Top 10 stories of 2017 will carry over to 2018

| by Cherryh Cansler
Top 10 stories of 2017 will carry over to 2018

The past year has been full of drama for the fast casual industry. From food-safety issues and comebackstories to CEO shake-ups and repealed and new government regulations, 2017 wasn’t boring. Below are the 10 most-read stories of the year, and most don't yet have official endings. FastCasual will be tracking these stories and many more through 2018.

1. EXCLUSIVE: Boloco CEO shares brutally honest tale about making it in the restaurant biz
John Pepper, founder of Boloco, wrote a first-person account of the struggles he and his business have faced. 

Memorable moment: "Despite pulling all of the 'doing the right thing' levers, the business was in a free fall. We gained $700,000 in sales and spent an extra $500,000 in labor to do it. After all other expenses, those extra sales actually cost us hundreds of thousands." 

2. Franchise Focus: Owner of 59 Jimmy John's attributes success to empowering employees toworkingfor themselves

Dan Vansteenburg, a former school teacher, was one of the first franchisees of Jimmy John's when he opened in Roseville, Minnesota. That was 16 years ago, and the 46-year-old leader is now the second-largest Jimmy John's franchisee with 59 stores spanning from his home state to Boston.

Memorable moment: "I build my organizational structure upside down," he said. "I put the customers at the top and then the people who are interacting with the customers next. That's how I'm able to grow this quickly. The people that come to work for me aren't really working for me, they're working for themselves."
3. What's the state of thefast casualindustry?

When it comes to staying relevant, fast casual brands aren't afraid of innovation and customization, according to FastCasual's latest findings in the 2017 State of the Industry report. It polled more than 250 operators on business practices and found that most not only offer a variety of foods to fit specific dietary needs but are also constantly testing or implementing consumer-facing technology to help improve the customer experience. More than 81 percent said they offer healthy menu items, 65 percent have gluten-free options, 75 percent have vegetarian items and 40 percent have vegan offerings, for example. Nearly half participate in local sourcing, a trend that more consumers are demanding. 

Memorable moment: The good news, however, is that the industry is still leading the restaurant sector when it comes to growth. NPD Group reported earlier this year that although traffic growth will stall in the year ahead for restaurateurs nationwide — with full-service faring the worst — limited-service chains (which combine QSRs and fast casuals) show an estimated 1 percent rate of growth in overall traffic. That's slightly better than the flat growth for that total business sector in 2016, and far better than the anticipated loss of 2 percent of business for full-service restaurants in 2017.

"Restaurant operators are in a position to alter the current forecast, but will need to differentiate themselves from the competition," NPD Group's restaurant industry analyst, Bonnie Riggs, said in a news release. "In the year ahead, it will be critical for them to stay relevant in consumers' minds, focusing on innovative products, unique promotions, competitive pricing, stating the benefits of eating at restaurants vs. home, and delivering an enjoyable experience."

4. Panera Bread Company sold to JAB
Panera announced in April that JAB Holding Company acquired it for $315 per share in cash in a transaction valued at approximately $7.5 billion, including the assumption of approximately $340 million of net debt.  

Memorable moment: "By any measure, Panera has been one of the most successful restaurant companies in history," CEO Ron Shaich said in the release. "What started as one 400-square-foot cookie store in Boston has grown to a system with over 2,000 units, approximately $5 billion in sales, and over 100,000 associates."

5. Food truck growth goes full throttle: Part 1
The gourmet food truck has established its niche in the American foodservice landscape, and these restaurants on wheels aren't putting on the brakes anytime soon.

In fact, the food truck industry, which is the fastest-growing channel in today's foodservice industry, has grown from $650 million in 2013 to a projected $2.7 billion this year, according to Emergent Research.

The industry has grown so quickly that FastCasual's parent company — Networld Media—  last year launched to deliver in-depth coverage of the thriving restaurant sector.

Memorable moment: "One of the unique defining characteristics of today's food trucks — which bear little resemblance to their mobile industrial catering forbearers (also known as "roach coaches") — is their entrepreneurial character. With less than $100,000, an entrepreneur can launch a food truck that can earn $250,000-$500,000 per year, according to a 2015 IBISWorld report."

6. 4 metrics every restaurant should track
Niall Keane, CEO of SynergySuite Restaurant Management Software,  wrote earlier this year that there were four key metrics that restaurants needed to track when onboarding new staff to evaluate their impact on operating profit: 

  1. Sales per labor hour.
  2. Average cover.
  3. Up-selling.
  4. Food costs.

Memorable moment: "You may be running a well-structured training program for new staff in the hopes that they’ll learn quickly and become more productive, but you might be missing a critical piece in your evaluation of staff growth — the impact new staff are having on sales and profitability."
7. Franchise focus: How 1 brand is taking poke mainstream

The popularity of this February feature about Pokeworks, a growing California-based concept, is proof that poke is taking center plate.

Pokeworks, which couples high-quality seafood with traditional Hawaiian ingredients, including furikake, hikiki seaweed, mango and macadamia nuts, is expanding this year to NYC, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington DC, and recently opened its first franchise in Boston.

Memorable moment: "People enjoy culturally diverse foods," CEO Kevin Hsu said in an interview with FastCasual. "In addition, poke meets current consumer desires for healthier fast casual options and a greater awareness for well-sourced ingredients."

8. 17 female execs offer advice about rising to the top of a male-dominated field
In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, FastCasual highlighted some of the women who lead the industry. 

Memorable moment. "'Women still only make up only 27.3 percent of the industry's CEOs and 21.4 percent of chefs or head cooks.The good news, however, is that the number of female-owned restaurants has increased by 40 percent in the last decade. Half of all U.S. restaurants are either owned or co-owned by women,' NRA President Dawn Sweeney wrote in a recent blog. 'We are making headway.'"

9. 6 strategies for designing the perfect menu

Rosie Atkins, VP of product management for Upserve, gave readers six tips to strategically designing their menus to set guest expectations and increase sales. They included:

  1. Start with data.
  2. Curate and cross-sell.
  3. Hire a professional.
  4. Pay attention to menu production.
  5. Test, test and test again. 
  6. Create an internet-friendly version of your menu. 

Memorable moment:
"Believe it or not, designing a menu involves much more than picking out a font and slapping some pictures on the page. Positioning items smartly can mean the difference between a dud and a new customer favorite."

10.  Chipotle and the 'elephant in the dining room'
Stories of sickness, rodent infestation and class action suits plagued Chipotle this past year, and Shelly Whitehead, an editor at FastCasual, wrote this blog about what brands can do to come back from similar PR nightmares

Memorable moment: 
"As one restaurant chain CEO who wished not to be identified said, the reality is that 'People infected with a norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery.' Restaurant leaders surely know this. Certainly, health officials and physicians in any community with a restaurant know this. But the situation remains as it's been since the dawn of dining out: Unregulated and primed for the next disaster. Whether the industry will do anything about this remains to be seen; regulations of any kind have always been anathema to business."

Topics: Trends / Statistics

Companies: Upserve, SynergySuite, Chipotle, Panera Bread

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for

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