For years, customization has been all the rage at restaurants.
Fast-casual concepts followed the so-called “Chipotle model” — although the first major chain to do it was Subway — of assembling food right in front of customers.
But that model could be on the way out.
Sales are down in the fast-casual segment as customers appear to shift to quick-service restaurants that are cheaper and faster. And operators have found that when guests customize their food and don’t like the results, they blame the restaurant.
Meanwhile, as chefs’ prestige continues to rise, consumers are more open to trusting them with a culinary adventure. That allows for carefully curated items such as the Chicken + Slaw sandwich at Make Sandwich shop in New York, which has cold, charred chicken; apple date slaw; and roasted garlic rémoulade on ciabatta. Of course, customers can build their own sandwiches, too.
Chopt takes inspiration from Peru in this Hacienda Market Plate. (Photo courtesy of Chopt)
More chains, even in the fast-casual segment, where customization is thought to be crucial, are introducing items that feel like they were developed by chefs rather than committees. That includes MOD Pizza’s special springtime pie The Crosby, made with sausage, mozzarella, roasted asparagus, fig balsamic glaze and sea salt, or the curated offerings at Chopt.
Like most salad chains, Chopt’s food is completely customizable, but it also pushes curated items, like last spring’s Hacienda Market Plate with aji amarillo chicken; Peruvian radish salsa; roasted aji amarillo potatoes; marinated kale and spinach; cotija cheese; and a blend of quinoa, lentils and millet.
Operators say curated items speed service and help ensure that customers receive food with flavors combined by an expert.