Finding the Time to Sit Down for Quality Fast Food

September 4, 2007

When you think of fast food brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s may spring to mind. Just like when you think of a sit-down restaurant brands, places like Outback Steak House, Ruby Tuesday, or the Olive Garden come to mind. In the past five years or so there has been a surge of an in-between market brand, a sort of sit-down fast-food restaurant. With the quality of well-prepared food, and the economical speed of fast-food chains, these new restaurants are filling a gap between a consumer’s need for speed, and yearning for more time.

Restaurant chains like Così and Panera have created whole new menus, new adaptable atmospheres, and the quality you expect from a sit down restaurant with the speed and service of fast food. It is brand entrepreneurs like these two that are forging a new restaurant brand; the brand of sit-down fast-food.

With Così’s style of casual fast food during the day, and cocktails by night, they offer a unique dining experience regardless of time of day. And they can respectably claim to have their own brand of oven-baked flat breads, which are the trademark bread for their sandwiches. The style is reminiscent of upper-class restaurants, while remaining readily available at surprising speed as they constantly bake fresh bread throughout the day at on-site ovens.

Another nice touch to Così’s is that although you order up at the cashier register, once your order is placed, you are free to sit wherever you choose, be it a comfortable table or booth with cushioned seats. Some locations even offer regular armchairs stationed strategically at windows for more natural lighting. The food is then brought to your table in a quick and professional fashion. Cleanup is taken care of by staff that monitors tables and clear away finished plates efficiently.

Panera has managed to find its way into 40 states across the U.S. with about 1,000 bakery-cafes. Panera targets areas where real estate is not terribly expensive and competition is comparatively low. By finding the right location, Panera can thrive and expand, getting a maximum ROI for their effort. By providing quality fresh-baked breads as well as assorted pastries and lunch items, Panera has managed to grow its brand admirably in this relatively new niche market.

Even Starbucks, known for their saturation of the market with store locations across the globe and their unmistakable coffee, have been expanding their food and bakery options. By expanding their menu, consumers have even more reason to buy a venti coffee with a muffin and take a few minutes to relax in cushioned chairs and agreeable atmosphere.

It is up to brand entrepreneurs like these to ensure that no niche in the restaurant industry goes untried. I expect to see these brands thrive, as well as encourage old chains to expand and new chains to join in. It is a whole new brand of restaurants in the brave new world of restaurant branding.

Jim Gregory, CoreBrand CEO, will be a keynote speaker at the MUFSO (Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators Conference) conference, September 30 – October 3, 2007, Los Angeles.

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