Fast-Casual Restaurants Firing Up for Pizza

Fast-casual restaurants continues to dominate growth in the industry. Consumers have already been enjoying sandwiches, burritos, pasta, salads and burgers at fast-casual venues. Chipotle, Panera, Noodles and Company, Baja Fresh, and Five Guys are key leaders in the fast-casual trend. According to Fortune Magazine’s predictions, pizza may be the next craze on the fast-casual restaurant trend. Pizza had been slow to join in because prep time tends to be at least 15 minutes. However, new chains are using smaller ovens that can cook a pizza in less than 5 minutes. Fast-casual pizza restaurants are springing up and Chipotle even announced at the end of 2013 their intention to join in on the fast-casual pizza trend.

Why is Fast-Casual Popular?

Consumers prefer fast-casual dining (especially millennials) because it offers higher quality food at an affordable price ($8 to $10 per meal) noted Brian Shaw, writing for the Motley Fool. Older, traditional burger joints are struggling to define themselves and compete against the key leaders in fast-casual dining. People are looking for places to dine quickly, eat healthy, not tip a server and enjoy the atmosphere. Fast-casual restaurants fit the bill.

What is a Fast-Casual Restaurant?

Just what is a “fast-casual” restaurant?  According to Foodservice Warehouse, fast-casual restaurants differ from quick serve or fast food chains. Fast food restaurants food prep design is to get consumers their food as quickly as possible. Instead fast-casual restaurants:

  • Offer more in food quality, décor and table service.
  • The food is not pre-assembled.
  • The restaurant has comfortable, appealing décor.
  • Orders are typically taken at a counter, but delivered to your table.
  • Many fast and casuals offer wine or beer.
  • Menu prices are usually less than $10.
  • Most do not offer drive through (though this is changing)

Fast-casual represents a fraction of the overall volume of restaurant visits, but the growth has been noteworthy. It is a $35 billion industry, and in 2000 had just 1 percent share in overall volume of consumer restaurant visits. Now, fast-casual restaurant visits account for 6 percent of all visits. Quick service restaurants are typically part of a restaurant chains or franchises (many with drive thru outlets). Fast-casual offers more customized, freshly prepared food. According to Technomic’s 2014 Report on Top 500 Restaurants Chains, fast-casual restaurants grew by 11% in 2013.

Pizza—Hot Item for Fast-Casual Restaurant Trends

Fast-casual pizza is considered by Franchise Chatter to be the hottest franchise concept of 2014. Restaurant Magazine reports that some consulting firms estimate as many as 2,000 new fast casual restaurant locations could spring up with a focus on pizza in the next half a decade. Live Basil Pizza, is a new fast-casual chain (with 6 restaurants open). They can cook up their pizzas in an impressive two and half minutes—thanks to their gas-fired brick ovens and thanks to consumers’ preference for the thinner, Neapolitan style crusts.

The top fast-casual pizza restaurant franchises are: Pizzeria Locale, Pizza Rev, Pie Five Pizza, Live Basil, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, Project Pie, MOD Pizza, Blaze Pizza, Your Pie, Pieology. Thus far PizzaRev is considered the leader, with 9 units open in Los Angeles area and another 65 franchised and corporate locations due to open by the end of 2015. The next year should reveal much about fast-casual restaurants’ success with firing up the pizza ovens.

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