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Fast Casual Social 100 report and the new age consumer

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

The $27 billion Fast Casual segment of the $632 billion restaurant industry grew at an astonishing 20.8% in 2011 over 2010, confirming that there is no slowdown in the appeal of Fast Casual to a broad range of consumers.  This rising tide won’t automatically lift all Fast Casual boats, though.  Successful brands know they have to keep their fingers on the pulse of the Fast Casual customer’s needs, wants, and choices if they want to capture their best share of this growing market demand.  And there is no better way to do this than to follow the Fast Casual Social 100.

In my book “The Chipotle Effect,” I go into great detail about this new age, social-savvy consumer that is impacting the restaurant business, and the clarity of this consumer continues to shine through in studies like this one.  Key findings show an amazing frequency rise in the millennial group, and the explosion of the use of social to talk about restaurant experiences.  Further study is underway on the impact of what this can mean if this growth continues, rest assured the model in which we engage consumers has changed forever.

The Fast Casual Social 100 2012 Mid-Year Report is the first analysis of its kind, connecting brands with actual consumer preference and behavior for the Fast Casual restaurant business. This data is especially relevant and actionable, as it targets Fast Casual consumers and the increasingly important Social Media Super Users of the restaurant industry, so here’s an appetizer made fresh with some of the key findings.

Super Influencers (a.k.a. Super Users) are very heavy users of social media, particularly in terms of content creation.  They are also more likely to be early adopters of new technologies, try new products, and take risks and share opinions, both good and bad. DigitalCoco’s Social Insights and Restaurant Social Media Index tracks 36 million Super Influencers and more than 4,000 brands in the restaurant arena.  Super Users average 5.4 visits to a Fast Casual restaurant per month, up from 3.1 visits during the same period last year.  These most-connected social consumers for all food segments have an average reach of more than 700 social connections per user and they are more willing to share their restaurant experiences, both good and bad.  Leading Fast Casual brands make sure those experiences are super good and super share-worthy.

While all age groups are welcome sources of customers, 42% of the Gen Y cohort visits upscale casual dining restaurants at least once per month, versus 33% of Gen X and 24% of Boomers .  Gen Y diners represent a “double whammy” for brands:  not only are they the restaurant customers of the future, they are also the most likely to use social media to give a restaurant a thumbs up (or down).  According to a recent NPD study, Millennials made a total of more than 12 billion visits for out of home dining in 2011, representing $73 billion spent on meals and snacks.   More than half (52%) of Gen Y Social Super Users visit a Fast Casual restaurant four or more times per month.  This data is supported in the Top 100 Most Loved Restaurants report by DigitalCoCo which breaks down the areas of most-loved attributes of the restaurant business and the demographic the embraces them.

The most-engaged restaurant consumers prefer specific types of Fast Casual dining.  The top segments for Super Users mirror overall trends in the Fast Casual industry:  Sandwich/Salad, Bakery Cafe’, Ethnic, Fresh Mex/Mexican, and Burgers.

And speaking of burgers, the largest segment (by revenue) in the restaurant industry, we’re seeing a major reboot of this take out staple into what’s being called the Better Burger:  a patty with premium ingredients, better protein, buns, toppings, and sides.  Consumers are engaging with the Beloved Beef Broilers at a faster rate than any other menu segment.  Mentions by location and venue are up by 11% in the first half compared to the previous six months.  Though flattening some over the past year the burger segment still seems to be holding well.

Location-based activity continues to be important, with Fast Casual Super Users posting 49.3 LBA per month.  The top most checked in segment is Sandwiches, the top demographic is 25 to 34 year old females, and 67% leave tips or comments related to food or service.  Social Consumers love the quality of food at (in ranking order) Noodles & Company, Wow Bao, Boudin Bakery, Chipotle, and Panera Bread.  Chipotle leads the pack in service quality, followed by Firehouse Subs, Freshii, Corner Bakery, and Noodles & Company.

Want to proceed to the main dish?  Click here to buy the Fast Casual Social 100 2012 Mid-Year Report.  Or register for the Fast Casual Trends & Directions Conference and get the report for free.

Paul Barron is a Web entrepreneur who launched several successful restaurant and hospitality trade websites, events and think tanks. He is credited with starting the fast-casual restaurant revolution when he launched in the 1990s. He is the founder of DigitalCoCo, a social media analytics and creative agency in South Florida.