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Smarter, Not Harder: The Fast Casual Motto

Smarter, Not Harder: The Fast Casual Motto

Within the last two decades, there’s been a quiet shift within the restaurant industry, and it’s upending the way that people experience meals away from home. Prior to the early 2000s, most Australians out in one of two primary forms—the casual dining experience (think the local pub, The Hogs Breath and the Hard Rock Cafe) or your fast food staples, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and KFC. However, starting around 1999, some new players made inroads to chip away at those models and ever since fast casual became the fast growing segment in the restaurant industry.

There’s plenty of evidence and anecdotes driving this trend: a renewed appreciation for sustainable ingredients, the notion that convenience doesn’t inherently mean quality is off the table, and a desire for an experience that truly understands the preferences of its customers.

Why now? This can’t just be a phenomenon driven by Millennials as so many trite statements portend. Surely Boomers and Gen X had their own appreciation for quality food and a great experience, right?

Perhaps the reason as to why now is the same reason behind the why now of every single industry—the rise of better technology. As many metro areas across Western cultures begin to see “peak restaurant,” competition has become increasingly fierce, many costs categories are rising, and antiquated technology isn’t helping the old guard.

Here are five ways technology is contributing to the success of the fast casual movement.

Optimising the COGS

There’s two key ways to reduce food costs: source lower priced ingredients or monitor and control your overall cost of goods sold.

Many food establishments have archaic par sheets that they use to reorder on a regular cadence. Manually ordering to par inventory doesn’t necessarily account for what’s actually happening in the business. Is supply low because it was a popular item or ingredient, or were the ingredients spoiled out because no one was ordering them? Also, the manual process takes a lot of labour that can be used more optimally.

Modern establishments are turning to advanced tools that help them automatically track their ingredients through every stage of the process from the arrival of raw ingredients through intermediate product creation to purchase. Rather than ordering with a limited view of all of the moving pieces, fast casual restaurants are better controlling their costs by keeping an eagle eye on inventory, controlling waste, and even getting alerted when stock of particular ingredient falls below a particular threshold so they know when to reorder and don’t miss out on key sales. Without integrated reporting capability, food costs can easily run much higher than they should, which hinders your chances of staying competitive.

Providing Insight Into Productivity

Today’s fast casual establishments know that in order to maximise efficiency, you have to ensure that not only are the right tools in place, but also the right team. Understanding where the pinch points are in your operations is key to ensuring that you have the best people for the job in the right roles. While a line out the door is a dream come true for many establishments, it’s also a sure sign of missed opportunity as not everyone is going to be willing to wait.

By leveraging employee productivity reporting, fast casual restaurants are more equipped to target output times from register to kitchen. Ensure that customers’ orders are being rung up efficiently, identify your prep line speed and your pacesetters and rockstars with a Kitchen Display System (KDS). Rather than throwing additional labour at the problem, it’s important to identify what your team is capable of first. Real-time, cloud-based reporting even provides the necessary insight when the owner or GM isn’t onsite.

Driving Service with a Kiosk

Fast food restaurants are learning a lot from fast casual establishments, and one area they’re really going after is the self-service kiosk. Kiosks maximise labour dollars even further by reducing the deciding-at-the-counter effect where cashiers have to wait for customers to make a decision. Instead of waiting for customers, those employees could help on the prep line, run food, or even offer upsells to already served guests.

Kiosks also help drive down food waste by practically eliminating communication errors from front to back of house. With orders sent directly from the kiosk to the KDS, the fast casual restaurant drives up efficiency and controls costs.

Enhancing the Experience

Fast casual restaurants fall neatly between fast food and casual dining, because they’ve taken the best lessons from both. One way that fast casual establishments are driving sales is by offering upsells post purchase by utilising Mobile Order Takers. This technology allows employees to not only help cut down lines as needed, but also to touch tables a second time to proactively offer another round of drinks or desserts that weren’t ordered initially without forcing the customer to wait in line a second time.

Building Relationships

Most importantly, fast casual restaurants are learning the importance of establishing lasting relationships with their customers. It’s worth repeating that competition is fierce for restaurants today—regardless of whether you’re running a traditional fast food, fast casual, or casual dining establishment. By integrating Customer Relationship Management (CRM), all restaurants are able to capture important customer data that helps provide a personalised experience for the customer every time they visit. From order history to integrations with loyalty and rewards programs, CRM helps your restaurant stand out from the sea of choices and not be as easily forgotten.

If you’re opening a fast casual restaurant, or you’re looking for ways to enhance your concept and control costs, our team can help. Call them at +61 2 8520 3344 or email them at for more information.