Fast casual dining is a Columbia hit

Key Takeaways

  • Core retail absorption causes the market vacancy rate to drop to 10.09% during the third quarter of 2018.
  • Fast casual restaurants become hot spots in Columbia.

Fast Food Evolves to Fast Casual

The lines between full service, casual and fast food dining are becoming blurred into a trend called fast casual dining. Due to a faster pace of living, fewers diners are interested in long four- to six-course meals, although the high quality of full-service restaurants is still appealing. Fast casual dining offers fast service through counter ordering with a higher quality of food than traditional fast food venues. In addition, customers return to see an updated seasonal menu, which is another popular aspect of fast casual dining; often, fresh, local ingredients are used in dishes when in season so the menu options remain fresh and choices are customized throughout the year. In addition, many menus offer low-carb, vegan, gluten-free or superfood options. By ordering at a counter with fresh options, customers are able to customize their orders with chef-inspired dishes and extras which are often higher in nutritional value. The counter-style restaurant reduces the need for wait staff and instead uses a process-driven model where each counter employee only needs to learn how to operate a section of the counter line in order to assist every customer. This efficient model is quick and specialized. Also, less square feet are needed for each restaurant because there is less room used for food preparation – the preparations happen as the customer orders each meal. These trendy restaurants are able to squeeze into a smaller footprint and still remain highly successful. Columbia has several fast casual restaurants that are having an impact on diners, such as Freshe Poke, Poke Bros, Chipotle and Panera Bread. In addition, traditional fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and Wendys are spending money to upgrade their chains to become in line with the fast casual trend by upgrading interior finishes, offering free wifi, displaying fresh plants, using quality ingredients and installing self-ordering kiosks. Columbia welcomes the fast casual trend into the region and anticipates more of these restaurants popping up throughout the market.

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