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QSR Franchise vs. Fast Casual Franchise: What’s the Difference?

Here’s how QSRs and fast-casual franchises compare, so you can decide which restaurant type is the right fit for your business goals.

The Quick-Service Restaurant Model

While you may not recognize the term, you’re almost certainly familiar with the concept. Quick-serve (or fast-food) restaurants include such ubiquitous brands as Burger King, Popeye’s, Taco Bell, and so on. QSR franchises are characterized by high volume and prioritizing speed over quality of ingredients, relying primarily on heat lamps, deep fryers, and drive-thru service.

QSR franchises serve a large segment of the population. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t grabbed a drive-thru bucket of chicken for a family picnic or late-night burger on occasion. These establishments are reliable in their homogeneity and easy access. The vast number of locations, even among individual brands, allows fast-food franchises to keep their prices low, with typical price points running between $4 to $7 per meal.

Traditionally, QSRs have dominated the market by keeping things cheap and simple. But the fast-casual dining movement came along to provide healthier, tastier options to diners looking to elevate their dining out experience without breaking the bank.

Fast-Casual Dining

Fast-casual restaurants occupy a middle ground between QSRs and franchises like Outback Steakhouse or Applebee’s that offer relaxed, but strictly table service dining. Many companies, such as Shake Shack, Panera, and Chipotle, found a way to combine the speed and convenience of QSR franchises with the higher quality ingredients and freshly prepared meals of more elevated dining establishments.

Even as fast-casual franchises grow in popularity, it will be a while before a fast-casual franchise competes with a global powerhouse like McDonald’s for sheer size or revenue numbers. As of 2020, McDonald’s boasts over 38,000 restaurants around the world. Its sales were over $5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019. Shake Shack, by comparison, had 287 stores as of March 2020. Its fourth-quarter 2019 revenues were about $151 million.

A Happy Medium

Gold Star Chili has found a way to effectively combine the ambiance and food quality of a casual dining experience with the convenience and affordability of a QSR franchise. This evolution of approaches is driven by the desire for an overall better dining experience and healthier, tastier food options.

Gold Star Chili bridges the gap between fast food and casual dining by optimizing the best aspects of both worlds. Most fast-casual restaurants don’t have drive-thrus, but Gold Star Chili operates one at every location. All of their food is fresh and made to order. And, for those opting for the dining room experience, they’ll be met with real table settings and friendly waitstaff.

More than five and a half decades after the first Goldstar Chili opened its doors, there’s good reason it stands out as the best chili franchise for diners and franchisees alike.