Waitress taking order in restaurant

Some chefs pay attention to the latest restaurant industry trends, and some chefs create the trends.

Take one of the latest casual dining trends as an example: fast fine dining. Not to be confused with fast casual, which refers to places like Chipotle or Five Guys, who distinguish themselves from fast food by offering high-quality ingredients and less of an assembly line atmosphere.

Although the economy brought down spending at higher-end restaurants over the last several years, the love for creative food has been growing at a rapid pace, enabling fast casual and fast fine restaurants to thrive. And let’s not forget food trucks!

In Rhode Island, a French restaurant runs a gourmet hot dog truck, and another fine dining restaurant operates a gourmet taco stand on the side. Both versions of their restaurants are popular with the local foodies, and they’re able to serve, and please several different types of guests. Curious about how your restaurant might be able to capitalize on the fast casual or the fast fine dining trends that have dominated in previous years? Read on to learn more.

chef and owner discussing restaurant industry trends

Getting to know fast-casual restaurant dining trends

The mere mention of the term “fast food” is enough to know what to expect from a restaurant: the food is ordered at the counter, the delivery time is very fast, and the price is low. Of course, we also know that the meal is likely high in calories. While that’s exactly what some people are looking for, there’s something left to be desired for certain sections of the population as well.

Millennials aren’t just buying breakfast, lunch or dinner, they want their meal to be an “experience.”

Diners who are health-conscious, but still want speed, find themselves searching for options where they can pay a little more and wait a tad longer for food that is healthier. This is exactly what fast casual restaurants offer. Order at the counter, and only wait about five minutes longer than you would at a fast food joint. and viola—you have a meal at a quick price that is often composed of better ingredients than those you’ll find at traditional fast food joints and possibly even more delicious too. Now you’re beginning to understand the fast casual trend.

The main difference is the quality of the food. The raw materials used in fast-casual eateries like Chipotle and Panera are often obtained from trusted farms and co-operatives. The USP for this kind of place is the health factor, something that fast food doesn’t normally offer.

Breadcrumb POS inside of a restaurant

So what are fast fine restaurants?

Fast fine restaurants fall somewhere between fast casual and fine dining. The main draw is offering patrons the taste of fine dining restaurant food for a lesser price and a quicker delivery time. Hey, not everyone has hours and hours (and bags and bags of money) to dedicate to a fine dining experience… but why should it be limited to that?

The idea is to do away with the negative aspects of fine dining like long reservations, high price and longer turnaround time. The chefs in these restaurants typically offer food that can be obtained fresh from local farmers or fishermen.

waitress tying on her apron

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This also means the menu might change about several times per week, giving chefs the chance to experiment with new ideas and combinations  and giving customers the reason to come back again and again and again. When you’ll always find something new alongside, perhaps, a couple of staples that have become favorites, one-time guests can become regulars in a heartbeat.

For example, Larkburger is a chain based off of Vail, Colorado’s Larkspur Restaurant. Owner Thomas Salamunovich says, “I care as much about the ground beef hamburger as I do cooking foie gras or caviar.”

When it comes down to it, the heart of the difference between fast casual and fast fine dining is in ingredients and creativity.


“Though his burger stores do about one-fifth the business of his fine-dining restaurant, Salamunovich says opening a new quick-serve costs about $450,000, while a fine-dining restaurant can cost upward of $4 million. And the simplicity of quick-service concepts makes them easier to operate. Larkburger’s kitchens have an inventory of about 150 items; Larkspur has about 14,000,” reported NRN.

Busy Bar

Fresh to Order in Atlanta, Georgia is another example of a fast fine dining restaurant. This spot has the goal of providing their high-end food in ten minutes for around $10.

When it comes down to it, the heart of the difference between fast casual and fast fine dining is in ingredients and creativity. While fast-casual dining can include your typical fast food places like KFC and Pizza Hut, there’s much more to the picture these days. It’s not just low-quality ingredients dipped in a vat of boiling oil. Fast casual restaurants are starting to change what it means to eat quickly and on the go, often adding healthy to the mix. Fast fine restaurants, on the other hand, are typically smaller, more independent, and intent on utilizing high-quality ingredients than even fast casual restaurants are. Think of fine dining without all the time and money investments but with a similar take on the quality of food and sometimes even the dining experience, too. That’s what fast fine dining means.

What’s Driving the Fast Casual and Fast Food Fine Dining Trends?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, millennials are the major spenders in this area like they are in many other food industry sectors as well. As Inc. explains, “millennials have 2.3% of their meals at a restaurant, which [is estimated] as roughly one trip every other week. As this habit grows, more grocery stores are now offering prepared meals, or improving their existing options. More restaurants and fast-casual chains are offering delivery and making their to-go menu options more accessible.”

Fast fine dining is a natural extension of the fast casual, eating-on-the-go food choices that millennials, who are quickly surpassing baby boomers as the generation with the largest purchasing power, are demanding in droves. It’s also technological advances, like POS systems that seamlessly integrate online ordering into the kitchen’s workflow, that are enabling these trends to skyrocket. They’re not just buying breakfast, lunch or dinner, they want their meal to be an “experience,” and they’re eager to share it on social media. Get in on the action by giving them something to talk about.

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.