Franchising and growth: Expanding into non-traditional spaces

Nov. 2, 2015

By Steve Starr, president, Starr Design PLLC

In the restaurant world, it’s vital to remain active and growing. Without an ongoing corporate culture focused on expansion, you’ll quickly get outpaced. But as restaurants expand, executives are forced to address the problem of limited A-list real estate options. This means operators will continue to enter non-restaurant ready or non-traditional spaces as a way to increase brand awareness.

When entering into non-traditional restaurant formats like food courts, universities & airports, re-developing a concept to fit these new operational structures is no easy task, although it can be done and with great success. Here is what operators should keep in mind in order to master and succeed in non-traditional formats.

1. Make the necessary operational and service model changes. In a traditional format, you typically have a complete and discreet operation dedicated just to your concept. Everything you need is in your space. While you may have a separate servery and cookline in a non-traditional format, other operational processes can be allocated to shared space. These can range from coolers and storage, to prep facilities and ware-washing. Other operational changes may also be required based on the new format. For example, stores that traditionally have food runners or wait staff may eliminate that position altogether, as customers often pick up their food from the window or counter.

Restaurant operators should come up with a separate established playbook for these non-traditional locations. It’stypical for each newlocation to require its own operations manual sothe owners can maintain operational control and consistency from one location to another.Keep in mind these non-traditional formats may also create unique franchise relationships because they are often run through contract service providers rather than individual franchisees. This can lead to added complexities and opportunities, so give these agreements and locationsmore thought and planning on the front end.  

2. Maximize your opportunities for clear brand expression. This is big from a design standpoint because your brand communications will be based on the size and format of the available non-traditional space and may well be subject to the overall facility’s design requirements. While this is a more subtle change than the operational ones, it is an important one. What you choose to communicate will affect your overall brand equity and awareness so make sure toselect the most important messaging points tied to your brand. In a non-traditional space, your guests are only exposed to a snippet of your intended customer experience. Not only are there fewer direct interactions with diners, there is significantly less square footage in the space. So make sure what you say, and where, has significant impact. Brand expressions should be evident in the materials and forms you choose you’re your counters and transactions spaces as well as  on point-of-purchase signage, menus and menu boards. Where and how you position your marketing collateral should be clearly laid out in the beginning, so every moment in the space is intentionally designed.

Do not be intimidated by the design conflict between the brand hierarchy of the individual food vendors and the establishment as a whole. While there often is a battle between the overall brand and each individual food vendor within the space – we believe that in order for the overall venue to be truly successful, there needs to be a reconciliation between these two. The food venues should be given significant brand presence, while still maintaining a clear brand expression for the entity as a whole. We believe that one can’t be subordinate to the other, and it is important for the establishment to understand the importance of celebrating the individual brands. This makes for a much more unique environment – and leads to higher sales as a whole. A cluster of unique venues is much more successful than a homogenous grouping of subordinate venues. However, landlords will often avoid this approach because it’s much easier for them to follow a set of standards and prescribed guidelines. This is something to pay close attention to when choosing which non-traditional format to enter.

3. Alter your production models. In non-traditional formats, you will typically need to produce more food at a quicker rate. However, it is truly important to maintain your high standards, even with this increased through-put. Customers no longer tolerate sub-par food simply because it’s from an airport or mall. Today, guests demand high levels of quality, no matter the format. Therefore, restaurants need to adhere to the same level of expectation, or they run the risk of quickly losing brand equity due to the high exposure garnered in non-traditional venues. Peak times and volumes also can be dramatically different than at traditional restaurants. Because of this, brands need to increase their efficiency and productivity in order to produce and deliver more meals. This can be done through effectively researching and testing alternative cooking or production methods that can handle higher volumes. These adaptations in the production models tie back to the previously mentioned changes in the first key factor, as different volumes and process can cause new cooking methods to be introduced – thereby influencing operational models. All these changes together can create a drastically different restaurant system.

There are numerous factors to consider when transitioning your brand to fit into a non-traditional restaurant format.Post-recession, developers have been struggling to keep up with the demand from restaurateurs and non-traditional locations have been excellent avenues for restaurant growth. Keeping these three key influences in mind can lead to an increasingly more productive and successful establishment.

Topics: Restaurant Design / Layout

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