CHICAGO — How consumers define the fast-food category is evolving, according to market research firm Technomic, Inc. Consumers’ perception of fast-food is no longer limited to quick-service, drive-thru restaurants and convenience stores. Instead, a dual concept has emerged, consisting of traditional fast food, and of “food fast,” served quickly with a greater focus on ambience.

“As Americans continue to trade down from full-service concepts, more restaurants are competing for the ‘fast food/food fast’ customer,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at Technomic. “Both quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are borrowing elements from the other to drive traffic. This represents a host of challenges to operators rethinking their brands. Understanding consumers’ changing perceptions of fast food, as well as competitors’ responses, will be central to success.”

The findings are part of Technomic’s “Status and Future of Fast Foods: Consumer Trend Report,” which measures the changes taking place in the fast-food segment. Other trends identified in the report include:

• The “upscaling” of limited-service restaurant formats.
• The introduction of price-driven value elements into fast-casual restaurant menus.
• The broadening of full-service restaurants’ service formats to include convenience-oriented platforms like call-ahead and text/on-line ordering, home delivery and curbside pickup.