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Franchise Executives Share What Makes a Successful Multi-Unit Restaurant Operator

Esteemed experts in the industry give insight on how to scale the right way.

By Katie Porter1851 Franchise Contributor
Updated 10:10AM 12/19/22

Running a restaurant is a feat in itself; running multiple units is a whole different ball game. For multi-unit owners to win at franchising, it takes incredible business acumen, oversight and operational skill. Seasoned restaurateurs have to implement high-level strategizing to ensure that they are encouraging success system-wide. 

But the onus does not fall solely on the franchisee. If the brand does not have a solid foundation to support and lead owners through growth and continued expansion, the path to success will be short-lived.

1851 Franchise spoke with top executives within the restaurant world to ask them, “What makes a great multi-unit restaurant franchisee?” These are the insights they shared.

Michael Haith, CEO, Teriyaki Madness 

“It comes down to building a team with trust, respect and communication,” Haith said. “One must have the ability to attract people who believe in the growth of the organization and the opportunity. More than anything, trust is the primary factor in building a group of people that are confident that the multi-unit franchisee is going to do what they say they are going to do. Trust goes all ways. If the owner exhibits trust in the staff, the staff is more likely to exhibit trust in the owner. If the owner trusts the franchisor and the franchisor trusts the franchisee, a partnership facilitating the accomplishment of the goals of all parties is much more likely.”

 John Palumbo, Senior Director of Franchise Development, A&W Restaurants 

“There's obviously the financial ability to fund multiple restaurants. But just as important, really, is the passion for the brand, which will drive multi-unit franchisees to do more than one restaurant,” explained Palumbo. “When we find folks that have the financial wherewithal coupled with the passion and the desire to be part of a system and be in business for themselves but not by themselves — that's a perfect combination for A&W. Our most successful franchise owners are the ones that have operational experience — that have led people and excel in a team environment. They want to learn; they have the ability to adapt to a franchise system and follow systems that we have had in place for over 100 years now. We now have over 30 franchisees that own more than two A&W restaurants; about a third of our system is multi-unit operators. We think it's a good, healthy mix. The onus has to be shared with the franchisor in making sure that the franchisee is ready to grow. That means that operationally, they've built out a deep organization chart, that their first restaurant is profitable and successful, and that they have enough of a support team to take their eye off that restaurant and focus on restaurant number two. It's important that the franchisor and franchisee communicate regularly that they're ready.”

Mark Mele, Chief Development Officer, Paris Baguette*

“The best multi-unit operators are individuals that realize they need a strong operating system in place. They tend to set up processes in place that complement the operating system of the brand. They will spend time understanding and learning the brand before they ever decide to open up numbers two, three, four, five, etc. These processes enable them to do things efficiently and effectively and drive their business forward,” Mele said. “They follow the system and don't deviate from the game plan. They market properly and are heavy on guest service and sanitation. Their businesses are clean, well-run, well staffed, and they compensate their employees well. They also realize that, for each unit they add, there is a different playbook, and when they get to a point where they have 30, 40 or 50 units, they're using other tools as well to build an infrastructure to keep up with that level of operations.”

Christopher Cheek, Chief Development Officer, Modern Restaurants 

“What makes a great multi-unit restaurant franchisee depends on your brand's stage of growth and your brand's meaningful differentiation. If you are a growth brand, your multi-unit franchise partner has to be experienced and passionate at introducing a new brand to their market,” Cheek said. “Growth brands don't have the benefit of strong awareness generated by lots of existing units or national tv ads. For that reason, franchisees who excel in this type of brand must be able to drive mindshare through local store marketing. In regards to a brand's meaningful differentiation, Modern Market Eatery is an extremely culinary-forward fast-casual brand. Our items are made from scratch all the time. We don't cut corners as it relates to the preparation of our menu items. For that reason, franchise operators that excel in our system have to appreciate and believe in the care and skill that go into delivering on that promise. There is one common trait that exists in great multi-unit restaurant franchisees regardless of brand size and/or stage. They have to realize that they are in the people business as much as they are in the restaurant business. In developing and operating multiple units, they must give their best team members the opportunity to grow in their organization.” 

Aaron Engler - President, Border Foods Companies

“A multi-unit restaurant franchisee needs to have a trusting, quality relationship with the brand. They need to be an operator with deep knowledge of the quick service restaurant and multi-unit retail industries,” Engler said. “Our most successful operators have an over-investment in assets, including all customer and many/most kitchen touchpoints, as well as good business acumen that goes beyond the playbook provided by the brand. On the corporate level, franchises need to have a unique culture that owners can adopt and embrace and an accessible and transparent leadership team.”

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.