The “fast-casual” industry — think of places like Chipotle or Panera — is booming. According to Technavio, the market for fast-casual fare is expected to hit $66.87 billion by 2020, and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of fast-casual concepts that have opened in recent years that are going to be competing for their share of the pie, some as offshoots of major fast food chains and some from big-name fine dining chefs. Though some are bound to fail, these 10 chains are on a path to major success, and you should definitely be on the lookout for them in your neck of the woods.
As opposed to fast-food places like McDonald’s or family restaurants like Applebee’s, fast casual — a concept that really didn’t exist a couple decades ago — fits somewhere in the middle. These tend to be places where the general concept is modeled after fast food (you order at the counter and can either eat in or take it to go), but that’s where the similarities end. Consumers are demanding transparency in ingredient sourcing; high-quality, all-natural ingredients; plenty of opportunities for customization; and a commitment to “real” foods — and the fast-casual industry is delivering.
What’s so great about the fast-casual formula is that it’s so adaptable. A concept can claim to be “the Chipotle of pizza” or “the Chipotle of burgers” (indeed many chains are doing just that), and set up an assembly-line-style operation that does indeed closely resemble Chipotle’s. Whether it’s by selling pizza, burgers, salads and grain bowls, sandwiches, or chicken fingers, these 10 booming chains represent the future of dining (or at least of weekday lunching), and they’re primed to make a splash this year.