Fast-food burgers and pizza restaurants have long been a staple of dining in the United States, but American diets are changing. Fast food joints and family restaurant chains are having “their lowest sales all year,” according to ABC News, but another inexpensive dining category is growing quickly: fast casual.
“In the last year alone sales in the fast casual sector reached $18 billion,” ABC reports. One of the things driving this trend is sudden explosion of celebrity chefs from such television shows as Iron Chef, Top Chef, and The Chew.
"We're seeing people interested in all sorts of tastes ... Mexican, Asian, Indian is really big right now," said Blair Chancey, editor of QSR (quick-service restaurant) magazine, according to ABC.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, which uses chickens that are fed a vegetarian diet and naturally raised pork beef has been one of the category’s leaders since it launched in 1998. Now, it's expanding into Asian cuisine with the ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen fast casual concept it's testing in Washington, D.C. (Perhaps McDonald’s, a majority owner in the chain until it divested in 2006, got out too soon?)
"Americans want high quality, but they want it to be an affordable value and inexpensive, and that's what I think the fast casual industry is trying to do," said Jonathan Kaplan, creator of the Flip video camera, who is starting a chain of grilled cheese restaurants called The Melt, according to ABC. "There's really a niche there where restaurants are able to offer high-end quality ingredients, artisanal breads, really high quality cheeses, but they can do it at a fast casual price point."
This week, Domino's Pizza tried to get a slice of the action by launching 'artisanal' pizzas to appeal to foodies on a budget. And the founder of Domino's, Tom Monaghan, is starting a new restaurant that will only serve a two different gourmet burgers, ABC reports.
“My philosophy is not to try to be all things to all people — to do one thing and do it extremely well, better than anyone else can possibly do it and I'm hoping that will spell success," Monaghan told the network.