The burger bar may be a franchising cornerstone but with a good angle and a quality product, it’s still an attractive proposition, says Andy Moore
In 2018 — with a wealth of food options available to both consumers and prospective franchisees — opening a restaurant that focuses on burgers can run the risk of seeming square (and for a certain red-headed fast food mascot, quite literally so).
Still, people truly love burgers, and the industry is experiencing a burger renaissance, with dozens of brands competing in the fast food, fast casual, and casual dining markets. For those considering a purchase of a burger franchise, consumer demand remains high, and burger-focused restaurants hold several desirable attributes for the globally-focused franchisee. Here are just four.
1. There is proof of concept
Flintstones fans may argue, but most will agree that the first fast food chains originated in the United States in the early 1920s. Both were burger chains — Wichita, Kansas’ White Castle (1921) and Sacramento, California’s A&W Restaurants (1923). In the ensuing decades, McDonald’s and Burger King took the industry to new heights, and even nearly-forgotten chains (anyone remember Burger Chef?) successfully scaled burger concepts to over 1,000 locations.
Burger chains continue to expand and open new locations every day around the world, and the industry has diversified to appeal to just about any conceivable taste. (A personal favorite: the US-based Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, which combines burgers and sushi together in the unholy, yet quite good, “burgushi.”) There is proof that different burger concepts can scale, quickly, and run efficient organizations with many units across the globe.
In short, buying a burger franchise means that you’re not reinventing the wheel. When buying into many chains, you’re buying a brand that has built up decades of goodwill along with decades of institutional knowledge. You’re buying a known, steady concept with nearly a century of success behind it. My grandparents ate burgers, and my grandchildren will probably eat burgers (in some capacity). The taste is just ingrained in us at this point.
2. There’s widespread appeal
A recent New York Times trend piece gave details on a new food item selling out in grocery stores in San Francisco: raw water. Untreated, unfiltered water, retaining the bacteria and parasites from the spring where it was originally found, raw water is what we in the business call a “tough sell.” It’s unlikely to ever find a wide market — nor, really, should it, according to just about any health official.
On the contrary, burger chains have demonstrated, widespread appeal. They are democratic, attracting fans from every socioeconomic market. (Who hasn’t seen an Oscar winner celebrate with an In-N-Out tray post-ceremony?) They are popular in established markets like the United States and Western Europe, and they also can be enormously successful when they open in brand-new markets, like McDonald’s found when it opened to mile-long queues in the former Soviet Union in 1990.
This appeal seems to show no signs of curbing. In mature markets like the U.S., new burger franchises are being created and finding success with slightly differentiated products and customer experiences. And in emerging and developing markets, burger franchises can still hit it big — Southeast Asia has recently seen burger franchises explode in popularity.
3. Cooking the menu is straightforward
No one will ever accuse the restaurant industry of being a truly “easy” one, with its long hours and relatively slim margins, however burger franchises are unique in that they can actually benefit from having a scaled-down menu.
Concepts that focus on just a few items and do them at a high level (like burgers, fries, and shakes) benefit from widespread consumer approval and pose relatively few operational challenges. Cooks can be trained in a short amount of time, and, with a robust inventory system that is executed on a daily basis, food costs can be held at a manageable level.
Good burger franchisors also offer real flexibility in store buildout. Many brands are able to tailor their concept to succeed in a wide variety of places, from airports and train stations to sports arenas and malls. If there is space for a flat-top grill, a counter, fryers, and a refrigerator, a food truck can be just as effective an outlet to deliver your product as a multi-level, hundred-table restaurant.
4. It’s customizable to local markets
In Japan, Burger King had the “black hamburger,” with smoked bamboo charcoal buns and sauce made of squid ink. In India, McDonald’s introduced the McPaneer Royale and the Chicken Maharaja Mac, with chicken and paneer, respectively, serving as beef substitutes. In the Middle East, and elsewhere around the world, dozens of chains modify their menus to comply with halal standards.
Despite reputations for rigid standards and processes, many franchisors are willing to enter new markets with a spirit of flexibility and experimentation, customizing their products and service offerings to align with local tastes and religious and social customs. The good brands clearly communicate what they hope to retain of their brand promise when entering a new market, then actively work with local partners to find products that will resonant while not compromising on what made the brand unique and desirable in the first place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hwy 55 is a 135-unit, retro-themed diner that features fresh, never-frozen burgers, house-made frozen custard, and other classic favorites in a unique open-kitchen setting. Founded in Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1991, Hwy 55 reflects founder Kenney Moore’s commitment to authentic hospitality, incredible service and the world’s best burgers.https://www.hwy55.com/