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The Top 40 Growth Markets for Fast Casual Restaurants

In 2010, QSR magazine began to analyze the nation’s top markets to identify and rank the top 40 markets that were best poised for restaurant growth and unit expansion.

The results are based on historical information from CREST reports (reports that track consumer usage at foodservice outlets), forecasted population growth for each market, limited-service restaurant unit density and traffic gains in the number of people visiting limited-service restaurants.

While some projections had forecasted just a 4% rise in the number of people visiting limited-service restaurants in the U.S. between 2013 and 2018 – visits to fast-casual restaurants rose 8% and spending jumped 10% compared to the 2% in the overall restaurant industry in the 12 months ending in November.

Clearly, the fast casual segment’s marked growth suggests that they are stealing share from other segments. So where are these fast casual restaurants thriving the most?

QSR divided the rankings into 3 categories:

  • Large Markets: markets with more than 3 million residents
  • Medium Markets: markets with 1 to 3 million residents
  • Small Markets: markets with fewer than 1 million residents

Top Large Markets

  1. Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  2. Salt Lake City, UT
  3. Washington, DC
  4. Denver CO
  5. San Diego, CA
  6. Phoenix, AZ
  7. Charlotte, NC
  8. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  9. Seattle-Tacoma, WA
  10. Tampa – St. Petersburg – Sarasota, FL

Top Medium Markets

  1. Austin, TX
  2. El Paso, TX
  3. Fresno – Visalia, CA
  4. Albuquerque – Santa Fe, NM
  5. Ft. Myers – Naples, FL
  6. Waco – Temple – Bryan, TX
  7. Harlingen – Weslaco – Brownsville – McAllen, TX
  8. Tulsa, OK
  9. Las Vegas, NV
  10. Tucson – Nogales, AZ
  11. Little Rock – Pine Bluff, AR
  12. Buffalo, NY
  13. New Orleans, LA
  14. Des Moines – Ames, IA
  15. Jacksonville – Brunswick, FL

Top Small Markets

  1. Palm Springs, CA
  2. Yuma-El Centro, AZ –CA
  3. Wilmington, NC
  4. Odessa-Midland, TX
  5. Helena, MT
  6. Charleston, SC
  7. Butte-Bozeman, MT
  8. Laredo, TX
  9. Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – San Luis Obispo, CA
  10. Rochester – Mason City – Austin, MN-IA
  11. Minot – Bismarck – Dickinson, ND
  12. Bakersfield, CA
  13. Charlottesville, VA
  14. Lafayette, IN
  15. Yakima – Pasco – Richland – Kennewick, WA

Optimize Your Network

For growing fast casual restaurants, a substantial capital campaign often coincides with a shift in strategic plan. Suddenly, there’s a new premium placed on applying customer data, analytics and modeling to define, design and market a future footprint.

With fast casual restaurants’ continued rise, they are reaching a tipping point toward a more data-driven approach – because moving forward, location and site selection requires optimization and marketing needs to cohere around a single brand throughout the entire network.

As fast casual restaurants create a new strategic plan, they need to answer some questions.

In mature markets the key question is: Where are the best opportunities to remove or relocate poor performing locations, while continuing to in-fill where appropriate?

In growth markets, the key questions are: where are the optimal locations for new restaurant locations? And, how can we optimally place new locations within both their prospective markets and in our current network?

The best way to answer these questions is through a predictive real estate model that takes into account customer profiles, transactions, each location's performance and broader industry data sets.

The tools provided by the predictive model will allow fast-casual operators to:

  • Benchmark current locations’ performance against model forecasts of how those locations should be performing
  • Optimize existing markets
  • Forecast the potential for restaurant growth in emerging markets
  • Identify the ultimate number of stores that you can support for each market
  • Create more targeted marketing campaigns

Want to discover what your top growth markets are and how to reach your U.S. potential? Contact us – we can help.

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