F2O, as it calls itself, is a chain of
eateries in the Southeast U.S. that says it wants to bring fine
food to the masses. How
! With restaurant traffic still in a months-long swoon, however,
everyone feels the need to change things up, but fast-casual
concepts have been the one bright spot in a otherwise fairly
dismal space. Although
may have started the more upscale KFC eleven chicken
satisfy its envy
of industry successes like
Chipotle Mexican Grill
, we are starting to see fine-dining restaurants dabble in going
downmarket. For example,
Ruth's Hospitality Group
'ssignature steakhouse chain is offering a "Sizzle, Swizzle,
Swirl Happy Hour" bar menu featuring items that cost much less
than its usual entrees in an effort to entice first-time and
But is there more to fast fine than just cutting
prices? F2O, which says it threw open the doors to this new
dining category, maintains that what keeps it from being more
than just a glorified Chipotle or Panera is not only the quality
and freshness of its offerings, but also where the food is
sourced and how it is prepared, along with the service you
Customers at any typical fast-casual restaurant approach the
counter, choose from a selection of fresh but already prepared
ingredients, grab the food, and go. Not so at F2O, where you're
greeted at the door, just like at better restaurants; order at
the counter; and then watch as the food is immediately dropped on
open-flame grills behind the registers. Servers then deliver the
food to your table and clear your plates after the meal is eaten.
And it gives you this experience for about $10.
Not your typical fast-food lunch. Asian salad with almond
crusted seared tuna and Dijon vinaigrette. Source: Fresh to
Fast fine, then, might be seen as a pay grade higher than
Chili's and Applebee's but a step below a Morton's The Steakhouse
's Capital Grille.
It was similar for fast food when Chipotle and Panera
kick-started the movement toward fresher ingredients, pleasant
surroundings, and affordable prices. Because the typical fried or
flame-broiled frozen fare was seen as unhealthy, the trend
immediately caught on with a dining public that was increasingly
worried about what it was eating. Whereas
has seen its monthly same-store sales steadily decline,
Chipotle is watching them steadily grow.
Source: Company SEC filings.
Yet with success comes imitators, like the KFC project
mentioned above. There are also pizzerias that think they can do
for the slice what Chipotle did for the burrito, as well as new
IPOs such as
, which is adding a Mediterranean flair. The fast-casual
segment is getting crowded, and perhaps that's partially to
blame for Panera stumbling in the last quarter. Earnings
fell 3% year over year and missed analyst expectations by a penny
per share. Revenue of $589 million was down more than 7% from
2013's second quarter and missed by a wide mark Wall Street's
forecast of $640 million.
This possible dilution in the fast-casual space from a growing
number of players may just mean that fast-fine restaurants like
Fresh to Order could be the next growth spot. Unlike fast food,
though, fine dining isn't a lingering wound.
According to the industry watchers at NPD Group, fine-dining
establishments have recorded some of the strongest traffic gains
in the restaurant industry, rising 4%for the 12-month period
ending in May compared to the year-ago period. That's better than
the midscale eateries and casual-dining chains, which saw traffic
fall 2% and 3%, respectively. Quick-serve was essentially flat,
but that's only because of the strength of fast casual, as fast
food remains on the decline.
Source: NPD Group.
What may really set Fresh to Order apart is the lack of
customers having to pay a gratuity at the restaurants. Maybe
you're not getting white-glove service, but you're getting
quality healthy food, relatively cheap and relatively fast, with
better service than you'd find at a fast-casual chain.
Maybe that does make it just a glorified Chipotle or Panera
Bread, but if upstarts like F2O are growing and grabbing share,
this could be the next growth opportunity in the restaurant
industry that will force other fine-dining chains to move
into fast-fine dining as well.
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Fine Dining Is Finally Getting a Casual
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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