The Corner, a new cafe in Sydney's trendy inner west, looks a lot like its peers - white frontage, rustic wooden seating, potted plants on the counter, quinoa on the menu and servers wearing hemp aprons.

But look a little closer at the black name sign over the door and a visitor will see "McCafe, established 2014" scrawled in small type.

Owner McDonald's is saying little about the cafe and a series of other "learning labs" it is opening in Australia. They include a typical McDonald's restaurant on the outskirts of Sydney that, in addition to its usual fare, offers "build your own" burgers and table service.

But market experts say they indicate McDonald's is seriously worried about tough competition from so-called fast-casual chains around the world that offer healthier food choices and more sophisticated service such as private equity-owned Nandos, Shake Shack and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Some observers say the fast-casual segment is outgrowing the fast-food sector.