Shifting Gears: Quick Service and Fast-Casual Twists and Turns

Posted in Restaurant Operations on November 21, 2023

szymon--jv94-xYy-E-unsplashThe quick-service and fast food segments serve up a blur of data on how they're doing. A snapshot of the global market reveals how much money is on the table. Expected to grow from $273.20 billion in 2022 to $292.78 billion this year, the global fast food and quick-service market is cookin’ in a big way, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 7.2%.¹ What’s more, the market is projected to reach $371.47 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 6.1%.¹

Digging into data for this summer, we see sales figures take a few twists and turns that underscore challenges and opportunities. While the restaurant industry across categories has been flexing its strength, the numbers were a mixed bag, with sales and traffic slowing down in July but posting more robust results than in April and May.2 Same-store growth was 2.8% for the industry in July—positive but down 0.8 percentage points compared with June’s year-over-year growth.2

It’s been a long road to recovery from the pandemic. But while the road may continue to shift depending upon the economic climate and other factors, top quick-service and fast-casual brands remain nimble when it comes to menu innovation and operational upgrades. 

The Express: Subway Fast Tracks Menu Innovation

Take Subway, which has positioned itself well for a potential sale and a $10 billion valuation.The quick-service sandwich chain implemented a transformational two-year turnaround strategy focused on dramatic improvements to its food. Its “Eat Fresh Refresh” introduced a medley of new ingredients and sandwich concepts with input from a panel that includes James Beard Award winner Nancy Silverton.3

The following year, Subway rolled out its Subway Series, which debuted a dozen signature sandwiches that can be ordered by name or number (as opposed to ingredient by ingredient) for a streamlined ordering experience. This May, it expanded the lineup to 18, followed in July by the launch of Deli House Heroes consisting of generous portions of freshly sliced meats. 

As Paul Fabre, Subway’s senior vice president of culinary and innovation, put it: “You can just taste it and you can see the difference, and for us, it was really about building these sandwiches the way that a great deli sandwich should. There was a lot of science actually [around] the right ratio of the amount of turkey with cheese and bread.”3

The Sizzle and the Steak: Sizzler Leverages Legacy to Lift Sales

While Subway has turned to menu innovation to drive sales, the Sizzler steakhouse chain is shifting toward pre-pandemic nostalgia to jump-start its brand image and remind lapsed patrons of what they were missing.

A pioneering fast casual, Sizzler was hit hard by the pandemic, which featured a signature salad bar that the need for contactless dining rendered off limits. Back now, Sizzler’s format and valued-priced New York strip steaks are primed to take advantage of pent-up nostalgia for on-site dining and win over a new generation of cost-conscious customers.

As Robert Clark, chief growth officer for Sizzler USA, pointed out: “Where else are you going to find a 14-ounce ribeye for $24?”4 He sees the brand's legacy as a powerful draw. “People still have great memories of Sizzler,” he continued. “They still talk about the Sizzler Cheese Toast,” the brand's classic cheese-smeared, Texas toast-sized slice. “They still talk about the salad bar.”4

Whereas Subway has enlisted an all-star team of sports celebrities to promote its menu overhauls, Sizzler is rustling up nostalgic sentiment with TV spots featuring Jodie Sweetin, star of the sitcom "Full House," a hit from the late '80s to mid- '90s. Sweetin, who appeared in the first Sizzler commercial 36 years ago, declares in one of the spots: “I started here at Sizzler, and I’m here to tell you, it’s still as good as ever.”4

For more insights into the rapid shifts in the restaurant landscape, be sure to read: Accelerating Advances: Catching Up with Fast Casuals.” For customized menu solutions to meet your operation's unique challenges, reach out below.


1 GlobeNewswire, "Fast Food and Quick Service Restaurant Global Market Report 2023: Sector to Reach $371.47 Billion by 2027 at a 6.1% CAGR," Research and Markets, May 31, 2023

2 Market Intelligence by GuesXM, “GuestXM: Strong summer gives restaurants reason to be optimistic,” Nation’s Restaurant News, September 1, 2023

3 Coley, Ben, “Subway Rewrites Playbook with Legacy Still Intact,QSR, September 2023

4 Romeo, Peter, "Sizzler aims for a renaissance by unabashedly embracing its past," Restaurant Business, September 8, 2023

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