Fast Casual vs. Fast Fine Dining Trends

Some chefs keep an eye on the most recent trends in the restaurant industry, while others are more focused. CreateThese are the latest trends.

One example is fast fine dining, one of the newest casual dining trends. Fast casual, such as Chipotle or Five Guys, is also not to be confused. These restaurants offer premium ingredients with a less assembly-line atmosphere.

The economy may have had an impact on customer spending at higher-end restaurants in the past few years but the passion for creativity has continued to grow. Fast casual restaurants and fine dining establishments have been able to thrive. Based on The Washington Post,Fast casual restaurant sales have grown by 550% between 1999 and 2000. This segment was also the one that grew during the recession.

This article will discuss fast casual and fine dining, and what restaurants can do to capitalize on these emerging trends. 

Report on the 2021 Global State of the Hospitality Industry

This global survey of more than 2,000 restaurants and their guests shows how trends have changed.


How to get the best fast casual restaurant trends

The term “fast food” elicits very specific expectations: ordering food over the counter, fast delivery time and a low price. This is precisely what you get, however. Fast food is meant to be, it’s not ticking the box for everyone, especially for health-conscious diners.

People are increasingly looking for healthy fast food. They will be willing to pay more for better quality and wait longer for their meals.

These are the fast casual restaurants that offer them.

The ordering experience remains the same, you place orders at the counter, but the wait time is slightly longer—usually no more than an extra five minutes. Quality of ingredients is what makes the biggest difference.

Chipotle and Panera are fast-casual restaurants that offer healthy, delicious and affordable food. 


Are there fast-fine restaurants?

There are two types of fast-casual restaurants: fine dining and fast fine. You can enjoy fine dining without the wait and at a much lower cost.

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It is possible to get fast, fine dining without long waiting times or high prices. These restaurants often serve fresh, local food from chefs who are familiar with the products of local fishermen and farmers.

Restaurants may have to change their menu frequently due to seasonal and local produce. Customers will be able to enjoy new and innovative dishes as well as the opportunity for chefs to explore new recipes. 

These restaurants are not as well-known, so here are two fast and fine examples to get you started:


Larkburger is a chain based on Vail, Colorado’s Larkspur Restaurant. Owner Thomas Salamunovich says, “I care as much about the ground beef hamburger as I do cooking foie gras or caviar.”

Salamunovich estimates that his fast-food burger shops do less than his fine-dining restaurants, but opening a new one will cost you $450,000. A fine dining restaurant could run upwards of $4million. Because they are so simple to run, quick-service options can be easier to maintain. Larkburger’s kitchens have an inventory of about 150 items; Larkspur has about 14,000,” QSR Magazine reports

All Fresh and Ready to Ship

All Fresh and Ready to Ship Atlanta is another location that offers fast-food fine dining. They aim to deliver high-quality, fast food within ten minutes and cost only $10.

The main thing that differentiates fast casual from fast fine dining are the creative ingredients.

Bustling street food dining


Fast casual or fast fine dining?

Fast casual eating is changing how fast-food can be enjoyed. It offers quick and easy meals, but still keeps you healthy.

The fast fine restaurants on the other side are smaller and independent, but they use higher-quality ingredients than quick casual eateries. Like the name implies, it is essentially fine dining but faster—and cheaper.


What’s driving the fast casual and fast fine dining trends?

These two major trends are being driven by millennials who quickly outnumber baby boomers in terms of their largest buying power.

Inc.Shares that “millennials have 2.3% of their meals at a restaurant, which is estimated as roughly one trip every other week. This habit is growing and more grocery stores now offer prepared meals, or improve their current options. More restaurants and fast casual chains are offering delivery and making their to-go menu options more accessible.”

These technological advances are a result of the advancements in technology POS systemsThese trends are also proving to be more efficient by seamlessly integrating online order into the kitchen workflows. 


What fast casual restaurants intel do to make full-service faster

Marco Street is a native of the restaurant industry. His family has always loved quality fried Chicken dishes and Marco grew up there.

“We really wanted to glorify the diversity that chicken can bring as an entrée meal,” Street said. “It all started just as family tasting recipes, going and eating chicken everywhere we could, testing with different cooking methods: fryers, oils, different ways to roast and cook over the fire.”

The original plan was to open a fast-casual restaurant in Dallas, but when a special location became available—the same location where Street’s father had opened his first restaurant in the 1960s—the family realigned their concept to fit a full-service model.

All-service Street’s Fine ChickenIt was opened in 2016, but the original plans were not realized. The family launched a quick casual restaurant shortly after opening the full-service restaurant.

The restaurants share the same principles and concept of responsible sourcing, humanely-raised chicken in Texas. However, the day to day operations of both restaurants are different.

Street gave us a glimpse into his business process and shared with us the differences in his full-service and fast casual restaurants. He also explained how the two complement one another, which made the operation more profitable.

Restaurant menu for fast casual dining

“Menu-wise, it was really important for us going from full-service to fast casual that we were still able to serve the exact same quality of food, and maintain the same standards and the same elegance and everything that we do in the full-service format,” Street shared.

Fast casual customers demand a quicker pace and lower pricing, so changes were necessary. The full-service restaurant serves non-chicken dishes and offers specials. There is also a bar that offers craft cocktails. 

“The most obvious difference is the full bar,” Street says. “In the fast casual setting, it’s not as important, it’s not as big a part of your business because you don’t have as much opportunity for repeat drinks; it’s a faster-paced environment. Alcohol is just less of a component for counter service.”

The value of fast casual

The menu items are the same, but some of them have been rearranged to be more flexible and affordable.

“Obviously, there’s a price point battle you have when you’re trying to take a full-service version of your concept and turn it into a counter-service. There’s only so much people are going to be willing to pay and justify without having the experience you can get with full-service,” Street says. “For instance, some of our items, we don’t sell as meals; we sell à la carte so that the customer has more power in deciding how they’re going to spend their money.”

You can order smaller portions of salads or other items at a fast-casual restaurant. This helps reduce production times in the kitchen. For example, the fried chicken is available in full-service restaurants and as a by-the-piece fast casual.

“If they want to go just like they have it at the other store, they wind up paying more than you would at a normal counter-service restaurant, but it’s also very easy for the customer to come in and get exactly what they want for a price that they can afford,” Street says. “If you want to break the bank, you can break the bank, but it’s very easy to get very good value for the food that you’re getting.”

Interior design

While many dishes remain similar in both venues, they’re presented differently to customers. The fast casual restaurant utilizes digital signage and digital menus to help each guest make informed decisions about what they’re ordering.

“In full-service, you have a server to walk you through every piece of the menu and they put the image in your mind’s eye through conversation there in that format,” Street says. “In fast-casual, there’s more pressure on the customer, especially in a high-volume store when there’s a line of people out the door. Photographic is important because people want to be able to quickly order, get their food, and then move on. It’s something that’s very important for our menu. … Digital signage is huge for fast casual dining and it’s been very important in driving our business.”


Street reports that while the process of hiring back-of-house workers is identical for both restaurants’, it can be quite different for those who work front-of-house. Fast-casual restaurants need cashiers, food expediters and food runners to handle orders. Full-service restaurants require servers, bartenders, and hosts.

“It’s a completely different animal in terms of managing a shift and managing that staff,”  he says. “In the fast casual, it’s a much younger crew in the front. It’s a much faster pace, so it requires a different set of skills. It’s more about efficiency, and 100 percent of the restaurant is on display. The counter is directly in front of the open kitchen, which means that they must be efficient at all times. They need to be very, very efficient because we serve twice as many people in the same hour than we do in the full-service.”

Street states that it was cheaper to employ fast-casual staff.

“We can do more business with fewer people and still give people the Street’s Fine Chicken experience. It’s really made us see what we’re made of, to have to work twice as hard, twice as fast for less money per customer,” he says. “It really puts the stress test on every aspect of the operation, so there’s been a lot of things that we’ve learned through opening the fast casual that we’ve now been able to take over to full-service and improve efficiency over there. … We have now come full circle and turned around, helping the full-service version be even better.”


Fast casual: What have celebrity chefs to say?

Although experts disagreed on the longevity of fast casual, diners still have final authority. They have determined that fast casual will be around for the long-term through their purchase habits, social media posts, and continued choices.

These people care about the quality of their burritos, and whether they are free-ranged or restricted chicken. The popularity of fast-casual is deeply rooted in both time and the absence thereof.

Restaurateurs and chefs who are able to source high-quality ingredients quickly and create delicious dishes in no time at all will be the most productive.

Celebrity restaurateur and chef Prova Pizzabar, Donatella Arpaia is known for her expert palate judging dishes on TV’s Iron Chef America Next Iron Chef. She could have opened any type of restaurant anywhere. 

Prova Pizzabar, a Grand Central Station restaurant that serves gourmet pizzas, was her decision. Her pizzas, which are traditional Neapolitan in style, were made with the best water content, authentic Italian ingredients and a lengthy proofing process.

Arpaia was not only interested in creating delicious pizzas but also offering diners beautiful spaces to dine. You have two choices: grab something quick and enjoy a tasty meal; or you can sit down and relax with a glass of wine while sipping on a variety of delicious cocktails and gourmet pizzas.

Arpaia discusses why so many top-tier restaurants are adding fast casual eateries to their expansion plans.

“I felt there was a need for high-quality artisanal pizza in a fast-paced environment and I was ready to embark on a new challenge,” says Arpaia, who is excited to open multiple locations across the country. 

“My team and I created a unique and exceptional product and it’s been a huge hit from day one, exceeding expectations because it is light and highly digestible, but—most importantly—delicious.”

“These customers are more demanding and have come to expect higher quality food in fast casual environments, so this trend is going to continue and grow,” says Arpaia, who sees owning an upscale quick-service spot as making her more accessible and approachable—she loves to meet her fans in person over their mutual love of pizza. “Consistency, quality and commitment to your brand and to customer service holds true for fine dining and for fast casual dining.”

“Millennials love fast casual and they are a growing group within the hospitality world,” says Michael Schulson, CEO and founder of restaurant group Schulson CollectiveThe author also acknowledges the need for shorter lunch breaks, which is driving many people to eat fast casual.

“People are also eating out more than ever so they need more options, especially during the day when fewer people have extended time to dine out for lunch.”


You can see the proof in the sushi 

People love to eat at diners DK Sushi Schulson’s new fast casual restaurant inspired by his sushi bar and izakaya, Double Knot. 

For the quick-service concept, chef Kevin Yanaga crafts à la carte items and signature sushi sets that customers can select from touch-screen kiosks. This creates a high-end sushi experience without having to wait in line or be set up in formal settings.

“The guests love DK Sushi because it’s a way for guests to experience my restaurant Double Knot, but on a smaller scale,” he says. “We use the same high-quality fish but it is just less formal at DK Sushi.”

Hence, why does so many top chefs invest in fast-casual restaurants? 

“Fast casual allows us to build something more substantial, as you can open many restaurants with the same brand, while a free-standing restaurant can only have one, maybe two, locations in each city,” says Schulson.

However, he acknowledges the importance of making every restaurant a pleasant experience. “A fast-casual concept can have multiple locations within a city, but in the end, it is still the same, as a restaurant and its design, food, value, service and hospitality are important.”

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Cyndy Lane

Cyndy is business journalist with a focus on entrepreneurship and small business. With over a decade of experience covering the startup and small business landscape, Cyndy has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, insightful and approachable journalist. She has a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small business owners and is able to explain them in a way that is relatable and actionable for her readers.