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Redefining the Fast Casual Guest Experience

How Fast Casuals are Redefining Core Attributes of the Restaurant Experience


As a fast casual leader, you know that great dining experiences matter. In fact, since your beginning, your segment has been the food landscape’s experience expert, championing new ways of dining in an industry rife with competition. You’ve made it your mission to keep ahead of evolving customer preferences and needs—no small task in today’s fast-paced food landscape.

But what makes a great guest experience, really? What are today’s guests looking for? And, as restaurant leaders, what can we do to better deliver on these desires and expectations?

Let’s take a closer look at how fast casuals like yours have redefined 5 core attributes of the guest experience.

Engagement

In the past, an engaging restaurant experience meant interacting with your favorite crew member or being called by name. But in today’s uber-connected reality, guest engagement means so much more.

The omni-channel restaurant landscape means that engagement can no longer begin or end at the front door. With more and more guests foregoing your indoor restaurant experience in favor of the drive thru, mobile ordering, or delivery, fast casuals are continually challenging themselves to engage guests in new ways, and on their terms.

To do so, fast casuals are increasingly abandoning a stove-piped channel approach and instead turning to an omni-channel point of sale. Designed to engage guests no matter how or where they choose to order, the omni-channel point of sale acts as the key to continuity across your entire omni-channel landscape.

By understanding customer preferences and tailoring offers whenever and wherever a guest orders, the omni-channel point of sale delivers personalized experiences to guests every time they engage with your brand. Not only does an omni-channel point of sale drive engagement, but it also drives sales by harnessing proven suggestive selling logic to up-sell or cross-sell on every order.

Quality

The next characteristic is quality. Quality has historically been defined in simple terms—your favorite food item, hot and ready in the bag. Today, however, quality has sweeping implications that involve a fast casual’s entire supply chain.

There’s no question that in today’s food landscape, quality sets fast casuals apart from the crowd. But food quality is more than a differentiator; it is a requirement in order to satisfy today’s customers. For fast casual restaurants, a single bad experience can quickly percolate from one customer to many customers through digital word of mouth.

In the fast casual environment, quality is increasingly linked to fresh or locally sourced ingredients. These quality, farm-to-table ingredients are often subject to spoilage and must be managed carefully in order to ensure high quality and contain costs. Even if ingredients are not expired, the sheer aesthetic impact of wilted lettuce or shriveled carrots can have widespread implications for customer perceptions about your brand.

In order to properly source, manage, and store local, never-frozen ingredients, fast casuals must take a data-driven approach to middle and back of house processes. From using predictive forecasting to manage inventory across local suppliers, to orchestrating optimized processes in the kitchen, data rich insights have the power to make freshness a standard practice while cutting down on food costs and spoilage.

Accuracy

Third up is accuracy. In the limited service space, accuracy has traditionally meant including the right items in every order. For many of today’s fast casuals, however, accuracy has outgrown this definition, transitioning from merely having the right items on the tray to nailing every nuance of a guest customization.

Whether your restaurant is based on build-your-own meals or has standard meals that guests love to tailor to their liking, today’s customers enjoy crafting food experiences that reflect their personal tastes and preferences. But customization can be a tall order to fill when it comes to order accuracy—especially with a growing array of variations for which crew members must account.

Self-order stations help mitigate errors up front by allowing guests to place orders themselves and verify that a meal has been accurately entered before confirming the order. Self-order technology can also make its way into the drive thru lane, where drive thru kiosks bring a new level of accuracy to the outdoor experience.

And don’t forget color-coded kitchen management screens that readily translate customized orders into kitchen directives. These systems together empower fast casuals to fulfill food items accurately, no matter how complicated the order.

Speed

Historically, speed in the restaurant was simply defined as fast service with no line at the front counter or drive thru. In today’s immediacy era, however, the customer expectation for speed now permeates a myriad of digital channels.

In the early days of fast casual, speed played second fiddle to some of the segment’s more prominent differentiators like experience, engagement, and quality. However, as today’s on-the-go guests continue to seek meals that are both delicious and fast, speed has become an equally critical pillar of the fast casual experience.

For today’s restaurants, speed of service not only means serving food faster from the front counter, but also enabling near-instantaneous service through every and any channel. Whether ordering from a mobile device, the drive thru, or the comfort of their own homes, your guests expect the same thing: accurate service time estimates and little wait.

Kitchen displays that interpret omni-channel entries go a long way in helping your kitchen effectively prioritize orders. Add tools like gamified speed of service, and your fast casual will be well on its way to winning the race for customer loyalty.

Consistency

Last, but certainly not least, is consistency. Consistency has long been defined as a restaurant’s ability to fulfill orders the same way every time, even across shifts and day parts.

For rapidly growing fast casual concepts, however, consistency has implications far beyond a single location, spanning a growing number of restaurants that are often in different regions or nations.

Cross-location consistency can feel insurmountable, even in the best of conditions. It requires growing fast casuals to put systems and processes in place that not only guide and empower crew members in replicating best practices, but also provide timely restaurant data to managers and owners so that inconsistencies can be quickly identified and rectified.

For many fast casuals, a scalable approach to consistency is a top-of-mind critical success factor in achieving their goals for growth. As the entire fast casual industry continues to expand, fast casuals can look to restaurant giants in other sub-segments for guidance on how to scale rapidly and effectively.

Cultivating Exceptional, Frictionless Experiences

At the end of the day, a fast casual’s ability to deliver exceptional experiences comes down to eliminating friction—that is, any resistance that might prevent guests from accessing what they want, precisely when they want it.

At SICOM, we eliminate friction at its source and empower restaurants to elevate engagement, quality, accuracy, speed, and consistency through a suite of customer- and crew-facing technologies that put experience first.

Experience Matters

Take your fast casual guest experience to the next level. 

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Jim Flynn
August 24, 2018

With over 25 years of experience managing the financing, operations, and profitability of technology-enabled companies, Jim's vision and leadership are integral to continuing to strengthen the value SICOM delivers to our entire industry.

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