In a recession that hit many business segments hard, restaurants, by and large, were no exception – particularly the high-end, white-tablecloth restaurants that typically have pricey menus. However, at the other end of the restaurant food chain, quick-service restaurants (QSR) barely skipped a beat.

While the restaurant industry has generally recovered, QSRs, in particular, are enjoying continued success, according to Rabobank. And that trend is expected to continue. Rabobank predicts restaurants will continue to take an increasing slice of the U.S. consumer food dollar, with leading QSRs being the particular beneficiaries of consumers’ growing preference for dining out vs. eating at home.

In 2011, total expenditures on food in the U.S. was an estimated $1.3 trillion, of which 616 billion (48%) was spent on food away from home, and $670 billion (52%) was spent on food at home. By 2018, Rabobank estimates expenditures on food away from home will exceed sales of food prepared in the home for the first time ever.

The recent recession gave rise to a reversal in the long-term trend of consumers to dining out more and more. But it’s only temporary, according to Rabobank analysts.

“We have not reached a turning point or a move back to thrifty habits and home cooking,” says Rabobank analyst Nicholas Fereday. “This temporary reversal was more likely due to the continuing effects of the financial crisis, fears of a double-dip recession and stubbornly high unemployment. It would take a cultural sea change to completely reverse this behavior.”

While the traditional burger-and-fries QSRs will continue to do well, Fereday says changing consumer expectations have forced restaurants to address nutrition and quality issues. Doing so, coupled with a low-cost service model, points QSRs in a new direction for the future.

In fact, within the QSR world, the “fast-casual concept, such as Panera Bread, has become a rising star.” These restaurants position themselves in a sweet spot, combining the convenience and relative cheapness of fast food with a higher-quality dining experience, Fereday says.