The "fast-casual" business model will revolutionise the European restaurant market over the next decade, experts have predicted.
Successful operators in the sector - covering take-aways and casual-dining outlets - will focus on customisation and the use of innovative technology, according to speakers at the European Foodservice Summit in Zurich.
Delegates heard how German restaurant chain Vapiano ensures its offering is both fast and fresh. Customers are served at counters where a carefully controlled range of fresh pasta, pizza and salad ingredients is prepared in mini-kitchens (up to 12 per restaurant), enabling customised meals to be cooked freshly in front of guests.
The chain, which plans to open 25 new outlets by the end of the year, with international expansion to the UK, USA and Russia by 2008, focuses its training on customer interaction.
"We don't just hire staff - we invite them to castings," said co-owner Kent Hahne.
Technology is also a focus, with "one-stop-cash" microchip cards used to help trim costs by enabling customers to record their purchases for payment on departure.
Cesar Brea, global practice leader at analyst firm Marketspace Advisory, said other IT-based concepts such as paging wristbands, worn by staff at some TGI Friday's outlets, and using call centre staff at drive-thrus were also proving successful.