Dining Out? It’s All About Exceptional Full-On Fast Casual Now

Fast-Casual is where it’s at when it comes to restaurants. Full-service’s days are numbered. Have you noticed?

It’s how Millennials want to eat – and it’s more cost-effective!

I foresee us increasingly turning to casual eateries – a trend set in motion by Millennials who have made the Sweetgreens and Ippudo Ramens of the world, their favorite restaurants. It’s also a trend that’s been driven by the growth and popularity of food halls.

The newest and trendiest fast-casual eateries make up for their limited service by offering innovative, flavorful menu concepts, reasonable prices, and hyper-stylish, Instagrammable environments.

This past week in NYC, I encountered four new concepts – all within a few blocks of each other.

I do have to point out that many of these concepts will have a relatively short lifecycle (remember the Poke trend?).

This shift in the restaurant biz will be fueled by serial entrepreneurs who make it their business to stay ahead of the curve on emerging culinary and restaurant trends.

Scroll down for details on four new concepts.
Zooba: Egyptian Street Food (100 Kenmare)

I was the 6th customer at Zooba the day it opened. I had watched it come together the week prior and was excited to meet one of the founders and check out the food.

The menu is intriguing. The signature item is the Hawawashi – which is similar to a burger but served in a Baladi bread. I especially loved their cauliflower with harissa.

Per Eater, Zooba was founded in Egypt in 2012 by Egyptian-American Chris Khalifa and chef Moustafa El Refaey, who have since opened six locations in Cairo. This is their first United States restaurant. They raised $4 million to enter the NYC market. This first store was designed by Egyptian-born architect Ahmed El Husseiny to highlight Cairo street style with a big mural. Designer Jessica Walsh went for an all-new look that incorporates bright colors and an Arabic logo.

Zooba’s website is not yet operational but the menu is available in the Eater link above.

Flipper’s Pancakes (377 West Broadway at Grand)

I wrote about these souffle pancakes on Monday (link here). The line on opening day was 4-5 hours long. On my second try, I got in (after an hour-long wait). But I was in line with two celebs: Daym Drops who has over 1MM followers on YouTube and is a regular on the Rachael Ray Show PLUS Bethenny Frankel, an original NYC Real Housewife. Grub Street just gave the pancakes a snarky review – I disagree with them. In my opinion, Flipper’s pancakes are delish.

CAFFE PANNA (77 Irving Place)

An Italian inspired coffee bar and ice cream shop. What caught my eye was their Affogato menu.

It’s located in Gramercy Park and comes to us via Hallie Meyer (daughter of Danny Meyer).

Haven’t been here yet – whenever I plan to go they’re closed….not sure if that means they have a lot of special events or if they’re running into startup hiccups. But I do plan to check it out this weekend. That Affogato Sundae is calling my name.

Thai Diner (186 Mott Street at Kenmare)

This is one of the most anticipated new openings of the Fall season. It’s from the couple behind Uncle Boon’s which I consider the best Thai restaurant in NYC. Can’t wait for this more casual spot to open – supposedly later this month.

Per Eater: The duo behind Thai stunner (and Michelin-starred restaurant) Uncle Boons is expanding with a more casual, diner-like restaurant with a playful Thai-American menu. Chef-owners Ann Redding and Matt Danzer have a knack for creating spaces with eclectic personal touches that feel genuine, and their Nolita restaurant Uncle Boons consistently attracts lines of diners for both impressive Thai food and a fun vibe. Their new Thai-American diner promises to have a menu that’s just as fun: One of the dishes is called Thai disco fries, with curry standing in for gravy.

Bottom Line.

Times are a-changing in the restaurant biz and while full-service restaurants won’t disappear (I hope!), far fewer will be opening and at the same time, more will be shuttering. The economics and staffing required to make a success of full-service are too challenging these days.

But all is not lost. It is full speed ahead for those offering exceptional fast-casual – often with a specialty focus, e.g., pancakes, hot pot, eggs, etc.

Interesting times ahead.

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