Franchise businesses are a relatively solid way to invest in a growing company that has largely worked out the bugs in its operating process. You are able to invest in what is essentially a turn-key operation, where you sell products or services for an established brand. You pay a franchise fee to leverage their brand, business model, inventory, marketing, ad other business materials, and in return, you are then an owner-operator of a business.
They are considered relatively safe investments since the franchisor has already invested the time and resources to create a profitable operation. Often this means preestablished inventory or service offerings, menu items and so on. While there still is an inherent risk just as with any business opportunity, that risk can be effectively mitigated with hard work and franchisor support.
One of the most commonly successful franchise opportunities is fast casual franchises. Fast casual dining combines the environment and the feeling of casual dining, as well as comparable food, with the incredible convenience and speed of traditional fast food chains. This model has been an incredibly profitable framework for fast casual powerhouses Shake Shack, Panera, and others.
While both fast food dining and fast casual dining are projected to keep growing, fast casual dining is projected to grow at nearly twice the rate of standard fast food restaurant franchises. So if you have made the decision to invest in a restaurant franchise, the fast casual niche is a profitable one. But how do you know? What are the signs to look for in your potential franchises to buy that indicate relative success? Let’s take a look at what makes a fast casual restaurant successful.
1. The Brand
The brand is going to be a big deal when it comes to drawing traffic and making sales. Brands like Burger King and Wendy’s are well-known fast food giants. They not only operate incredibly successful advertising and marketing campaigns, but they have top-tier social media teams that keep their customer base engaged and actively loyal.
Brand leverage like this is going to be important when evaluating potential fast casual franchises. Even if they have the best food, the smoothest processes, and the lowest prices, chances of success are going to be slim if nobody recognizes the brand or knows what you sell.
While your franchisor might not be the most well-known brand, in fact, that may just work to your advantage, successful franchises should have a solid and established brand identity and social media following. Customers identify emotionally and bond with brands, and they should have that opportunity with your new venture.
2. Fast Casual Should Definitely Be Fast
The market gap that fast casual dining fills exists between high-speed low-quality food, and low-speed high-quality food, and was born of a compromise between the two. While your customers won’t be expecting to have their food ready and waiting to go, underneath a heat lamp, they will be expecting to not have to wait for a full meal to be cooked and served.
One sure sign of a successful fast casual dining establishment is the speed of the service. Chipotle is a great example of fast casual with fast, fresh food. The food is prepared to order right in front of the guest, with any special requests personally attended to by the associate they are speaking to, and they leave the counter with delicious fresh food. The food they saw prepared and portioned, while they moved quickly through the process.
3. Accommodation Is Key
There is an increasing number of dietary restrictions, nutritional trends, and lifestyles that heavily influence our daily lives. Truly profitable fast casual restaurants have nearly perfected this inclusionary tactic. Your business may be patronized by meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, people with peanut allergies, soy allergies, gluten sensitivities, and more, so it can only help to be able to serve as many of them as possible.
The most successful fast casual eateries will cater to most dietary needs. It’s not just less exclusion, it’s about conscious and pointed inclusion, and those are the people who become fiercely brand loyal. Accommodation builds customer relationships, and for fast casual restaurants to reach levels of success previously reserved for fast food, they’ll have made those efforts to accommodate and include.
4. Be A Franchise Chain, But Don’t Look Like It
This is the technique that made the New York darling Shake Shack an absolute fast casual monster. Each new location that a franchisee opens has its own unique look. No more cookie-cutter storefronts that look exactly the same no matter what state or town you’re in. Your franchisor should have a design scheme that similarly allows for recognizable branding, while still being able to be unique and trend-setting.
This mindset can carry over to interior design and operations as well. Uniqueness and individuality are hard to ignore. While the business and food operations should be standardized for consistency and efficiency, elements of local design or culture should be incorporated to keep the brand fresh and relatable.
5. Quality & Quantity Are Not Mutually Exclusive
The most successful fast casual enterprises realize and actively leverage the fact that you do not have to sacrifice quality for quantity. This is particularly important to remember as people become increasingly more concerned about what they are consuming.
This trend has been building for some time. There is a large movement away from factory farmed meat, and proteins that are sourced from animals given synthetic feeds, antibiotics, and more. Most consumers have moved toward specifically consuming proteins and meat from animals from cage-free or free-range farms. Many looking for assurances that their meat is organically raised, grass fed, and free of antibiotics.
The leading fast casual franchise chains understand that you can obtain and serve fresher, higher quality ingredients while still keeping your price points manageable. This helps them be differentiated from the usual fast-food chain restaurant components of highly processed ingredients and is a key to their steadily increasing success in today’s consumer dining industry.