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Seafood franchise CEO Jonathan Weathington

Is Casual Dining Making a Comeback? Ask Our Seafood Restaurant Franchise CEO

Here at Shuckin’ Shack, comfort food has always been in style, and right now it’s even hotter than ever in hospitality sales.

Wondering why? Well, it’s only fitting we start this conversation with our fearless Shuckin’ Shack CEO, Jonathan Weathington. In a recent interview, he discussed the resurgence of casual dining and why Shuckin’ Shack’s comfort food continues to win out over fancy fine dining restaurants right now –as always.

Shuckin’ Shack CEO explains why casual dining’s so hot right now

While talking to Nation’s Restaurant News, Weathington noted, “The driving factor right now is the same as it has been for us since the beginning.” 

He continued, “People trust and love the product we’re putting on the table, so they keep coming back.”

In the same article, Adam Leff, co-founder of hospitality analytics and research firm Merchant Centric, noted, “The relative success of casual dining over the past 12 months indicates that this segment is definitely meeting and satisfying a pent-up demand.” 

Here are a few more reasons why casual dining restaurants like Shuckin’ Shack are spicing things up for customers and Franchise Owners.

Restaurants are making a comeback from shutdown faster than expected

Look around, you’ll see it—it’s obvious that folks are ready to go out again. Even the recent emergence of new COVID-19 variants is not dissuading customers from coming back to their favorite eateries and gathering with friends and loved ones, nor does it seem to be threatening future shutdowns for restaurants as it did in the early days of the pandemic. 

Recently, FSR Magazine noted that analytics company, Black Box Intelligence, found that though around 12 percent of full-service restaurants closed, it was still less than half of the 30 percent closure rate that was predicted for restaurants earlier in the pandemic. 

The National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Mid-Year Report, released in late August, also seems to point to a general resurgence for restaurants, as sales are expected to hit $789 billion this year. 

And as 1851 Franchise mentioned in a recent article, this year the news is especially good for our Shuckin’ Shack casual dining model: The most recent financial data shows that the majority of Shuckin’ Shack locations are on track to pull in well over $1 million* in average unit volume for the year, which places it among some of the highest performing brands in the country.”

Nostalgia and comfort food are playing a role

Perhaps it’s no surprise that people feel a need to return to the familiar right now.  After all, the same thing happened a decade ago with the Great Recession of 2009. 

You’ll remember that back then as sales waned during the recession, marketers began recycling old jingles, and dusted off some golden oldie marketing campaigns and fan-favorite commercials to increase sales. Some national chains even brought back past favorite food items and put them on menus for short-term promotions to lure customers back.

And it worked.

In fact, marketers tend to fall back on feel-good nostalgia items and callbacks from simpler times to spark something in consumers whenever we are reeling from a crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly no exception.

It just goes to show that when times are chaotic, people want a good deal on great food that feels both familiar and comforting.  And casual dining restaurants are known for their big portions, good food, reasonable prices, and warm hospitality. After a year of staying home, the prospect of sitting down in a familiar setting, like your favorite casual-dining restaurant, felt as good as a trip to the beach!

More remote work is helping casual dining 

One of the more obvious reasons that fine dining establishments are falling behind casual dining right now is the lack of office workers, especially those corporate managers, sales teams, etc. who regularly wine and dine potential clients to make their deals.

Also, there are fewer business conferences and trade shows, meaning that the fine-dining establishments that used to rake in the cash during the tradeshow/expo season are seeing fewer diners right now. 

Sales figures seem to show that those who are still at work in an actual office are going elsewhere for more dressed-down meals with colleagues and clients. Casual dining and quick food restaurants have seen an increase over fine dining also due to their ability to pivot and offer new services like delivery, curbside services, and more.


Having a good restaurant team can make a difference

Casual dining restaurants like Shuckin’ Shack that are seeing an increase may be winning out over other restaurants because of staffing and the way they’ve risen to the occasion during these trying times. 

For example, here at Shuckin’ Shack, employees make more than at other places, starting at $13 per hour plus tips. They also can take advantage of four-day workweeks. 

It’s that commitment to employees that helps us keep our family vibes, putting us ahead of many other restaurants when it comes to performance and staff retention. 

Our staff is like family here, making it more likely they’ll stay with us, supplying the excellent service customers want and expect during these unprecedented times.

More people working from home means location matters even more

For many restaurants, location matters more than ever. A recent Rabobank update released November 2021 points to another reason why. 

As quoted from the Rabobank.com website, “Some consumer behavior patterns may have changed structurally, such as the increased practice of working from home and greater appreciation of residential areas,” says Senior Analyst Maria Castroviejo.

That “greater appreciation of residential areas” can be seen in the fact that more people are moving from cities to suburban areas that are more likely to have an abundance of casual dining restaurants in malls, downtown areas, etc. 

This move to more remote work has freed a lot of people, who no longer have to live near jobs in the city. Additionally, not having to commute to an office in a large city also means not having to go to big-city eateries for lunch or dinner. This in turn means more people may be living closer to, and therefore eating in, casual dining places commonly associated with suburban areas.

Occasion dining is back

Another reason casual dining is doing so well compared to those fancy, fine dining restaurants? 

People want to go out again (heck yeah!) and casual dining restaurants are a good choice, for individual diners as well as families. 

Casual dining restaurants tend to have lots of menu items, including yummy desserts and other decadent choices that so many of us are craving right now. They’re the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, such as a birthday or graduation, without breaking the bank.

Not only that, but now that sports are back in full swing, casual dining restaurants like Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar are quickly becoming popular gathering places to watch the big game with local fans.

Let’s face it, people love us because restaurants like Shuckin’ Shack are fun!

In his interview with Restaurant Nation News, Shuckin’ Shack CEO Weathington finished by remarking that the restaurant is poised to finish 2021 on an all-time high, making him “extremely optimistic about the immediate future.” After the wild ride that has been 2020 and 2021, we feel confident that we’ve got the experience and vision it takes to steer the Shuckin’ Shack ship toward even more Franchise Owner success in 2022. We’re stoked to see what comes next!

Ready to learn more about opening up your own Shuckin’ Shack and getting in on the casual dining comeback? Visit our franchise website for more information.