ICYMI: 2021 Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers Awards

The Movers & Shakers awards do a lot more than honor brands that were able to do cool things to improve their restaurant operations and make guests happy.

Last week, PAR was proud to serve as a supporting sponsor forFast Casual’s annual Top 100 Movers & Shakers awards, which recognizes brands and individuals who goabove and beyond to innovate and advance the fast casual segment.

Fast casual restaurants across the country were impactedby the pandemic, but the 75 brands and 25 executives honored last week were able to find ingenious new ways to not only serve guests but adapt to the changing world of restaurants.

This year, PAR and Data Central were proud to partner with 15 brands that earned awards, including Pincho, Slim Chickens, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Zoup!, Mooyah Burgers, CAVA Grill, Farmer Boys, Hoots Wings, Torchy’s Tacos, Tropical Smoothie Café, Sweetgreen, Fazoli’s, Modern Market, MOD Pizza, and Panda Express.

The Movers & Shakers awards doa lot more than honor brands that were able to do cool things to improve their restaurant operations and make guests happy. These awards also highlight all the good brands are doing for their employees, their customers, and the community. They shine a bright lighton the segment’s entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to creating the ultimate guest experience every single time.With that said, let’s dive into a few of the most striking lessons we learned during this year’s event.

Helping Others is Front of Mind

At a time when the entire restaurant industry was struggling, several brands stepped up to not only support their employees but the community at large. Farmer Boys, for example, established the Farmer Boys Hardship Program to provide team members with financial assistance, while also launching an Appreciation Pay Program that gave all restaurant-level team members at corporate locations a $1/hr. pay increase. 

Other initiatives that took off during the pandemic were Sweetgreen’s Impact Outpost Fund, which joined forces with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen to donated nearly 400,000 meals to hospitals across the U.S., Melt Shop’s “Melt It Forward” program to provide frontline workers with more than 6,000 meals, and MOD Pizza’s partnership with Generosity Foods to provide 1 million meals to children.

The Biggest Winners Embraced Digital

Digital ordering took a major step forward in 2020, but several brands wrapped their arms around the idea of third-party delivery, curbside, and even subscription-based orders to connect people with the food they love.  

Brands like Zoup and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit leaned into third-party delivery to keep the doors open and continue serving guestsWhether it was Zoup’s savory soup meal kitor Dickey’s at-home delivery meat packs, they were able to stay ahead of the pandemic and continue getting food out the door, albeit in a slightly different wayFazoli’s added a unique family meal special to its menu, which generated almost 20,000 orders over a five-week period. 

Other concepts enhanced their online ordering and loyalty apps to keep guests coming back for more, including Tropical Smoothie Café and Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes. Tropical Smoothie Café launched an updated version of its mobile app and partnered with DoorDash to launch a branded delivery service for guests using their mobile app. Mooyah, for its part, used its loyalty app (powered by Punchh) to generate an impressive 32% increase in users.  

Mobile ordering was also the name of the game for Slim Chickens, which implemented curbside pick-up and delivery into its growing mobile ordering repertoire. The famous chicken concept also used its point of sale system to team up with third-party delivery to continue serving guests wherever they are.

Menus Evolved

The pandemic didn’t just change where people went to eat, but what they ate. To meet the growing need for value and convenience without sacrificing quality, several brands introduced new menu items and other deals to generate excitement and revenue. 

Pincho introduced Pincho Plate to its menu, allowing customers to pick from a variety of options to create their own unique entrees. Sweetgreen took a similar approach, adding plates to their menu as well for guests to enjoy at home. CAVA Grill also quickly pivoted in 2020, adding chef-curated meals and new menu items to its menu in only a few weeks. 

Other concepts took the idea of new menu items and expanded it out even further, launching new concepts under their parent brands. Modern Market launched Honest Pizza, a virtual concept slinging highquality pizzas with an artisanal twist, while Fazoli’s continued its amazingly successful year by introducing us to WingvilleWingville wings come in several flavors and are found across the brand’s locations. The new menu item also opens the company up to focus on other fried foods like toasted ravioli and zeppole.

What Does 2022 Look Like for Restaurants?

2022 may be the year restaurants make the jump toward becoming fully immersed in technology. We’re seen how quickly the industry can adapt when its backed into a corner, but it has also opened an entirely new world of possibilities that seemed far off only a couple short years ago. 

The industry is no longer focusing on the 5-year plan because that plan can easily be broken. Instead, fast casual restaurants are quickly joining the digital arms race we’ve seen players in the quick service industry engaged in for several years now. The need for a strong off-premises ordering program and engaging loyalty app is only the beginning here – the data collected from those two streams, combined with the information collected by the point of sale system, can set up a data-driven campaign program capable of making personalized guest outreach possible. 

One thing is for certain, however. No matter what the next year looks like, technology is going to have a hand in the restaurant of the future, stretching far beyond the restaurant’s four walls. 

It’s also safe to say that as the pandemic eases up, brands will continue to do wonderful things for their employees and their communities. At the end of the day, restaurants are only as vibrant and successful as the people they serve. When the relationship between food and people is strong, that’s when the magic happens. 

don’t know about you, but I’m already excited to see who the movers and shakers will be 12 months from now.

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