Fast casual restaurants are embracing high end ingredients

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) /

From Arby’s adding a wagyu steakhouse burger to Panera bringing back the lobster roll, it seems that fast casual restaurants are embracing high end ingredients. Are these menu additions enticing guests to make a special visit or do they represent a bigger food evolution?

At every turn, food costs are part of the conversation. Whether it is higher costs at the grocery story, smaller portions for the same price, or a myriad of other cost issues, consumers are feeling the pain in their wallet. Even though fast casual restaurants have offered cost-effective choices, consumers are wanting more.

Pair the costs with restaurant staffing shortages and some people are skipping that bigger night out for something more convenient. With the onset of fast casual restaurants adding high end ingredients to the menu, there are more reasons to hit the counter than the white table cloth service.

Although no one would argue that a fine dining experience could be replaced by a quick bite, there is something to be said about exposing more consumers to higher end ingredients. Maybe a person wouldn’t order a lobster tail, but they are willing to roll the dice on a lobster roll.

With Panera bringing back its lobster roll and lobster mac and cheese, some people might be willing to splurge on that order. Even though it costs more than a typical soup and sandwich, it gives people an opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone. It is like being a little bougie without a huge commitment.

The more interesting menu addition is the Arby’s Deluxe Wagyu Steakhouse Burger. Even though the popular fast casual restaurant is known for the meats, the wagyu burger is a big step forward for Arby’s. Although reviews have been mixed, the menu expansion proves that companies need to widen their lane to keep customers excited.

The Arby’s burger was a smart choice because it ventured away from the over-hyped chicken sandwich choices. By standing out in the crowd, the restaurant brand hopefully will gain more traction with beef lovers. Whether or not it pulls fans from other restaurants remains to be seen. Still, Arby’s has the meats and appreciates that this idea makes them special.

At the same time, Arby’s wagyu burger seemingly makes a play against Wendy’s that fast casual restaurant focuses on fast food done right. While Wendy’s offers its spin on various pub like burgers, it has cornered the market on delivering value and big flavors. That combination will always win with guests.

In the end, only time will tell if these high end ingredients will continue to appear on fast casual restaurant menus. If consumers vote with their purchases, it is a food trend that could be seen for a while.