CHICAGO - Fast-casual chains strengthened their gains on the overall restaurant industry, with the top 150 fast-casual chains growing 8.4% to $21.5 billion in 2011, a faster rate than in 2010 (6.6%). In comparison, top 500 U.S. chains only advanced 3.5% in sales last year.
Total fast-casual units among the fast-casual top 150 jumped 5.2% to 17,447. This group made up over three-quarters of the fast-casual industryï¿½ï¿½s sales, which total $27 billion annually.
"Fast-casual operators continue to outshine every other segment within the U.S. restaurant industry," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, in a press release. "Fast-casual restaurants fill the gap between quick service and casual dining. People want fast, fresh, quality meals at a fair price point. This segment seems to hit that sweet spot right now."
Fast-casual restaurants generally have fast or speedy service and a fair price, with a strong takeout component, which usually comprises as much as 50% of sales. Catering programs contribute a substantial source of revenue.
Two segment leaders, Panera Bread and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, stood out with particularly strong 2011 sales growth, at 10.1% and 32.8%, respectively.