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Americans Eating More 'Fast Casual,' Less Fast Food

A woman stands near a menu of a Shake Shack restaurant in the Manhattan borough of New York, August 15, 2014. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri )
Americans Eating More "Fast Casual"
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“Plain Cheeseburger. Give me two of them."

That is Ted Mistretta ordering food in Washington D.C. before boarding a train with his daughter Kim. They were heading home to New York City. But, first they stopped at the Shake Shack restaurant to get a bite to eat.

“Any fries? Anything to drink? Are you dining in or to go? Go.”

Shake Shack is a new kind of restaurant becoming more popular in the U.S. The restaurants are not “fast food.” They are known as “fast casual.”

Observers say Americans want more choices and fresh food when choosing where and what to eat. This trend is one reason why the fast food restaurant McDonald’s has struggled financially.

McDonald’s is one of the best-known restaurants in the U.S. and even around the world. Their ads say “I’m lovin’ it.” But these days the company leaders are seeing numbers they probably do not like.

In the last quarter of 2014, McDonald's net income dropped by about $300 million. The January earnings report brought more bad news. Worldwide sales dropped for the eighth month in a row and even more than expected.

McDonald’s is working hard to get their customers back. In January, the company ran an advertisement during the Super Bowl. The football game is the most watched TV event every year in the U.S. McDonald's wanted to reach those viewers.

Specialist John O'Hara, wears Shake Shack promotional hat, sunglasses and vest as he works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.
Specialist John O'Hara, wears Shake Shack promotional hat, sunglasses and vest as he works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.

While McDonald's is struggling to get their customers back, Shake Shack, is doing well financially. The New York-based burger chain had a very successful IPO, or initial public offering, of shares at the end of January. On its first day of trading, Shake Shack went from $21 a share to just under $46 a share.

Ted Mistretta wishes he had bought the stock that day. He explains why he likes Shake Shack:

“It’s a quality hamburger. It’s you know, they make it well, great taste. It’s better than most. It’s certainly better than, it’s fast food, but not ‘fast food’ food.”

And, Mr. Mistretta added, he never goes to fast food restaurants.

Being part of the “fast casual” trend has helped Shake Shack. Other fast casual restaurants in the U.S. include Chipotle, and Panera.

Bonnie Riggs is a restaurant expert with NPD. She has followed Americans’ restaurant habits for almost 30 years. She says one reason Americans like fast casual food is because it’s new.

“They are creative, they are innovative, they are something different and we like to try new things.”

Ms. Riggs says Americans made 61 billion visits to restaurants last year. Three out of four visits were to fast food restaurants, like McDonald’s. “They’ve been holding on,” she says, but traffic has stayed at the same level. Fast casual is still a small percentage of restaurant visits. She says it’s “growing by leaps and bounds,” because they meet consumers’ needs.

“They know it’s being prepared while they wait, it’s fresh, uh, fresh ingredients, quality food, good tasting food at what they say are reasonable and affordable prices.”

Many Americans still like their fast food, Ms. Riggs says, they just are not going as often. And, she says, Americans are finding other ways to have a meal.

Some people buy prepared foods at stores and take them home to eat. Others like to cook at home, especially the millennials. Millennials are people born between 1981 and 2000 and this year they are expected to become the largest group of Americans.

Ms. Riggs says that half of this generation is cooking at home, and loving it. Some of the new eating trends include farm-to-table restaurants and gluten-free food.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball reported this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

A bite to eat informal expression. something people say when they want to get something to eat, or have a meal.

fast food adj. the kind of food served at restaurants that have quick service and little wait time.

fast casual adj. food that is supposed to be higher quality than fast food. Using fresher, less processed food and less frozen parts than regular fast food.

trendn. a general direction of change, a way of behaving that is developing and becoming more common

farm-to-table adj. restaurants where the food being served comes from certain, or identified, farms.

gluten-free adj. food that excludes the protein gluten, which is found in some kinds of grains.