The road to the digital restaurant
Here are some great resources for the restaurant business, specifically Fast Casual and its relation to what I believe to be next era of the web! Many think that social media has really changed our society. The real fact is that most people outside of knowing what Facebook is know little about the social web. But ask anyone their favorite restaurant and they will gladly perk up and give you a reference.
Here is the point - the social web has in fact changed most of our lives but it is the reality of the restaurant business that I think will make the most impact on the social web in the next few years. Hollywood is all over the social web mostly because they don't want to be left out. The restaurant industry on the other hand is behind, BUT - "the stage is set for the digital restaurant" to change how everyday consumers interact with the restaurant business. Here is just a little info on some resources that I think will make a difference in the coming years 2011-2013.
When I Founded Fastcasual.com and QSRweb.com in 1994 it was a blog that to help me communicate about the industry while I was consulting with the restaurant business. These sites filled a void for providing online news and trends to the industry. It took more than 10 years for the restaurant industry to catch up with what was going on in Fast Casual but when it happened the floodgates of news, data and resources really started to take shape. The segment now contributes more than 20 Billion in revenue in the more than 360 billion in limited service and full service restaurants.
Breaking up the segment
Limited service (which includes mostly Quick Service/Fast Food) represents 160 billion estimated revenues in 2010 according to the National Restaurant Association. Couple this with recent findings from Technomic stating that fast casual represents 22 billion, one could extrapolate that fast casual currently represents 12% of the limited service market, and with expectations and continued growth remaining in tact this could put fast casual at 50 billion by 2015 which would represent 22% of the limited service pie. (This estimated with the limited service segment growing from 160mm in 2010 to 180mm in 2015.)
Coining the term
Coining the term "Fast Casual" was an easy feat at the time and getting the URL and starting the website was a bit harder, but getting the industry to recognize the shift that was occurring was darn near impossible. Wikkipedia has a great definition of the segment here.
Explaining fast casual took some doing - here is a great video!
Joining forces with like minded execs
Starting the Fast Casual Executive Summit had a special place in my heart since I was such a huge fan of Seth Godins book Tribes (I even do a Keynote talk on this subject) I realized that the Summit was in fact my first tribe that I started in the Summer of 2006. Like-minded Fast Casual Execs could get together and share ideas and thoughts on how to grow this fast paced segment. After all we all wanted the same thing, and that was to make fast casual a very big part of the restaurant industry.
My next step was to create the Fast Casual Alliance and also prepare it for positioning to partner with the NRA. We needed the power of the National Restaurant Association to help us move the ball forward for the fast casual segment and who better to help us in our cause? In 2009 we partnered with the NRA to form what is now the Fast Casual Industry Council - I proudly sit as a steering member of this amazing group of restaurant operators.
Beginning the digital connection to food
Understanding the web was in a shift poised me to launch Podcast Grill in early 2006, yes well before the onset of social media and even my idea of the Digital Restaurant. The point I make is that this show amassed about 10K listeners so the reality that the restaurant business and consumers were interested in digital content was now in place.
Social Media began to make big impact on the media business and I began to really understand how to use its power to connect the consumer "outside the four walls" of the restaurant. I started Socialcoco.com (CoCo stands for community and collaboration) something I was getting pretty good at. My blog shot up to about 5000 uniques and I realized again that this was no fluke that the age of the digital restaurant had arrived.
The Silicon Valley of the restaurant business
Why has social media started to affect a business that has been inherently slow to adopt technology? I think that the rise of fast casual is much like the rise of Silicon Valley in the tech business. It is the place where mavericks, entrepreneurs and tastemakers gather and grow. I began to look at all things tech oriented starting in 2002 that could affect the restaurant industry and especially fast casual. What this meant is that fast casual was most likely to try some new technology before the rest of the industry.
Currently by our research, we show that more than 71% of the top 100 fast casual restaurant groups have a social media presence. This compared to only 9% of full service and quick service.
What does this mean?
I think it means technology and resources have finally caught up to the brilliant minds and ideas that reside in fast casual. Meaning they are not afraid to try something new that could help their business. This leads me to the Digital Restaurant.
The Digital Restaurant has arrived
No where in history have we ever amassed one million business entities that potentially serve 1 billion people each and every day. But what is really special is that they potentially connect to these people in a way that is highly social.
As you can see the opportunity to revolutionize social media is here but more importantly reaching guests in ways we used to think only the Food Network could do. Rest assured webisodes, branded content, engaged content and digital campaigns are about to make an impact on the consumer! The digital restaurant is upon us, the technology has arrived and it is only going to get cheaper and faster which will enable some of the most creative minds in the business to show their restaurant creations in ways we have never experienced.
The special part is that the mavericks of fast casual are leading the way.
Next chapter leading me to my passion/mission
As I often say my passion/mission is simple, number one is to help consumers understand how the restaurant industry can be a great place to work, play and learn. Number two is to help the restaurant business understand how to connect with the digital consumer. This has led me to my passion of personally working with several restaurant brands to build what I think is the first "Digital Restaurant Brand Development Company" in the industry. DigitalCoCo will me the premier solution and brain trust company for the restaurant industry when it comes to reaching the consumer in a digital fashion.
More to Come
Next steps are simple - help as many fast casual growth concepts connect to capitol, resources and ideas to grow their business and the fast casual segment. Continue to develop technology and content that will help connect the consumer to "The Digital Restaurant" of the future.
Rockmyrestaurant.com will be a new digital brain trust for the restaurant and tech industry. The new site will feature some of the best how-to's from my team and out partners to help your business jump to all new level of understanding. I will get to share more about this concept in the coming months.
10ftbrand.com will begin to utilize some amazing technology that I have under development that will help restaurants and brand builders alike reach the digital consumer. Ten Foot Brand is all about making your brand standout in a crowded marketplace. With so much noise today you have to be able to reach your targeted customer and that is where this new service will take you.
Both of these new programs will continue to position the restaurant industry in ways we could only imagine just five short years ago. The times have changed, the tools and access have changed and now all this is about to change the restaurant business.