Fast Casual Hotspots Across America

Written By Elizabeth Schroeter
Last updated May 12, 2021

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Food + Drink
March 29, 2021

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

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:  

  • Have at least 100 locations
  • Have locations in at least 5 states
  • Do not have a drive-through
  • Offer counter ordering
  • Offer indoor dining 

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. 

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. 

  • Keep an eye out for opportunities to save at your favorite restaurant with credit card offers. For instance, American Express is currently running an offer that allows you to earn $10 back once a month through 2021 when you spend $10 or more at U.S. restaurants. All you have to do is add the offer to your card to get the savings. 
  • Join restaurant loyalty programs to earn free items and rewards over time. For example, you can earn 10 points for every dollar you spend by enrolling in Chipotle’s reward program. You’ll receive a free entree every time you hit 1,250 points. 
  • Skip the beverage. Particularly if you’re taking your food to go, grabbing a drink at home instead of from the restaurant can save you a dollar or two each visit, which can add up to quite a bit of savings over time.
  • Opt for pickup vs. delivery. While you can’t necessarily beat the convenience that delivery provides, picking up your order rather than using popular delivery services can save you a lot in service fees over time.
  • Take advantage of credit card rewards: Some credit cards will give you up to 5% cash back when you shop at restaurants. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Schroeter

Elizabeth Schroeter is the co-founder of Simple Thrifty Living. Elizabeth earned her BA in psychology from San Francisco State University, later going on to earn her doctorate in clinical psychology. Not only does Elizabeth draw on her educational background, she also incorporates her real life experience as a mother of 4 year old twin boys. As a parent she understands the need for accessible quality content, especially when it comes to finance and parenting. Elizabeth resides in San Francisco, California with her family.

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