By Jackie Weber
This was originally posted on NextRestaurants.
There’s a difference between having a restaurant and building a restaurant brand.
If you’re a restaurant owner who’s seen steady success with your single-restaurant operation, you may be considering expanding your business and building a bigger restaurant brand.
You’re not alone—many restaurateurs experience the urge to grow once they’ve graduated from the startup phase and are operating a mature, profitable eatery with an established base of regular guests.
The good news is there are plenty of options when it comes to branching out and expanding your restaurant’s brand. The difficulty (as with many things in the business) comes down to figuring out that one critical component -- timing.
Here are four signs you're ready to take your restaurant to the next level.
1. You have a strong customer base.
If you have plenty of repeat customers as well as new ones coming in on a regular basis and you’re able to continue to meet their expectations indicates potential for growth. Plus, if out-of-town fans are clamoring for new locations, it might be time to heed their wishes.
2. You have a creative, reliable team.
If you have a solid team of hard-working and diverse employees, it will be easier for you to manage an expansion of your existing location or the addition of a second location nearby.
This is a great way to begin building a bigger restaurant brand, without committing to becoming a franchised organization.
3. Your business is stable.
Ideally, you should have consistent traffic to your restaurant, frequent positive feedback about what you’re serving, and stable or increasing profits before you decide to expand. It seems obvious, but your current restaurant must be successful and running smoothly before you branch out.
If you’re ever going to encourage or expect customers to visit location #2, let alone location #200, you’ve got to have stability with location #1.
4. You’re willing to take calculated risks.
No matter how successful your first restaurant location is, there’s no telling how well a new venture will perform. Timing, location, store management, there are so many factors that come into play.
To increase your chances of success, be prepared for the bumps in the road you are bound to encounter and be smart about handling failures. Expanding your restaurant business will require you to step outside your comfort zone as well as learn from any missteps.
Explore franchising to build your restaurant’s reach
One of the most effective and popular ways to grow a restaurant business is through franchising. Franchising allows you to broaden your brand’s reach by adding new locations that you don’t have to directly oversee.
Franchising isn’t for everyone, though. So how do you know if your restaurant brand is ready to be a franchised? Your business should:
Your brand has the potential for franchise success if it offers something unique—like exceptional food, affordable pricing, and a noteworthy, unique, or superior dining experience compared to similar eateries in the area.
You may think being distinctive goes without saying, but not every restaurant brand will work with every demographic — get to know the geographic areas in which you intend to launch before committing to those areas.
Have a teachable system.
In order for new locations to thrive under franchise owners, everything about your business process must be repeatable. You must be able to train the new franchisees and ensure they have the “secret sauce” in more areas than just the kitchen.
You should have a detailed operating manual describing your process, recipes and procedures (or a gameplan to build one in short order). If you have a very specific skillset that contributes to your restaurant’s success, consider whether a franchisee location would be able to operate without the constant need for your help over the long term.
Really, even if you never franchise, but you do intend to open additional locations, this one is a must.
To be franchisable on a large scale, your restaurant needs to be easy to duplicate in a variety of geographical locations. If your business only makes sense in one square block of a regional market, it’s risky to expand it by franchising.
And this goes beyond a single restaurant’s operations. Can you scale your support team to help market your next location or locations, too? A second location brings with it the need for local store marketing (online and offline), social media, and in-store marketing materials. It’s important to make sure you can deliver for this as well.
Other options for growing your restaurant brand
If the above tips about restaurant franchising are causing you more sweat than excitement, it’s 100% fine if franchising isn’t the best option for your restaurant. Maybe it’s time to re-consider some tried-and-true approaches to building your business?
If you’d rather avoid the cost of opening up another location, try offering local catering services. If you have the resources and a hard-working staff, this can be a great way to increase the profitability of your existing location, while testing out additional markets and getting your food in front of those who have yet to make it in your physical location.
If it makes sense for your restaurant, consider launching a product line. If your hot sauce is the hottest commodity in the region, bottle it. If you make some exceptional pies or cakes, package and sell them by the slice. A successful product can mean more customers walking through your doors.
For some restaurateurs in big cities, a food truck is a unique and viable option for expanding what you have to offer. If your food is fairly portable, quick to cook, and good to eat while on the go, a food truck could be a worthwhile venture.
With a combination of preparation, creativity, and calculated risk-taking, your restaurant can be ready to expand into a bigger brand. Whether you choose to franchise new locations or increase your restaurant’s offerings, these ideas should serve as a good launching point!
Restaurants are massively adopting online ordering in order to keep up with eat-on-the-go Millennials, to remain relevant and convenient, and obviously to grow sales. Maybe in the past you haven’t thought this is right for your business, could it be time to think differently now?
What questions do you need answered about building your restaurant’s brand? Ask away in the comments below!
About the Author:
Jackie is a veteran online writer, editor and content marketing professional. She is an expert in the area of digital marketing across a variety of brands/industries.