Counter service accompanied by handmade food (often visible via an open kitchen) is typical. Alcohol may be served. Dishes like steak may be offered. The menu is usually limited to an extended over-counter display, and options in the way the food is prepared are emphasized. Health-conscious items have a larger-than-normal portion of the menu. Some restaurants may emphasize high quality ingredients like free-range chicken and freshly made salsas. Overall, the quality of the food is presented as much higher than conventional factory-made fast food. While full table service is not offered, conveniences like non-plastic utensils and plates are common.
The moderate volume music and nontraditional decor pioneered by Starbucks are fully embraced by fast casual restaurants — approximately half of the customers eat in the establishment, compared with a quarter of fast food customers.
Technomic Information Services created the term "fast casual restaurants" to describe restaurants with the following classifications:
There is a Fast Casual magazine, launched by NetWorld Alliance and published by Paul Barron, who coined the term "Fast Casual" in the late 1990s. There is also QSR magazine, first published in 1997 by Journalistic, Inc., covering both the quick serve/fast food and fast casual segments.