December 14, 2017 | By: Cherryh Butler

Editor’s note: This is part 1 in a series of stories featuring industry predictions from fast-casual leaders around the world.

As 2017 wraps up, restaurateurs all over the world are reviewing the year’s success and failures and trying to plan for a better 2018. One way to ensure a successful new year is to get ahead of the coming trends, which is why Fast-Casual interviewed about 20 leaders of industry’s most successful brands about their industry predictions.

Their educated guesses ranged from a focus on more customized but smaller menus and footprints – including food halls and pop-up locations – to embracing technology, such as kiosks to create fully automated locations. An increase in delivery services and retail partnerships also made the cut. Read below for specific predictions.

Blaine Hurts, president and incoming CEO as of 2018, Panera Predictions: 2018 is undoubtedly the “Year of the Guest.” It’s about helping guests get the food they crave, when and how they want.

for us, that means providing cravable, clean options, while ramping up digital purchases through kiosk, web, and mobile. It also means rolling out delivery, which meets the unmet demand for clean options as an alternative to pizza and Chinese.

Additionally, by tapping into the 28 million members in our My Panera loyalty program, we will garner insights into menu selection, guest satisfaction and cafe performance – all things that options will help us drive engagement and further improve each guest’s experience.

Hoyt Jones, president, Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Predictions: We see opportunity with third-party delivery. We are entering a testing phase with UberEATS to see how it drives incremental sales without jeopardizing the profitability of our stores. Online ordering will continue to grow. We kicked off 2017 with an online promotion encouraging customers to go to the head of the line by placing their order in advance through the Jersey Mike’s mobile app or website. Momentum continued throughout the year, and online ordering sales are up 50 percent this year.

In 2018, consumers will continue to want health and flavor.

Fortunately, our menu has been focused on that since 1956. Everything is fresh-sliced, fresh-grilled. Our produce is grown, packed and shipped locally where available, and prepped by hand earlier in the day. Bread is baked fresh in our restaurants throughout the day.
When it comes to flavor, nothing beats the zing of red wine vinegar and olive oil on a sub — what we call The Juice. We are also bringing back by popular demand our Rosemary Parmesan Bread nationwide. And to continue offering variety, we are introducing Gluten Free bread starting today, Dec. 4, across the country, after a successful test phase.

Jim Mizes, CEO, Blaze
Predictions: Delivery is the sea change happening in our industry.  Get with it or get left behind.  Significant impact on real estate site selection and size of restaurants.
The fast food Value Empire Strikes Back!  Value defined many ways, will play a larger role in the industry.  Value can be about low price AND it can be about quality for the price and experience the guest receives.
Digital and mobile are eating restaurants! How brands connect with their guests will matter so much more in 2018 and beyond.
Service ALWAYS matters. Execution and consistency of service always WINS!


Jim Mizes, CEO of Blaze, got a few laughs during the 2017 Fast Casual Executive Summit. Mizes rolled up his sleeves to reveal his fake tattoos to Michael Lastoria, CEO of &pizza.

Michael Lastoria, founder, &Pizza
Predictions: More and more, consumers are making not only informed purchasing decisions based on morals and quality, but on aesthetic. Everything we do, everything we buy, everything we eat is now seen as a statement about ourselves — who we are, what we stand for, what we believe in —  and aesthetic is a hugely important part of that. Design matters. Brand matters. And the two stand at the intersection of everything happening in today’s marketplace.

Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop
Predictions: As minimum wage hikes continue to drive the development of artificial intelligence and automation, this trend will go into overdrive in 2018, and profoundly impact the way brands operate, including:

  • Self-service kiosks will become commonplace in 2018 and brands will place a greater emphasis on the experimental use of robots in both front and back of house to increase efficiency.
  •  In the short term, brands that implement kiosks won’t see much labor improvement, as they will have to be supplemented by new roles to enhance customer experience. This will be a short-term step to educate consumers and will later result in labor reduction.
  • Fully automated QSR and fast casual concepts will begin to enter the scene in 2018, changing the way consumers think about “fast food.”

Don Fox, CEO, Firehouse
Predictions: After what has been a lackluster year for the industry, I see a rosier picture ahead for 2018.  We are all still facing headwinds in the form of record levels of competition, and the trend for consumers to prefer off-premise food consumption (the latter being the biggest factor impacting the operational and marketing architecture of brands).

But the improvements we are seeing in terms of consumer confidence and a more vibrant economy may help offset those factors, at least in part. Innovation will be the key buzzword in 2018. Those brands that can carve out a unique position in a very crowded marketplace will hold an inherent advantage.

Carl Howard, CEO, Fazoli’s
Predictions: My overall predictions is that you will see more and more organizations developing new distribution channels to get their products into consumer hands. While smaller footprint facilities featuring to-go and drive-thru-only service are certainly going to be tested, it will not be as prevalent as the expansion of off-premise sales that can be done without the need of opening new locations.

Online ordering, delivery programs, curbside service and the mobile apps will unquestionably be more critical to your traditional sales in the years to come. You have to be exploring every possible way to seamlessly get your product to the consumers where they want to receive your product. We are clearly moving into an on-demand and a stay-at-home economy, and you will have to provide every imaginable outlet for your guest to order your product and for guests to receive your product. Consumers are already shifting behaviors and now expect to receive goods and services where they are and not necessarily where you are located.
Biju Thomas, founder, Biju’s Little Curry Shop 
Prediction: I think we’re about to see a giant wave of food halls and community spaces around the country in all the various forms. There are some drive-thrus popping up for sure, but in major cities, I’m seeing shared spaces.  It’s definitely more fun and interesting for the customer but even nicer for employees and staff.

Also, in-store restaurants at grocery stores will be huge as with most things nationally in grocery. Whole Foods Markets is leading the way with that, and we got to be a big part of the very first launch.

Tommi Tervanen, CEO, Koti Pizza Group
: Vegetarian options growing largely, and first tests with insects will also start on the restaurant scene. Gluten-free and vegan dishes continue to grow. Home delivery is still increasing, and food safety initiatives will embrace IoT (internet of things).

Andrew Gruel,CEOand founder, Slapfish
Predictions: I think the fast casual space is beyond crowded. With a “stronger” economy, we are seeing people move back into full-service casual. I think to stand out we will actually see fast casual go into two different directions, ultimately split in two:

  1.  Kiosk-driven to combat the crazy labor costs, but this actually makes it more QSR or fast food.
  2.  Moving more upscale towards full service, finer casual with an emphasis on table service and touchpoints, the only difference being you pay first. In essence, a simple step away from casual dining. This will justify higher menu prices and ideally cull more tips so people can still hold onto minimum wage for FOH.

    Part 2 of this series will include predictions from the leaders of Freshii, Eatsa, Dickey’s Barbecue and Dat Dog to name a few.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.