The PNC Bank Building in Dupont Circle comfortably holds three fast casual restaurants. Photo by me.

1. Argument

Hume, Scott. “Why Fast Casual is Winning.” Restaurants and Institutions, vol. 117, no. 13, 1 Sept. 2007.

In this piece in former restaurant industry journal Restaurants and Institutions, Scott Hume addresses the rise of fast casual during its ascent in 2010. Hume begins his piece discussing what he sees as the factors for their market success: increased restaurant patronage, novelty, health-consciousness, design, and the increased wealth of older consumers (Hume). After this, he goes into more depth by asking various successful people in the industry why they see an appeal. For example, Seth Salzman, the VP of a company which owns Moe’s Southwest Grill among others, believes that the convenience compared to normal casual dining is a major factor, which is corroborated by others (Hume). After this, he turns his eyes to the future of fast casual dining. In this case, he believes that it will grow quite significantly in the catering market, as it’s brand recognition and affordability will make it more successful than similar competitors. However, he also believes that casual and quick-service restaurants will likely respond to this threat by changing their model to have more similarities to their competitors. Nevertheless, barriers to the later make casual dining’s future look bright.

As we approach the final essay, it’s important to analyze why exactly why fast casual businesses seem to succeed as much as they have in the past decade. While this is a very subjective question, businessmen are most likely to have working hypotheses about this matter, owing to the fact they have the most invested in understanding it. This piece, and it’s arguments about why such places are financially effective, will help me understand and analyze the nature of the places whose nature I am probing.

Chophouse, Chipotle’s south-east Asian themed spinoff, failed tremendously, universally closing early this year. Photo by author.

2. Argument

Maze, Janathan. “Why fast-casual chains are struggling.” Nation’s Restaurant News, vol. 51, no. 5, 3 Apr. 2017, pp. 80-81.

In this short article in restaurant trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News by Janathan Maze, he details how assumptions of continuing growth of fast casual chains appear to have been mistaken, with sales in the fourth quarter of 2016 dropping by 1.1% on average. He prefaces this with an anecdote about the fact that shareholders of the fast food chain Jack in the Box were once again urging the company to sell its fast casual chain Qdoba, seeing it as an unnecessary hanger-on: something unthinkable in a field that had once been the subject of a gold rush (Maze). He goes on to describe the fact that several major chains had problems as well, though this was not universal- with chains such as Fazoli’s growing quite significantly in revenue (Maze). Despite this, Maze goes on to detail what he thinks may be the causes of this slowed growth, suggesting everything from fickle consumers not consistently dining at the often hyperfocused restaurants to increased competition due to market saturation (Maze). He ends on a negative note, reminding readers that failing branches are going to be the source of major drains in leasing fees.

It either says a lot about the nature of hype or about the nature of business that only seven years after an article about why fast casual is “winning” that there’s one about why it is struggling. This article acknowledges several things I see evident in my property- absurd competition and the willingness to throw money at expensive real estate. We’ve already seen the problems Chipotle had with its subsidiary Chophouse, leaving a gaping hole in the storefront I’ve spent months investigating. Whatever may happen, this article will likely provide an interesting way to examine the future of these eateries.