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Hospitality Outlook 2018 Part 1: Casual Dining – Where Are We Now?

In part one of this five part series on recent trends in hospitality, Will Deagan, Onboarding Specialist at Kounta, shares his expert insights on how casual dining is undergoing a revolution in Australia.

By Dave Eagle

In a recent interview with Shaun de Vries for the Common Ground Podcast, I was asked to talk about the state of the industry and my predictions for the coming year. As the peak season for Australia 2017/18 is also wrapping up, it inspired me to lay my predictions bare on LinkedIn.

This blog will be a five-part series focusing on what major trends are driving the hospitality industry and, what we can expect in the next 12 months and beyond. I will be delving into the booming casual dining scene, the demand for sustainable and ethical sourcing, engaging guests through all five senses, why we need to develop a stronger culture of training and retaining staff and, the tech boom we are are going through at the moment.

What did I miss this year?

Looking back over the last 12 months, it has been an emotional rollercoaster for the industry. Established names have closed top-end destinations; Sepia (Martin Benn and Vicki Wild moving down to Melbourne), Gastro Park along with Neil Perry’s less than year old Eleven Bridge, all served their final courses earlier this year.

While these heavy-hitters have closed their doors, from the ashes, we’ve seen the continual rise of the casual dining scene. The impressive openings of the Speakeasy Group’s Mjølner Viking bar in Sydney, contemporary East-Asian café Paper Bird, Light Years café from the team that brought us Windsor’s Journeyman and, The Lucas Group‘s powerhouse Chin Chin’s Sydney sister site to name a few.


Acclaimed international names have joined the Australian scene this year, too, with Tomi Björck opening both Blanca and it’s sister bar in Bondi this year, the Korean fast-casual brand 4Fingers landing three sites in just three weeks in Brisbane and Melbourne and, Hotto Motto introducing Australia to its first store in Sydney.

Casual dining revolution

Following the growth of the powerhouses in Grill’d and Guzman y Gomez (est.2004/2006), we have seen the sustained growth of the Casual Dining market segment for the last decade.

In no small part, this has driven growth across the broader dining scene over the same period – an increase which according to market analysis will continue comfortably for the next five years driven by “rising consumer interest in foodie culture” – IBISWorld

More recently is the move from ‘Food Courts’ towards ‘Dining Precincts’ powered by big shopping mall developments across the country. In the last 18 months alone, we have seen;


What does this mean for the future of the industry? Well, Casual Dining is not going away anytime soon and, it is the growth driver of this industry for the next five years at least.

We are even seeing industry powerhouses moving into this space with the likes of Benny Burgers and, Burger Project following in the trusted footsteps of Grill’d. However, we need to heed the words of Danny Meyer;

“Restaurants are like kids. You hope you understand their innate gifts and, then you let them realise their aspirations.”

Each restaurant/café/bar/food truck/alleyway has its own personality both in location, history and, guests. We need to play to these strengths. Innovate and move with the times. One cannot merely create cookie-cutter restaurants and expect them to work; we are not McDonald’s and, this is not the 90s.

One of the best examples of this personality is an unsuspecting little group powered by the collective genius of Nathan Toleman and Ben Clark. This year they brought Melbourne the long-awaited Higher Ground which joins the ranks of their The Kettle Black, Top Paddock and, previously opened (now sold) Liar Liar, Three Bags Full and, Two Birds One Stone.

These sites are each unique yet, at the same time have the same underpinned values of “creating spectacular spaces and experiences” and “foster[ing] genuine and indelible connections”.

These values resonate with customers because they are not just words on a wall but live in the actions of the staff on the front line.

If we want to succeed in the coming years we need to fight the status quo; The status quo that is a 17.1% attrition rate in the first 12 months of trading and, an unsettling 51.9% success rate after four years (PC & RCA 2015). We need to find our core values and align them with how we serve our customers every day.

Chapter 1 – Done. What do you think, dear reader? Was this an accurate state of play for the Casual Dining boom?

Stay tuned for my next chapter on the trend of Sustainable and Ethical sourcing.

Credits: Headline Photo – Mjølner by Kimberley Low(LI), Sydney Chin Chin, 4Fingers by Jesse Thompson, The Streets of Barangaroo, Higher Ground by Gareth Sobey(LI)

This article was originally published on LinkedIn, on 28 January 2018 | Contact Will