For years, chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread have dominated the fast-casual restaurant space.
But now, a new breed of chain restaurant is emerging — one that is a step above traditional fast-casual restaurants but is still more casual than a traditional sit-down.
Take Taco Bell’s new upscale U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom. The concept will open this summer in California with a menu of gourmet tacos and boozy milkshakes.
KFC just opened a restaurant called Super Chix in Texas. That menu includes chicken sandwiches with upscale toppings and salads with homemade croutons.
And Sbarro, the pizza chain of mall food courts, is opening a high-end “Pizza Cucinova” restaurant, which will feature made-to-order pizzas and alcohol.
The restaurants differ from traditional fast-casual concepts like Chipotle because they offer a sit-down experience, but are still speedy since customers order at the counter. Unlike other fast-casual spots like Panera Bread, the new restaurants will focus on sustainable ingredients and simple menus.
The concepts are meant to appeal to millennials, who are often wary of the ingredients in traditional fast food restaurants.
Taco Bell brand manager Jeff Jenkins told QSR Magazine there is a new consumer segment that big brands aren’t serving.
“There are a lot of people who eat Mexican food who don’t come to quick-service restaurants and Taco Bell, and there is an opportunity in the fast-casual arena,” he told the magazine. “People are looking for that food experience.”
The fancier new concepts could also mean bigger profits for companies.
“As these chains push upscale and make claims about fresher ingredients and higher quality options, customers will come to expect a lot more to justify the higher price points,” Time wrote earlier this year.
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