William Chemero has the experience to offer sound advice on succeeding in this exciting market
So, you want to start a fast-casual franchise. You aren’t alone. Fast-casual dining is a growing market, although that’s the case for all restaurants. But, still, there’s something appealing about fast-casual. People are stressed for time, but they want to eat more nutritiously than their parents and grandparents did. Fast-casual dining hits the sweet spot for the person who wants to eat well and relatively quickly in a more comfortable environment.
But how should one go about creating a successful fast-casual franchise? There’s so much to consider, from the food to the state of the economy and surely a little luck is involved, too. Still, if you’re looking for a formula, there are at least 10 stages in the fast-casual franchise process.
Stage 1. Build your business. Don’t rush the franchise part. You may be excited about franchising, but be excited instead about running a great business that may or may not eventually become a franchise. People want to buy into a franchise when they know a business model works. And I don’t care how well things are going after a year or two — it’s too soon to declare success and ask people to invest thousands of dollars in your business model.
Stage 2. Pay attention to the time it takes to make each order. The ideal time to complete an order for many fast-casual restaurants is eight to 10 minutes, and so if you’re considering adding an item to the menu that took 30 minutes to prepare, then obviously un-consider that. You also want to remember who is likely going to be mostly staffing your restaurants — teenagers and seniors and not-necessarily-professional chefs with 30 years’ experience. Your entrees need to be relatively easy to prepare on a consistent basis.
Stage 3. Think about the menu. You may specialize in one type of food, but think of the veto vote. That’s when you have four guys in a car, and one guy says, “Let’s go have lunch. Where do you want to go?” And everyone picks a restaurant, and they’re all set until the fourth guy says, “No, they don’t have salad.” Or, “They don’t have grilled chicken.” You can’t offer everything, but you want to offer enough. Across the country, enough veto votes, and you could be voted out of business or at least a lot of profits.
Stage 4. But it can’t be too diversified. OK, a new stage, and we’re still on the menu. You don’t want a menu with nine pages of options. You’ll confuse people, and you’ll lose whatever you specialize in. You won’t stand for anything because you’ll serve everything. That said, people get bored, eating the same food all the time. That’s where a quarterly LTO, or limited time offer, comes in handy. You can offer certain items for a limited time, and that’ll draw people in and give them something new to try. Better yet, you can also use this opportunity to test an item that may be a viable add to your menu without the risk of having a permanent menu item that didn’t stick.
Stage 5. Pay attention to your customers. Yes, good advice for any business, but when you have a fast-casual restaurant, as opposed to a furniture store, you get repeat customers, sometimes two or three times a week. So, if you notice a lot of single moms coming into the store, make sure you’re catering to them, such as having a server bring out their meal, so they don’t have to hold a tray with one hand and a 2-year-old with another. If college kids are your clientele, embrace that. Stay ahead of the curve with technology, from mobile online ordering to loyalty to POS systems; today’s customers are tech savvy and that’s a great tool to reach them and re-market to them based off their buying behavior. Sure, you want everyone to come to your restaurant, but as in politics, there’s nothing wrong with having a base of supporters.
Stage 6. Get to know your lenders. You may or may not be going to a bank at the beginning of this process, but you definitely will when you do get to the franchising stage. For what it’s worth, bankers don’t really care what type of business you have; they just care that you’re successful. That’s one reason it helps if you’ve been in business awhile before you begin expanding. Still, whether you have the numbers to back you up or not, invite your prospective lenders to your restaurant. It helps if they can see your operations and know that you’re competent.
Stage 7. Find your franchisees. Beyond the financials, you want to be in sync with your franchisees. Do you get the sense that they really believe in your business? This is someone you’re going to be partners with. Remember, they’re interviewing you, but you’re interviewing them, too. You don’t have to go into business with each other if you have a bad feeling about this. You also don’t need to be pals with your franchisees, either. Above all, you do want to respect each other and should want the same things — a successful company, a successful brand, successful franchisees and happy, returning customers.
Stage 8. Look for a location. This is a crucial part of the process. You want to be where your customers are. That’s often where the other restaurants are, believe it or not. It’s nice to be in the middle of nowhere and not have those competitors, but chances are, you also won’t have customers.
Stage 9. Create the franchise agreement. Get an attorney who specializes in franchises. Common sense, but I’d be remiss not to say that.
Stage 10. Train and maintain. After not rushing into franchising, this may be the most important stage. Well, they’re all important, but you don’t want your brand to come crashing down because you didn’t train your franchisee on how to implement your business model. And once you’ve sold a lot of franchises, you can’t just put your feet up on a desk. If your company is running like a well-oiled machine, that’s only because you’ve been oiling it. Keep at it. You need to be engaged and open to tweaking and modifying your operations — if your franchisees have good ideas. If you’re doing it right, your business will always be changing, at least a little, because it’ll always be growing.
4 Rules to Remember About the Construction Process
If your franchisor offers to help select your location, let them. They’ve probably been doing this awhile.
If your franchisor offers to help negotiate your lease, ditto.
Make sure your contractors know that you’re working with a national franchisor that will be looking over the bids. If they think you’re a newbie, you’ll be treated as such.
Don’t build your restaurant like you’re going to live there. No customer is going to compliment your granite countertops. They want good food, good service and good prices. Build a business, not a residence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Chemero is Executive Vice President at Wayback Burgers, a restaurant chain based out of Cheshire, Connecticut. Wayback began franchising nine years ago and currently has 142 units in operation with over 400 more contracted to open.
Wayback Burgers has international master franchisees in Canada, Argentina, Brunei, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Netherlands and in Saudi Arabia. Currently there are restaurants opened in Casablanca, Morocco, Kuwait City, Kuwait, al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, al Khartoum, Sudan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, two in Brunei and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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