CHICAGO – Expect to see the line blur between fast-food and fast-casual restaurants as foodservice operators strive to provide dining concepts with broad consumer appeal, according to Technomic’s Top 200 Canadian Chain Restaurant Report.

Limited-service restaurants, which include fast-food chains and fast casual restaurants, are driving the trend, according to Technomic. Fast-food chains offer quick service and value. Customers can generally order and pay at the counter, for example. Fast-casual restaurants offer a more upscale menu and ambiance. Combined, LSRs account for nearly 73.2 percent or $19.6 billion of the Top 200 Canadian Chain sales and 85.5 percent or 20,423 units in 2011, Technomic said.

“The key to the growth within LSRs is differentiation,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president. “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.”

The key to fast-food patronage is convenience and value, while differentiation and ambiance drive patronage at fast-casual restaurants. As the line between the two concepts blurs, fast-food restaurants will begin offering higher quality more healthy food in an updated, more upscale setting, according to Technomic. Fast-casual restaurants will put more emphasis on value, convenience and speed of service.

Additional trends that will define the LSR concept include:

• Breakfast menu items on the rise — Driven by new breakfast sandwiches, LSRs breakfast entrées grew by 17 percent on fast-food menus and 13 percent on fast-casual menus between 2009 and 2011.

• Fast-Food dominates — Thirty percent of consumers visit fast-casual restaurants at least once a week, while nearly twice as many (59 percent) patronize fast-food concepts weekly.

• Patronage spikes at lunch —Technomic found that 28 percent of fast-food consumers buy lunch at these restaurants at least once a week, and 38 percent 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.

• Street food influences continue — Rustic, handheld street foods with a global spin are unique and desirable offerings on LSR menus, Technomic said.