Trends: Upscale Fast Casual

Walk-ups like Chipotle, Noodles & Company, and Panera have made this segment the one to watch, but tight budgets combined with high food and labor costs keep margins thin. Newer-thinking fast casuals are serving chef-caliber foods at higher price points, while skipping most of the labor and overhead costs to boost the bottom line.
  • Average checks in typical fast casuals range from $12-$14...by adding craft beers and signature cocktails, sophisticated sauces and condiments, and global ingredients, some savvy operators can charge from $60-$90.
  • Less square footage is needed (lower rent!) when many of the orders are take out.
  • Some are even doing scaled-down tasting menus: four courses for $50 anyone?