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Editor’s note: This is part 2 in a series of stories featuring industry predictions from fast casual leaders around the world. Read part 1 here.

An increased focus on delivery, the elevation of vegetarian and vegan concepts, embracing automation and finding ways to operate in smaller areas are just a few predictions from several executives leading fast casual brands. Read below for more details.

Jenelle Brown, VP of operations and training, Uncle Maddio’s
: As the demands of the consumer continue to support off-premise you will continue to see operators make adjustments in current models as well as the ideation phase of new design. I would also predict brands will focus on value-engineering their build-out to maximize space and minimize square feet as most fast casual concepts are competing for the same real estate.

Technology will continue to play an amplified role in driving sales and traffic.This will be at the forefront of loyalty programs and social media strategies as they remain a primary sales tactic and will allow for consistent communication to guest databases, segmentation and benchmark the ROI of campaigns. Integration into POS systems with arching technology, such as third-party delivery, mobile apps, digital gift cards and reward redemption.

While everyone looks to keep their COGS in line or below industry standards while simplifying operations and the guest experience menu trends will shift. Cross utilizing skus , extending the promotion of LTOs and celebrating current menu items will become more prevalent. For example, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza recently launched calzones. This is a great way to celebrate our house-made dough and fresh ingredients in an exciting way.

Sam Ballas, president/CEO, East Coast Wings + Grill Comfort Food
Our focus group studies and research offered an opportunity into comfort food offerings, leading us to create comfort food iron skillets such as Buffalo Chicken Mac + Cheese, Kick’n Joe (our version of the sloppy Joe) and Iron Shepard (our version of the Shepherd’s Pie)

Our brand’s evolution dubbed ECWG 2.0 has transitioned our look to a more industrial and rustic décor, as well as transition our menu. The offerings will continue with high-quality ingredients and feature award-winning wings; however, the new menu extends to craft beers, flat breads, burgers and comfort foods

Rosalie Guillem, CEO and co-founder, Le Macaron French Pastries.
Predictions: We saw food and social media coming together to create one of the hottest trends known as “Instagramable food,” and we knew this was a trend we could be a part of — our products are beautiful and delicious. We are always looking for new ways to make our cafés and products stand out to create a more elevated and memorable customer experience.

John Leon, CEO, Leon
: My guess is continued rise of veganism/vegetarianism.

John Vincent, CEO of Leon 

John Pepper, CEO, Boloco
: I believe digital payment and mobile ordering will accelerate. It makes no sense to see people continue to line up at Starbucks to place an order when it takes mere seconds on the phone. That will spill over to the rest of us too, as long as our apps are built well.

I believe that how consumers define “value” will continue to evolve… taste and price will always reign supreme, but especially as Gen Z are entering and now graduating from college, things like social justice and impact on environment and communities will show up more prevalently in how people choose where they spend their money.

I think a lot of high-growth, heavily-funded concepts will meet stronger headwinds in 2018, even if the fundamentals of those concepts are well accepted and even lionized by the public. The required investor returns matched with nose-bleed high valuations will cause further management turn over and decisions to be made that possibly undermine the long-term viability of those businesses.

Stuart Fitzgerald, CFO, Freshii Great Britain 

Stuart Fitzgerald, CFO, Freshii GB

Predictions: There is so much happening in the sector right now but the biggest change may be how data is being used to enhance the guest experience. Everything from personalized marketing campaigns to back-of-house operations is now data driven. In Freshii UK we have automated our accounting and business intelligence systems to improve the speed and quality of our decision making. Our EPOS, time and attendance, procurement and accounting systems connect through one portal. This portal will give our teams the data they need to run our stores efficiently and effectively.

Sammy Aldeeb, CEO and founder, Urban Bricks Pizza
: After years targeting millennials through marketing and advertising, brands will now start to take it a step further and completely rearrange design to appeal to this generation. Colors and interior design will be chosen to appeal to millennials, and restaurant designs will be made to easily accommodate mobile ordering and pick-up. Fast casual restaurants will begin to incorporate full bars and craft beer in order to get younger customers into their stores.

Story continues below …
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Bryon Stephens, president, Marco’s Pizza
 Workforce engagement and development: Data-driven decision-making: As one of its top company goals, increasing employee engagement is a continuous agenda item not only among the workforce but at each leadership table.  Progress is measured and reported every period, and with the culture of accountability firmly entrenched, failure to improve engagement at Marco’s is not an option.  Some of the programs that help include Marco’s apprenticeship program which provides current employees, active duty military, veterans and their families an opportunity for ownership complete with all the support they need to be successful.

Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey’s Barbecue

Laura Rea Dickey, CEO,
Dickey’s Barbecue

Predictions: I see delivery as a growing focus with staying power beyond a trend in the industry. We are launching our consumer app with direct delivery and curbside pick-up. We are revamping our loyalty program that will be largely app-based. We are also focusing on “true engagement” with our guests. Meaning to complement our expanded, open kitchens, we’re adding Barbecue School in select locations. In Barbecue School, guests can sign up for barbecue classes lead by a pit master in the restaurant and learn real barbecue techniques and how to make custom sauces and rubs.

I think guests will look more for authentic, experience-based reasons, like that, to return to restaurant dining rooms in the evenings and weekends. Barbecue School is how we hope to meet that anticipated expectation.

Last, I think we’ll see smaller, more focused menus and footprints across the industry due to rising costs and fierce competition; we are seeing requests for counter-based, no-seating restaurants from potential owners. This is definitely something we may test in 2018.

Scott Drummond, co-founder, Eatsa
: I think we will see the industry track the evolution and innovation cycle of the internet. For example, in the same way that the internet now presents customized information based on what you are doing, restaurants will soon do the same. Imagine restaurants with the ability to customize menus and present items that anticipate your needs, tastes and desires without you even noticing?

Another innovation we may soon see will mirror the connectivity and group-sharing of social media. I believe we will see restaurant environments very soon where we can see, connect, share and maybe even sample food in real time that others are enjoying elsewhere. Eatsa tested the waters with innovation moving in this direction, and I feel confident that what people experienced was just the very early first steps in this direction!

Steve Novick, CEO, Farmstand
Predictions: With rents increasing and businesses rates more than doubling in some areas of London, we see a rise of kitchen-only restaurants and the number of independent brick-and-mortar shops decreasing.

Bill DiPaola, COO, Dat Dog
: As far as things on the horizon for us and what we are gearing up for, we see the future as a more nuanced, personalized guest experience in restaurants that includes direct, in-store customer feedback that alters the environment as they dine.

This includes the simple things like music and television programming, but one that also includes lighting, decor, artwork and even color scheme.  All done through social networking and direct input from the guest. Customization is king and is not only limited to your meal.

Posted with permission from
Photo Credit:
Cherryh Cansler

Cherryh Cansler

Cherryh Cansler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.

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