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Wed 23 May 2007 05:00 PM

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Casual is so now

After living in the fast food lane for too long, the region is now slowly turning to casual dining.

Can't afford a slap-up meal but drive-through just not good enough? It looks like the food industry is beginning to feel the same way, with the casual dining market growing at exponential rates.

After a long list of documentaries and news stories highlighting the health risks of fast food, the industry is also taking note and offering diners more choice. And while the fast food industry still has a place in the market, its growth is gradually slowing down as people move out of the junk food generation.

Over the past year the number of casual dining outlets opening up around the region has soared, including deli-style offerings like Pauls and Le Pain Quotidien, to restaurants focusing on a certain cuisine, like Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Pizzeria Cucina.

But it is interesting to look at why the popularity of these outlets has risen in this region. Talking to owners of these outlets the main reason is - as mentioned earlier - down to the health benefits. Junk food is gradually losing its appeal though, and as the region's obesity rates rise, people are taking positive steps to prevent the next generation suffering from heart conditions and diabetes.

The dining experience is also a key reason for the move from fast to casual, as friends and family increasingly eat out as a social event, rather than a quick stop off to fill their stomachs and leave.

Finally, the cost benefits of eating at a casual dining outlet is greatly increased compared to a five-star hotel's outlets, especially when people in the Middle East eat out on average two or three times a week.

So while there will always be a place for the five-star restaurant, as well as fast food outlets, the casual dining industry is set to soar over the next couple of years.

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