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Whether it’s groceries or eating out, food accounts for a large portion of a monthly budget. And while some of us feel at home in the kitchen and enjoy meal planning and experimenting with new recipes, that’s not the case for everyone. For the not-so kitchen savvy folks, fast casual restaurants provide a great way to get on-the-go meals at a relatively reasonable price.
The global fast casual restaurant market garnered $125.6 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $209.1 billion by 2027. And while the industry has been affected by the pandemic, fast casual restaurants have adjusted processes and setups in compliance with social distancing regulations to ensure their patrons feel comfortable.
As a result of this growth, it can feel like there’s a new fast casual restaurant popping up on a new corner every week. In fact, Chipotle plans to open 200 stores in 2021, so there will be even more opportunities to stand in line and debate whether you’re up for the extra cost to add guac to your order. Diners love the convenience and quality that fast casual restaurants provide—a meal that feels relatively healthier and higher quality than a fast food meal prepared in a similar amount of time.
While it’s evident the fast casual restaurant industry is experiencing growth as a whole, where is it seeing the most growth in the U.S.? We set out to answer that question by identifying the fast casual hotspots throughout the U.S.
To determine the U.S.’s fast casual hotspots, our team collected the number of locations in the 100 largest cities of some of the most well-known fast casual restaurants.
All of the fast casual restaurants included in the study meet the following criteria:
Additionally, we determined the number of fast casual locations per 100,000 people for these popular categories of restaurants: sandwich, pizza, burger, Mexican, Asian, and healthy.
Read on to learn more about what we uncovered.
First, we identified the fast casual hotspots throughout the U.S. based on the number of fast casual restaurants per 100,000 people in each city. Orlando, FL led the count significantly with 42.1 fast casual restaurants per capita—17 more than the second city in the ranking, Cincinnati, OH, which has 25.66.
Rounding out the top five were Atlanta, GA and Richmond, VA, both with 23.87 fast casual locations per 100k people, and Las Vegas, NV with 22.42.
Are you curious to see how your city’s fast casual offering stacks up to the rest of the U.S.? You can see the full results of the study in the interactive chart below.
In addition to determining the number of fast casual restaurants per capita in cities around the U.S., we also used Google Trends search data from the last 12 months to uncover each state’s favorite fast casual restaurant.
There are quite a variety of favorites across the U.S., but the fast casual restaurant that reigned supreme in the highest number of states is Panera, followed by Five Guys—the favorite fast casual restaurants in eight and five states respectively.
It’s evident that subs are well-loved around the U.S. as Jersey Mike’s and Firehouse Subs are the most searched in three states each. Chipotle also earned the favorite spot in three states—Kansas, Minnesota and Ohio.
Next, we looked at the cities that had the most fast casual restaurants for 6 popular categories: Asian, burgers, healthy, Mexican, pizza, and sandwiches. Given its status as the ultimate fast casual hotspot, it was unsurprising to see Orlando with the most locations of 3 of the 6 categories: burgers, Mexican, and sandwiches. Elsewhere, Minneapolis, MN is home to the most Asian fast casual restaurants, Plano, TX has the most healthy, and Spokane, WA takes the lead on pizza.
Frequent visits to fast food, fast casual, or other restaurants can take a toll on your budget. To part, we’ll leave you with a few saving strategies to employ to ensure you’re able to fill up on your favorites while staying on budget.