Burger King started using the slogan, “Have it your way,” before Millennials were even born. Now that they’ve picked up the customization banner, the rest of us are falling into the parade and demanding to have it our way too.
Imagine a world with one type of mustard. No sweet-hot, whole grain, Dijon or Chinese. None flavored with Sriracha or cranberries, and none made with beer, honey or dill. Just good old yellow mustard.
That will never happen. Someone is likely creating a new flavored mustard at this very moment. Why? Because we are endlessly curious and love to explore, always searching for new directions in experiences, tastes and trends.
Trend watchers give credit to Millennials for inventing customization, but they merely embraced it and led the rest us toward culinary enlightenment. Americans have always ordered unique combinations of pizza toppings, dipped fries in tartar sauce and added anchovies to grilled cheese. While Millennials are taking the trend to new heights, prior generations not only demanded customization, but grew the trend throughout their lives.
Customization is about the guest being in control of the dining experience. This is a big change for those chains that built reputations based on the consistency of their food. Despite this, McDonald’s, based on reliable consistency since the 1950s, has been testing two platforms, Create Your Taste and TasteCrafted. Although both programs focus on items in buns, there’s nothing to stop either one from migrating throughout the menu. Offering a choice of cheeses and toppings on morning egg sandwiches would be a drive-thru hit.
It is worth mentioning at this point, that the fast-casual segment revenue grew 13 percent in 2014, which, according to Technomic, is 10 times that of the industry overall. But within the fast-casual segment, the build-your-own segment is on fire – 2014 sales were up 22 percent.
In addition to salad bars that have always encouraged customization, well-established chains have added build-your-own menu sections. Arguably the original customizable food, omelets have landed their own place on build-your-own menus, with IHOP, Perkins and Friendly’s all offering build-your-own omelet options. But it is independent operators who’ve gone the extra creative mile, offering the lengthiest lists of ingredients. Two of the best examples have inspired lists of omelet fixings:
The earliest of the new generation of fast-casual chains has shown consistent growth, Chipotle being a prime example with 2014 unit growth of 11.6 percent. But the crop of the newest entrants is impressive, including Pieology Pizza, Genghis Grill and the Chipotle spin-off, Shophouse. Welcomed by all who enjoy mixing things up, customization in the Subway/Chipotle tradition requires a different operational system and flow, but to those who get it right, come dramatic growth and leader of the pack status.
A quick look at two of the newest pioneers, Blaze Pizza and Stacked:
Industry expert Darren Tristano of Technomic has this to say about the build-your-own phenomenon: “Subway introduced it, Chipotle perfected it and pizza restaurants like Blaze are really evolving it. The new evolution is not just assemble – it’s assemble and cook to order.”
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