August 28/Chicago/PRNewswire -- A new report from Technomic shows that differences are blurring between fast food and fast casual restaurants in Canada and reveals the driving forces of the commercial foodservice industry.

Limited-service restaurants (LSRs) are the driving force behind the commercial foodservice industry. Limited-service chains accounted for nearly three-quarters (73.2%) or $19.6 billion of the Top 200 Canadian chain sales and 85.5% or 20,423 units in 2011 according to data by Technomic’s "Top 200 Canadian Chain Restaurant Report."

LSRs are restaurants where patrons generally order and pay at the counter. Within this segment there are traditional fast-food locations such as Tim Hortons and McDonald’s that focus on fast service and affordable pricing, and fast-casual concepts which have a more upscale menu and ambiance and focus on made-to-order foods.

“The key to the growth within LSRs is differentiation,” says executive vice president Darren Tristano. “Most of the ‘hot concepts’ have broad consumer appeal. Consumers are seeking out locations that offer something unique, which is often delivered through fresh, better quality ingredients, a contemporary décor and ambiance, and interactive service formats.”

Fast-food patronage thrives on its convenience and value, while food distinction and ambiance are key factors driving patronage at fast-casual locations. For fast-food restaurants, it is about offering higher quality more healthy food in an updated, more upscale setting; for fast-casual restaurants, it is about strengthening areas of value, convenience and speed of service, the report shows.

Other findings include:
Breakfast menu items on the rise — Driven by new breakfast sandwiches, LSR breakfast entrées grew by 17% on fast-food menus and 13% on fast-casual menus between 2009 and 2011.
Fast-Food dominates — Overall patronage is much higher at fast-food restaurants than at fast-casual concepts; while 30% of consumers visit fast-casual restaurants at least once a week, nearly twice as many (59%) patronise fast-food concepts weekly.
Patronage spikes at lunch — Consumers visit fast-food and fast-casual restaurants for lunch more often than for any meal: 28% of fast-food consumers purchase lunch at these restaurants at least once a week; 38% of fast-casual restaurant customers visit these concepts for lunch once a week or more often.
Eat healthier — Natural, premium and gluten-free options and the growing importance of better-for-you kids’ meals continue to guide better-for-you LSR menu development.
Consumers are looking for new flavor supplements for their sophisticated palette.