Fast-food restaurants are taking one of two routes into the fast-casual space.Call it the Chipotle effect.
With fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread growing at a sprint while fast-food counterparts expand at more of a slow jog, the latter group is entering the race is trying to shift upscale. At stake is a booming restaurant segment.
Fast-casual restaurant sales rose 13 percent last year, while fast-food sales increased 4.7 percent, according to data from market research firm Technomic. The company expects the former to grow an average of 10 percent through 2017, compared with a rise of 3.5 percent for fast food.
Despite the rush, experts say there's definitely room for fresh ideas.
"Right now, our country is pretty saturated with fast food-you could evolve that entire segment into fast-casual," said Sam Oches, editor at QSRmagazine, which covers the quick-service restaurant industry.
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"There's no ceiling on this," he added. "This is just going to be explosive growth for