There was a time when the commercial channel of the foodservice industry was strictly and clearly segmented. Quick-service’s approach to patrons and menu development was very different than family-style, casual or upscale/fine-dining. But, in recent years, things started to evolve. Consumers began demanding “food frills” with their quickservice. The fast-casual segment grew rapidly in answer to that demand, on the proposition that patrons still wanted their food prepared quickly but with a higher level of quality and flavor.
Then came the recession of 2007 and new stresses for the foodservice industry. Consumers now demanded more value for their dollar than ever before but still were not ready to sacrifice quality. These changes in the foodservice-segment landscape have created an interesting phenomenon: Operators in all segments are moving
toward an optimum value platform nestled between full-serve and quick-serve spectrums. Operators seeking this new value platform are “upscaling the downscale” — either on their existing menus or by opening new locations under the brand umbrella, both efforts showcasing more upscale culinary interpretations brought to life through downscale pantries.
At one end of the industry, casualization is a proven strategy in play. Leading high-end chefs are opening more-casual burger joints; others have gone mobile, utilizing food trucks to bring their culinary talents to a more mainstream audience while delivering maximum value. Noted Chicago chef Michael Kornick of upscale MK restaurant fame partnered with David Morton to open DMK Burger Bar and the new Fish Bar, which offers a “clam-shack” atmosphere with most meals under $10. Similarly, fellow Chicagoan Rick Bayless made news with the launch of the quick-serve Xoco, with a menu based on Mexico’s most beloved street foods, much more humble than Topolobompo’s offerings.
At the other end of the spectrum, the quick-service segment is making upscale strides to satisfy its customers’ demands for more value without surrendering their constant quest for flavor. From this perspective, efforts are reversed: Operators are upgrading existing ingredients and menu items to bring a heightened value perception. Fast-casual operators showcase high-end ingredients while quick-serve flexes its culinary muscles by tapping into more premium-branding strategies for enhanced quality; some food trucks are even going brick and mortar.
Within this new value model, any operator can be your competition, and “battle lines” are drawn somewhere between the fast-casual and casual-dining segments. Quick-serve and fast casual operators are upping their flavor and quality game to add menu-item value — while still offering fast service at an affordable price point. Meanwhile, full-service operations are using their more-diverse pantries to give patrons more affordable options while still delivering on their individual brand promises.
Several base menu items are emerging as the culinary cornerstones of this new value model: Burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza and ice cream all represent opportunities for operators of all segments to add value and quality through upscaled or casualized tactics. These platforms offer the “menu elasticity” to reside on any menu, from QSR to fine dining, without confusing consumers. These items make customers feel comfortable with your menu and thus are the natural platform for upgrades through culinary experimentation and enhanced quality and value.
On all parts of the menu, the value platform model is all about adding value up and down the chain in commercial foodservice. For QSR and fast-casual operators, it involves taking culinary inspiration from casual and fine-dining segments and delivering it back to consumers within a limited-service format. For full-service segments, value means developing items to attract consumers with high culinary imagination but at a price point that lets them experience your “brand” at a more affordable overall cost.
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