It's no secret that fast casual restaurants are more popular than ever, but new research from Consumer Edge Insight's Restaurant DemandTracker, a new syndicated consumer research service that provides in-depth analysis on how key economic and secular factors impact restaurant demand, shows why their popularity has grown.

The research shows a number of reasons for fast casual's uptick, not just low prices. That's in contrast to the reasons driving traffic growth at other less-expensive restaurant segments, said David Decker, president of Consumer Edge Insight.

The study, which polled 3,100 U.S. consumers visiting restaurants at least once per month, found that those choosing fast casual restaurants more often, did so because they were less expensive (37 percent) and offer better value (31 percent), but also because they are seen as "more convenient" than other restaurants (33 percent). Many people visiting fast casual restaurants cited their better-tasting food (30 percent), greater variety of menu options (27 percent), healthier food (26 percent) and better atmosphere (24 percent).

In contrast, the top reasons cited among those visiting quick-service restaurants more often were mostly price driven: Less-expensive (62 percent), more convenient (51 percent), better value (34 percent), and better promotions (34 percent).

The people who visited pizza-takeout restaurants more often also mostly cited price-related reasons: More convenient (42 percent), better promotions (39 percent), less expensive (38 percent) and better value (24 percent).

"While the restaurants in (the fast casual) segment do provide reasonable prices and good value, they also provide convenience, a wide variety of great-tasting food, healthier food, and a nice atmosphere," Decker said. "This is a great value proposition when many consumers are looking for something better than a quick-service restaurant, but their spending money is limited and they may not have the time or the money to go to a table-service restaurant. This suggests the fast casual segment is likely to continue to gain popularity among restaurant consumers."

Read more about trends.

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