The physical appearance of a restaurant franchise is an important part of its brand. From the layout and colour scheme to furnishings and fixtures, it’s important for all locations to have a consistent look and feel. While the franchise makes the design decisions and can provide franchisees with a list of preferred contractors, it’s up to each individual franchisee to determine whom he or she wants to contract to do the work.
Contractors who have worked with businesses will understand the need to keep build time and costs as low as possible, while keeping quality standards and impact on profitability top of mind. Restaurant spaces typically face a number of unique physical requirements, including the capacity for water drainage and a proper exhaust system in the kitchen. Those issues might be easy to deal with if you’re purpose-building your space, but renovating an existing structure can be challenging, especially in an older building, says Simon Shahin of BUILD IT By Design. “You can run into a lot of complications.”
Shahin and his business partner, Alburt Lefebvre, opened BUILD IT By Design in 2008. The commercial interior general contracting firm offers a full spectrum of services, including construction, consulting, and project management.
Aside from the importance of building the right physical space, Shahin and Lefebvre have observed a few other factors that they feel contribute to a successful franchise operation. They shared the following five tips for new restaurant owners:
- First and foremost, find a franchise system that suits your personality. If it’s not a concept that you love, then it’s probably not the right one for you. If you do love it, you won’t mind the hard work and long hours. You’ll also be more engaged in your business and your local community, and that often leads to owning multiple locations, which will be more profitable.
- Find the right location. Most franchisors will have a real estate team to help you identify a suitable spot, close to where your target demographic lives, works, or visits. You can also work with a contractor who offers this service as part of its complete offering.
- Understand your financial capacity, and ensure you have access to ample working capital. This is where a lot of franchisees fall short, because even little mistakes can be costly. Always over-budget and have a contingency fund in place. For a brand new space, you should leave room for about 10 to 15 per cent, while in an older building, you might need more like 20 to 30 per cent, thanks to some of the surprises you can find when actually demolishing an older space.
- Put together the right team to ensure the build out is successful. Collaboration and communication among architects, designers, engineers, and trades workers is essential. It’s a good idea for everyone to come together at the very beginning of a project.
- Understand that time is money. The faster the build out (or renovation), the sooner the doors will open (or re-open), and the quicker you will start making sales.
BUILD IT has worked on more than 500 commercial locations, including dozens of restaurant concepts, from quick service to fine dining. We talked to people from two of those restaurant brands and asked them to share their thoughts on establishing a franchised restaurant location.
Brothers Wyatt and Aiden Booth had both worked in restaurants before they opened their first Hopscotch location in London, Ontario. They were students at Western University who were struggling to find quick and healthy restaurant options, so they came up with the Hopscotch concept – fast casual and healthy, featuring a chef-inspired menu that doesn’t require a full service kitchen. They decided right from the beginning that they would build a franchise system. “We knew our operations had to be simple. Our equipment selection was specifically chosen to not require venting or exhaust hoods, to allow us to go in any retail space,” says Wyatt.
The London location continues to operate, but once they were done school, the Booths shifted their geographic focus to the Toronto market, where they are on target to open more corporate stores, as well as their first franchise locations in 2017.
Wyatt has noticed that, when it comes to preparing the physical space, some franchisees want to save money by doing a lot of the work themselves. “In the long term, it’s better to go with an experienced professional. It might cost more initially, but it will pay off.”
The Booth brothers recommend getting the contractor on board right from the beginning so that they can visit potential locations, look at the condition of the building, and provide honest feedback and advice, which will help lead to sound, informed decisions.
Another important consideration, says Aiden, is working with a contractor that understands and believes in the restaurant concept. In the Booth brothers’ experience, the contractor should be an integral part of the design process and operations review, and should be reliable through the entire development.
Time is money – that’s something that Stuart Beeston is particularly aware of when an existing restaurant undergoes renovations. Beeston is Senior Vice President at Turtle Jack’s Muskoka Grill, an award-winning restaurant that provides fresh premium quality casual food and handcrafted cocktails.
Having worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, Beeston has seen it all – new builds, leasehold improvements to existing buildings, and the cycle of upgrades and transformations that are a regular part of ongoing operations.
“Most brands will introduce ongoing minor improvements, and franchisees can expect significant changes every five to seven years,” he says. “When you are disrupting an operating business, you need to have minimal down time.”
When the Turtle Jack’s in Waterdown, Ontario was renovated earlier this year, it involved a significant face lift. The bar and dining room were stripped back to bare walls and concrete floor, and the job required the coordination of floor and wall finishes, ceilings, electrical, and plumbing, as well as the installation of lighting, millwork, furniture, and equipment, along with wiring for audio/visual and the point-of-sale system. That’s why Beeston decided to work with a construction company with restaurant experience that understood the peculiarities of the work, and could complete it within a compressed time frame.
Turtle Jack’s started 2017 with 17 restaurants in Southern Ontario, three confirmed new locations in and around Toronto, and an interest in expanding beyond the GTA. Opening a restaurant is not as easy as it looks, says Beeston. Franchisors can work with new owners to identify a location, suggest contractors, prepare the specs for tender, and assist with negotiations. Before the restaurant opens, there will be marketing support to develop a customer base; training on operational policies, procedures, and staffing; and franchisees will benefit from bulk purchase pricing from suppliers. “Running a restaurant is hard work,” says Beeston. “When you are part of a franchise system, it makes life a lot easier.”
Restaurant franchises have a number of unique elements to consider, especially when it comes to physical space. Choose a franchise concept that you love, find the right location, ensure you have ample financial capacity and working capital, assemble the right team to work with, and understand that time is money – wise advice for any kind of franchise. And for aspiring restaurant owners, here’s one last thought to chew on: if you choose the right contractor and involve them early in the process, you’ll have a much better chance to savour the sweet taste of success!
By Kym Wolfe