Are Quick Service Restaurants the New Fine Dining?

What does a restaurant look like in 2017? To define what a restaurant is is a difficult process and not an easy thing to do considering that foodservice has evolved so much and comes in so many shapes and sizes


By Robert Hood, Corporate Food & Beverage Manager, Atlific Hotels

What does a restaurant look like in 2017? To define what a restaurant is is a difficult process and not an easy thing to do considering that foodservice has evolved so much and comes in so many shapes and sizes. In 2017 restaurants are not even defined for having chairs or tables for diners or even want diners to stay after the point of food purchase and the sale is completed. This is the world of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) and since it arrived it has changed restaurant culture, our food service experiences on an almost daily basis, and begs the question 'is QSR the new fine dining?'
There was a time when going to a restaurant meant 'fancy', white table cloths, servers in crisp white shirts with black bow ties, leather bound menus and expensive silver plated cutlery. This is what the restaurant experience meant to the majority of patrons and guests who could afford that experience, luxury, formality, table service, and having food and wine brought to your table, the experience of being waited on and pampered in a relaxed and unrushed environment where time was not important and the occasion was all that mattered.

Today a restaurant and the environment in which we live and eat is not exactly that way for all of us in our busy lives. Firstly restaurants now are everywhere and accessible to almost all of us, but as our choices and variety of dining options has increased, so the words 'fine dining' and what it means have become increasing vague. With more and more people eating out rather than cooking at home, restaurant culture has exploded as guests search for the next great personal dining experience, taste, style, atmosphere, where communal dining often with complete strangers becomes the norm and the 'feel good' experience often out weighs the need for flash. This being that the 'fine' in fine dining has changed as the guests themselves and their needs have changed.

So what is 'QSR'? As its name suggests, is a quick service of food directly to the customer. This type of restaurant takes many forms, it can be seen as fast food service, food court, kiosk or counter service or an operation with multiple outlets, offering multiple varied products to many guests at the same time. The premise for the operation is that the customer will engage with the service associate either by placing an order or selecting a dining operation, paying for the service and then either receiving the food directly or making the selection and serving themselves. The process is quick, easy and meant to relay the minimum amount of stress and effort on the guest.

Sometimes the process will involve the food and beverages being brought to the customer in quick order at their seat shortly after selection. The emphasis is on quick service delivery of a quality food item. In many people's minds quick service is all about fast food, but this perception is rapidly changing. A Starbucks store for example is a very real example of a quality food and beverage experience, which has evolved from a purely counter service coffee operation to serving breakfast, lunch and light entrée food items, through all day snacks in a speedy and quick customer engaged environment. Starbucks has also moved toward serving wine in some of their stores during the evening hours to cultivate an alternative option to the tradition bar type establishment.

Food courts provide feeding for large numbers of people at the same time allowing the customer to be served from a selection of food concepts offering fresh main to order food options that allow diners the variety of selection that a normal restaurant menu would offer, and enabling guests to enjoy a unique food option every time at quick pace of service. This type of QSR restaurant environment has shown that customers can eat a quality meal within a certain time constraint to which a traditional restaurant experience would not allow.

In the hotel sector a prime environment for a traditional sit down food service environment, QSR is making its mark. Lobby kiosks and 'To-Go' counters offer guests a quick alternation to a sit down meal experience allowing a quick bite to be had on site or to be taken with them on their journey. When this concept started many hotels were concerned that this new concept in diner offerings would reduce average checks and drive costs against the traditional restaurant model but have found instead that check averages equal or often surpass restaurant check averages while reducing labor and allowing the guest to manage their dining experience on their own timeline.

Courtyard by Marriott's Bistro concept takes this a little further. The guest orders at the counter, pays for their selection and the food is then served to the guest at their table in the lounge. The food production from the overhead menu boards is produced at the bistro counter in view of the guests and served within 5-7 minutes. The menu selection itself is broad offering breakfast entrées and sandwiches, both traditional and healthy being served quickly to the seated guest. The bistro itself trans forms from a breakfast bar to an evening offering alcoholic beverages, a coffee bar and a menu featuring full entrées, and sandwiches and snacks. The counter service also offers grab and go for cold single serve beverage items that can be consumed immediately or en-route. Again all transactions take place at the counter and the service times remain at a brisk pace which the guest can control the consumption times to suit their schedule.

Food trucks have replaced hot dog carts on our streets and in centers in additional to restaurants which are a new and exciting food option for diners. No longer looked at as 'greasy' options, these high-end food conveyances showcase a variety of ethnic and creative food options from the traditional to the bizarre allowing the dining experience to be an adventure that starts right out on the street outside. Just by walking up to the counter a new taste and food adventure awaits, which with the choice and variety out there in any given cultural center can mean a never ending menu and street restaurant experience.
These examples are not unique. Many restaurants are taking advantage of the needs of their customers who want extended choice and variety in menus and the ability to set their own schedule with regard to the meal experience and wholly to make it as personal and unique as possible, creating a memorable experience rather than being confined to meal period seating's and schedules that may not suit their timelines.

Why is 'QSR' replacing 'Fine Dining'? To answer this question it comes down to five major factors, time, choice, value, quality and individual experience. QSR restaurants have come a long way from just low quality convenience food. The dining experience driven by the guest needs has meant that rather than pre-prepared and on the spot finished food dishes, fresh and localized menus created 'a la minute' allow an array of tempting choices. In our busy lives as with many other things diners value their time and the almost limited amount of it for food and dining experiences. QSR offers this option and allows the diner to move the service and experience at their leisure. QSR offers a value proposition in this time that many fine dining restaurants to not.

While fine dining will offer a unique and memorable occasion, its value is sometimes not justified by the diner. The quality of the menus and their ingredients have led many diners to be seduced to a QSR format as a value is the single biggest factor promoting diner satisfaction and the desire to return to any food service establishment, and as with any commercial venture QSR has come a long way in promoting a value experience every time prompting its growth and acceptance from the dining clientele as a growing sector in the food service industry.

Will QSR replace Fine Dining as a food service business segment? The answer to that is probably not. Fine dining will be reviewed as a statement rather than a definition. QSR is looked upon as a current and emerging segment with has not reached any type of boundary. Whether it be a stall, kiosk, coffee shop, food truck or restaurant we need to remember what it is and not the defining words in its title. The quick service restaurant will represent a new casual service environment that many take for granted as just part of their everyday lives and daily experience.

QSR may not have the glamour of the fine dining room or the price tag that involves dining there, but it has earned its place in our food destination choices and decisions. We will always like to be spoiled and pampered once in a while when it comes to eating somewhere very extravagant, but for the everyday need to enjoy great food whether it be for work, with friends or just because the QSR environment is providing customers with a positive value for money environment that allows them to eat something delicious on their own timeline with never ending menu possibilities.
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