The casual dining has done very well in 2013, ‘with turnover of £4.3 billion across 3,896 establishments, representing annual growth of 6.3% in value and 3.7% in outlets.’ With this in mind the next 12 months will be crucial for the industry.
The growing trend towards casual dining has been a result of increasing numbers of people seeing casual dining as a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional restaurants. The less formal atmosphere of casual dining is another appeal as people are able to enter without the worry that their clothing is smart enough. The lessened importance of booking ahead also appeals to convenience: due to the speedy nature of Casual Dining, there will often be a table free, or if not, the wait for a table isn’t likely to be as long as in a traditional restaurant.
Additionally, as there are often multiple casual dining establishments in city centres, usually other options will be available nearby if one becomes particularly busy. These factors serve to encourage spontaneity in people’s eating out habits which can only be beneficial for the casual dining industry.
This trend does not appear to have reached the limit of its growth as the casual dining market is not yet saturated. The continuing promise of opportunities in this, both with independent and branded casual dining establishments means that many leaders of this industry believe that 2014 will be another strong year for the sector.
If the industry will continue to grow in the next 12 months it is important that audience needs are met. There was an early trend towards American or Italian themed casual dining, but it is clear that the market must diversify to suit consumer needs. Many restaurants are emerging to take advantage of this.
Trends in casual dining
One of the key areas where it is growing is the increasing amount of Mexican food. An example of this is Wahaca – the Mexican themed chain of restaurants- gaining popularity through emphasising street food to provide new and exciting tastes for consumers. The diversification is increasing not just with Mexican style food but also with a growth in Asian influenced meals. Thai influences in particular are gaining prominence as a way to make food more interesting to the consumer, visible with the success of The Giggling Squid chain of casual Thai restaurants.
While using new flavours from the rest of the world is one way of diversification, another side is the increasing number of establishments which have championed a focus on the British and locally sourced aspects of their food, promising such items as steak and ale pies made with locally farmed ingredients and making their niche through this theme. The likes of McCain a food supplier to the casual dining industry, have contributed to this focus by sourcing core ingredients for local certified farmers.
Perhaps a clear indicator that the casual dining industry will continue to grow is the number of street food outlets. Many of these are in the form of vans which park up in city centres in a bid to serve city workers and students during their lunch hour, offering food for those who don’t have the time for a sit down meal.
Some brands, such as Wahaca amongst others have noticed this and have set up vans of their own in a bid to capitalise on the popularity of these stalls. In London there are huge numbers of these vans and to a degree they represent the cutting edge of the industry, where new tastes are tried out on customers giving other restaurants an indication of what will and won’t sell.
Many factors, including those mentioned here give an indication that 2014 should be a profitable year for the Casual dining industry. The diversification should ensure their survival and provide more opportunities for growth, while the street food vans form the trend setters to indicate what will be the next new innovation in the industry.