If you’re looking for ideas on what the most innovative restaurant brands are doing to grow their businesses, then the FastCasual Top 100 Movers & Shakers Report is for you. For the past 15 years, FastCasual.com has been compiling a list of the top 75 fast casual restaurant brands and the top 25 fast casual restaurant executives that are leading the way in bringing fresh ideas in food, technology, and service to this dynamic sector. Oracle Food and Beverage is very proud to be sponsoring the report again in 2019.
We asked Cherryh Cansler, managing editor of FastCasual.com and editorial director of its publisher, Networld Media Group, for some insights into what fast casual brands need to do to secure a place on the list.
Cherryh, how do you decide on the top 75 brands for the Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers report?
It wasn't an easy list to compile, as hundreds of brands nominated themselves by taking part in a survey about their business practices. They also nominated executives whom they believed best represented the industry.
A panel of judges weighed each nomination carefully before deciding on the final 100, composed of 75 brands and 25 executives.
While each winner offered customers a little something extra to differentiate it from its competitors, the top performers also shared important similarities — a heavy emphasis on employee training, high-quality ingredients, technology upgrades, brand culture and a passion for giving back to their communities.
Although nearly half the brands on this year's list fell into the healthy category, a variety of cuisine types, including pizza, burgers, barbecue and Mexican cuisine, still found a place.
And what about the top 25 fast casual executives – what makes an individual stand out?
For executives, the judges look at how someone is contributing to the industry, not only at what they are doing to help their own brand. Are they sharing expertise with other brands? Have they implemented something new and innovative, whether it's a process, technology or menu enhancement that might inspire a trend? Are they contributing to sustainability efforts, for example, or leading change in some other area?
Were there any surprises as you worked through the nominations and judging process this year?
All the plant-based menus and brands. It's been really interesting to see the rise of plant-centric concepts.
What do you love about the fast casual restaurant sector?
What I love most about the fast casual sector is that the players are always willing to help one another. They are competitors, of course, but they understand that when a competitor succeeds, it shines a spotlight on the entire industry, which will lead to more traffic and higher sales for other brands. They're also just fun to be around. Our events are like big family reunions where attendees get to not only learn from one another but also catch up with friends!
And finally, the all-important question: how many of the top 75 brands have you actually personally eaten at?
I'd say over half but not as many as I'd like. I live in Kansas City, and a lot of the innovation happens in larger cities, so I see most of them while I'm traveling. One of my favorite things about my job is trying a Top 100 concept, especially when they open a KC location.
Cherryh Cansler is editorial director at Networld Media Group, which publishes FastCasual.com as well as Food Truck Operator, Kiosk Marketplace, Mobile Payments Today, Pizza Marketplace, QSRweb. She is also currently serving as managing editor of FastCasual.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @CherryhFastCas