When casual dining first burst into the restaurant market in the 1990s, all you needed to do to take part was be a little bit less stuffy than a traditional restaurant. This meant being a place where parents were comfortable taking their kids, groups felt happy to mingle and it wasn’t even that awkward to eat on your own.
Like all sectors, competition has increased over the years, and there are now a lot of boxes to tick before a restaurant can truly consider itself a player.
One way to do this is to make the experience as easy as possible. The number of casual chains that still have very antiquated web portals is astounding. It can be very difficult, for instance, to access menus and, in many cases, the ones that are available online are either out of date or don’t have pricing. This is annoying for all customers, but can be particularly problematic for those who have specific dietary needs.
Secondly, there is the requirement for a restaurant to show that it takes the cuisine that it is cooking seriously. There is a difficult balance to strike between being enthusiastic and patronising, and the sweet spot will depend on the type of cuisine and the market that a restaurant is playing in. Getting this wrong, however, can be very costly, particularly for types of food where there is a lot of competition giving many options to potential customers.
The casual dining game is cut throat, and operators need to be constantly innovating in order to survive. Getting the basics wrong can be a very costly mistake which is hard to recover from.