Shake Shack makes its burgers with the same type of all-natural beef Meyer uses in his fine-dining restaurants. Flickr Photo: Patrick de la Cruz
If it feels like you’re seeing a Shake Shack or a Chipotle on every corner, just wait – the “fine casual” movement is just getting started, says restaurateur Danny Meyer.
The man who is behind Shake Shack’s rapid expansion offered Yahoo Food a baseball analogy to describe where he thinks the food industry is: top of the second with an arsenal of hot bats on deck that are about to drive in some big runs.
“We got a couple of runs in the first and now we have to build upon the lead,” Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told Yahoo Food after speaking about the fine casual evolution at the recent TEDx: Changing the Way We Eat conference in NYC. “And I find that really exciting.”
Restaurateurs and marketers aren’t the only group that should be excited about the future opportunities and experiences fueled by the category. People who eat in restaurants should be equally pumped, said Meyer, who also founded NYC hot spots Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, and Blue Smoke, among other restaurants.
Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer says the “fine casual” dining trend is a causing “a sea change” for U.S. restaurants and consumers. Photo: Jeff O’Heir
The popularity and financial success of places like Chipotle and Shake Shack is driving the red-hot category of fine-casual dining. These chains are known for using the same high-quality ingredients (such as organic, or locally and responsibly sourced) as fancier restaurants, but in a stripped-down setting that helps keep costs low and makes great food accessible to a wider range of people.
Meyer predicts that the next few innings in the fine-casual game will bring more menu items based on healthier and responsibly sourced foods, such as organically grown salads, vegetables and whole grains, as well as proteins such as cage-free chicken and line-caught tuna. Those trends, he added, will spread to the pizza and ethnic foods served by larger restaurant groups and chains.
“People are caring about where did the wheat come from, how about the yeast, what about the toppings,” Meyer said about pizza. “You’re going to see it around foods that we already know but never knew could be this good and … accessible.”
Restaurants that get involved with their communities, such as Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival, builds trust between the business and its customers, a key element to the fine casual movement, according to Meyer. Video: YouTube
Finding enough farmers and ranchers to produce those organic and all-natural ingredients will be a challenge as more restaurants and chains take their menus to the next level. But it’s a hurdle restaurants are proving they can overcome.
Meyer pointed to the willingness of Whole Foods Market and Chipotle to drop suppliers that don’t meet their standards, McDonald’s decision to source chicken raised without antibiotics, and Shake Shack’s efforts to work with Martin’s, a potato roll produce that uses GMO-free flour (which is required in the United Kingdom).
“We have now been encouraging (Martin’s) to do that for the whole U.S. supply,” Meyer said. “Once they figure that out, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be able to do that for all their customers. (Suppliers) go where the money and the demand is.”
As the demand for fine-casual food increases, so will the amount of producers that supply the ingredient people now want, Meyer said.
“We are hopeful that more and more will join the fine casual (movement) because that will encourage more farmers (and ranchers) because they will have the right marketplace,” he said. “We’re at a really exciting moment. “
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