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Despite a rash of new and innovative restaurants opening across the country, it appears as though quick self service food eateries are king.

New restaurants such as P.F. Changs, Joey’s, and Earls are popping up all over retail developments, yet the sales growth is clearly in eateries classified as Limited Service (no waiters or self service).

Full Service and Limited Service Eating Places – Canadian Sales ($1000s)

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Source: Statistics Canada

Full service restaurants, which are defined as those that are sit down with wait staff, clearly held the dominant sales position until 2009. Thereafter, the two eatery types have been moving instep with one another.

A closer look at two of the major players, Ontario and Quebec, shows a distinct change.

Full Service and Limited Service Eating Places – Ontario and Quebec Sales ($1000s)

Source: Statistics Canada

Source: Statistics Canada

Ontario, the fast moving beating heart of the economy, experienced the shift to quick service eateries faster than elsewhere. In 2003, full service and limited service eateries tied in sales volume. Since then, limited service eateries have grown substantially.

In Quebec, where eating out is an art form, higher sales volumes at full service restaurants compared to limited service eateries is still the norm. However, the gap is narrowing.

There are several key learnings:

  1. Limited food service eateries have always offered increased convenience and efficiency in terms of quick service food for time starved individuals.
  2. People are still penny wise but you can now buy an amazing meal for good value at limited food service eateries.
  3. There is an increasing proportion of single person households who want quick service food options.
  4. For other retailers that look to the growth of limited food service eateries and try to learn from them, the biggest lesson is that it is not all about the added convenience and efficiency of take away food and payment systems (e.g., self check out at grocery stores), the growth has been a combination of these efficiencies and increased quality and experience associated with it. The quality of food and the overall atmosphere at limited service/quick service eateries has increased phenomenally. Witness the food truck revolution that has brought unique foods available from roaming trucks. Quebec just recently changed their legislation to allow food trucks. Food service eateries are now trying to copy their success.

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