According to the National Restaurant Association there are over one million food service locations in the US, and the industry employs over 14mn people and is expected to add an additional 1.7mn by 2026.
Fast casual, however, is the smallest portion of the industry, coming in at only 7.5%, roughly, of market share.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not growing. According to Euromonitor, the fast casual market has grown by 550% since 1999.
The fast casual restaurants market is estimated to rise at a significant CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 10.71% during the years 2017-2021, according to Absolute Reports.
“Fast casual to casual dining, that’s where a lot of people are going to eat,” said Abdul Kader Saadi, MD at GLEE Hospitality.
“Due to the economic climate worldwide, people don’t want to go and spend hundreds of pounds on dinner, they want something fast, casual, honest, and value for money and I think that’s where the main focus is.”
Nielsen has found that about one-third of consumers will pay more for healthier ingredients, and the National Restaurant Association reports 76% of adults will return to a restaurant that offers healthier options.
As such, the growth of fast casual dining is being driven by those who want convenient, good value food that is also healthier than the traditional offerings of quick service restaurants.
“Another trend of course is the healthy eating and being vegan,” Saadi continued.
“I won’t call it a trend because I think the healthy eating, being vegan, it’s here to stay.
“People are more cultured about eating healthy and I don’t think that’s a fad. I think if you look at being vegan, organic, healthy eating, I think that’s here to stay.”
The research certainly seems to support this view. Baum+Whiteman predicts that plant-based dining is 2018's trend of the year.
Even those who haven’t made the switch full-time are incorporating more plant-based meals into their diets.
Indeed, 31% of Americans practice meat-free days, according to Mintel.
And it is not just in the US where meat-free is becoming more popular. According to figures from the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has risen 350% over the past 10 years.
Like Saadi said, being vegan looks set to stay.