by Judy Kneiszel |
As its name suggests, this Atlanta-based fast casual focuses on upscale menu items made to order for each guest.
“Fast fine” is the way Fresh to Order founder and CEO Pierre Panos describes the Atlanta-based concept he created in 2006. “It’s nicer than fast casual, but not fine dining,” he says.
With a background in fine dining, Panos sought to offer a fresh, quality product to a mass market for around $10. He spent a year and a half working on the menu with Jesse Gideon, corporate chef and COO of Fresh to Order, to determine whether the idea of fast fine was possible.
“The solution was finding center-of-the-plate items that wouldn’t break the bank, and serving right-sized portions,” Panos says.
The concept’s mission is to provide incredible food and service in less than 10 minutes for around $10. Panos says the restaurants have hit the time goal with few minutes to spare and, after eight years, still come close on the price goal. An average ticket at Fresh to Order comes in at $11.
“When we track our times, it’s under seven minutes,” he says. “If we go over 10 minutes, warning bells go off and we get out and apologize to the customer and give out coupons.”
The Fresh to Order menu has three basic categories: salads, panini sandwiches, and long plates, which include a protein, starch, and vegetable or salad. One example is the Grilled Salmon in a black bean orange sauce with baby greens, roast corn peanut relish, and wheat berry rice. Other long plate offerings include the Brown Sugar Roast Pork Loin with slow-roasted sweet mashed potatoes and apricot chutney, and the Bourbon Filet Steak with balsamic Cabernet reduction, garlic jack grit cake, and baby greens.
As the name suggests, these meals are served on long rectangular plates for both presentation purposes and flavor.
“The reason we have long plates is that people eat with the eyes and presentation is important,” Panos says. “You get a perfect bite all the way across. As you dig down into the food, you get a little bit of everything.”
One also gets a little bit of everything with the Asian Salad, which features mixed greens, candied walnuts, tomatoes, sesame seeds, avocado, pickled ginger, crispy noodles, mandarin oranges, and mixed nuts. Almond-rosemary crusted tuna is a popular addition to the salad.
On the panini menu, the Smokey Southwest Chicken Panini is popular. It is filled with spicy grilled chicken, cheese, tortilla crisps, lettuce, and Southwest ranch dressing.
Standard fountain soft drinks are available to accompany meals, but so are more upscale beverages like wine and beer by the glass and bottle, as well as a variety of iced teas and fresh vanilla mint lemonade.
Along with the menu, the décor inside Fresh to Order restaurants is more upscale than at a typical fast casual, Panos says, with warm earthy colors, natural wood, and thoughtfully placed lighting. The only visible stainless steel is in the open kitchen.
“When they look into the kitchen, guests see the cooking flames, and that denotes warmth,” he adds.
Like any fast casual, guests at Fresh to Order place their order at the register. “Our service is a notch above,” Panos says. “The register people will go over the menu with you; then you see the action of the open kitchen and see your food being made fresh. Once you sit down, someone brings you drink refills, runs your food out to you, and clears your plate away.”
Because food preparation can be somewhat complex, the kitchen staff trains for 30 days before a location opens, Panos says. After training, he adds, labor costs are not much higher for Fresh to Order than for other fast-casual restaurants.
Panos says Americans are learning that they need to eat a certain way, and Fresh to Order is meeting that need. “We are slowly trying to educate consumers,” he says. “In 2006, a lot of people didn’t get it, but they are coming around. Fresh, high-quality food is the kind of food our guests want, and our kind of guests do not want huge portions.”
Fresh to Order also offers a wide selection for vegetarian and gluten-free diners, including various salads and long plates, which Panos says people appreciate “and come in more often [for]. They also tend to be more vocal on social media.”
Panos says there are plans to grow Fresh to Order by eight to 10 stores in 2015. Beyond that, the goal is to average 12 new stores a year, reaching about 70 stores in five years. Targeted territories for 2015 include Texas and the Washington, D.C., area.
“We have proven that the concept works in a whole lot of places, both urban and suburban,” Panos says. “The demographic just has to fit the concept of our being a little healthier and a little higher priced.”