As the quick service restaurant (QSR) sector continues to expand, convenient locations, good prices, and excellent customer service are more important than ever. Check out how four QSR brands stay competitive with unique, forward-thinking, and innovative approaches that take food from fast to fabulous.
Serving tempting treats and delicious food for more than 70 years, Dairy Queen (DQ) has mastered the recipe of sweet success. “The local community really takes ownership of the brand, and it becomes a focal point in the community,” says Tony Watters, Director of Franchise Development. It’s a place where fans can enjoy a little happy, whether they’re celebrating a great report card or a moving ballet performance.
Though it’s challenging to remain competitive in the QSR category, especially when it comes to building a burger that will tempt the tastes of the local consumer, the sweet treats and Orange Julius blended fruit drinks offer DQ the advantage of offering multiple brands under one roof.
The franchise anticipates growth opportunities in Quebec and Ontario in the next few years, and with more than 6,000 locations in 29 countries worldwide, it can track emerging trends and test products in countries around the world. To keep it sweet, the brand is consistently developing new, unique creations only available at DQ.
When it comes to selecting a franchisee, Watters says it boils down to the person behind the application, and whether the concept is a good fit with their lifestyle. “The amount of time and energy they will put into a successful operation means a commitment to being in their location full time.”
DQ also seeks investors with at least three years of food experience and the financial ability to invest and grow. “We have an outstanding group of franchisees across Canada,” says Watters, noting that many second and third generations are coming into ownership. “Franchisees have options, and we are thrilled that they would consider us in their investment plans. At the end of the day, it has to be the right fit and the right time for the right applicant.”
Watters advises franchisees to do their homework. “You’re going to sign an operating agreement that in the case of Dairy Queen, will last 20 years, so be prepared for what is ahead. The relationship with you as a business owner in our system is important to us, and we want you to be prepared.”
“The name of the store was my idea. I wanted to get across the idea of a big burger with everything on it . . . a meal in itself.” — Fatburger Founder, Lovie Yancey
What Yancey started in 1947 quickly became a landmark, where greats like Redd Foxx and Ray Charles flocked to custom-order their burgers. The principles of quality that Yancey strived for at her burger stand are hallmarks of the brand today, from Alberta Angus beef with no binders or fillers to fresh, premium ingredients. The build-your-own-burger experience is complemented by hand-scooped, real ice cream milkshakes and homemade-from-scratch onion rings.
“It only takes one visit for our guests to see that Fatburger is indeed a different experience,” says Tracy Frazer, Director of Marketing. Each meal is cooked to order and served in approximately six-to-eight minutes, with fresh ingredients and the same traditional cooking techniques as used 70 years ago.
In Canada, the first Fatburger opened in 2005 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it’s been growing ever since. With restaurants in 37 countries worldwide, prospective franchisees benefit from investing in a concept with a proven track record. For Fatburger, the ideal investor loves interacting with guests, and more importantly, loves the food that they serve. Once on board, extensive training takes a hands-on, old-school approach, where franchisees learn by diving in. Once a restaurant is open, ongoing support is provided with store visits, regional meetings, advertising programs, and more.
Fatburger’s advice for fostering franchise success is to find something that you’re passionate about, and do it. “At Fatburger, we are passionate about quality, food, and service. We love having new guests come to our restaurant and seeing their reaction to how great our food looks and tastes when it arrives at their table. We take joy in making people smile. If you have this type of passion for your business, it stops being work,” says Frazer.
Ready for a royal taste sensation? Halifax, Nova Scotia based King of Donair has served up its popular donairs, donair pizza, and more for over 40 years. The family run business recently began franchising, with two locations set to open in Edmonton and Grand Prairie, Alberta. “We continuously hear people requesting donairs outside of Nova Scotia. It’s unique, and people are craving it,” says President Norman Nahas.
The company has worked hard to open minds to this exciting food option by building a culture and familiarity around the donair. “The theatrical aspect of watching a donair cook provides a different level of enjoyment and intrigue,” says Nahas. The open kitchen allows customers to watch the process of building their donair from start to finish. “People are more educated about their food. They want to be able to see the quality, and they question it when they can’t.”
To date, they’ve served donairs to some of the best chefs in the world, including Anthony Bourdain. To help build awareness, the King set up several pop-up locations, where customers waited hours for a taste. Nahas says the positive response to their brand is humbling. “We are far from just filling a void in people’s stomachs. Our culture is light, and it’s enjoyable. Right now, the rod is scorching, and we’re getting ready to strike.”
They plan to expand in Western Canada, where the brand is already well known. “The population out there has asked for us,” says Nahas. “We are also finding a lot of interest from existing pizza and shawarma operations, where the infrastructure is already there, but the conversion will offer the benefit of a national brand at their fingertips.”
Nahas says they look for hard-working owner-operators that exude the culture and brand. “They enjoy what they’re doing, and enjoy the donair world and the fun that comes along with it. Being an entrepreneur has risks and rewards, but done right with the proper synergy it doesn’t feel like work, and you will see the reward.”
His advice for franchisees? “Be aware of how the system works and understand if it’s for you. The right owner will exude energy, love, and passion for what they are doing, and they will be successful.”
Panago Pizza opened its first location in British Columbia 30 years ago, and today has more than 190 locations. It continues to grow, with a focus on expanding in the Toronto and Ottawa areas.
“We believe our customers relate to us because of what we put into our products,” says Todd Wylie, Vice President of Development.
With more than 30 recipe pizzas, there’s something for everyone, and Panago is constantly improving the quality of its offerings. “That’s where our passion and focus and attention is. Yes, it’s about ordering a pizza on a hockey night, but you want to make sure you feel good about feeding it to yourself and to others.”
All ham, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and salami is made from pork raised without the use of antibiotics; the Italian tomato sauce is made from 100 per cent organic tomatoes and spices; and dough is made fresh in store daily. Wylie says that though there’s a cost to improving quality, Panago makes it a core aspect when developing its product.
The straightforward, convenient ordering options like online and mobile ordering make it easy for customers to choose Panago as they go about their day. In fact, when the company transitioned to a central call centre in the mid-2000s, the move created a notable shift for Panago. “It bred a culture of customer service. When you have your own staff and call centres, you learn the culture of customer service, and that’s where it began for us,” explains Wylie.
To help remain accessible to the customer, Wylie says a focus on franchise engagement leads to customer and employee engagement, aspects that will help build a strong QSR company. “We believe strongly in employee engagement and team engagement; I think it’s going to win the day.”
When Panago meets prospective investors, the approval process is for both parties. In addition to meeting the financial needs, successful franchisees are those that want to grow with the company. Thirty per cent of store owners are multi-unit operators, and in the emerging market, this continues to grow.
Wylie’s advice for franchisee success is to choose a concept that fits the long-term goal. “It’s a big decision, a lot of money, and a tremendous amount of time, so you have to make sure that you can grow with the company. You have to be a hundred per cent dedicated to store operations. Customer service levels have to be high to be competitive in this industry. Focus on your team, engage with employees, and deliver exceptional customer service. If you can do that and you have a good quality brand behind you, the sky is the limit.”
By Gina Makkar