Is a Flexible Footprint the Right Move for Your Restaurant?
It’s no secret that about 70% of transactions at a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) come from its drive-thru. The continued popularity of the drive-thru, combined with the rise of third-party delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, raises a question about the future of standalone QSR: “Do restaurants really need all that space?” One answer to this question is a rising trend with QSRs — flexible footprint locations.
Several factors push QSR operators towards the flexible footprint model. Understanding how they work and what benefits they offer is the first step towards deciding if one might work for you.
Here’s what you need to know about flexible footprints for QSRs.
What is a Flexible Footprint?
If you’re opening a quick service restaurant franchise location, most franchisers will require certain square footage for each location and specific offerings on the menu. In choosing your potential location you may be limited by requirements such as:
- The number of seats in the dining room
- The size of the kitchen
- A mandatory number of restrooms required
- The need for additional space for a play area
The concept of a flexible footprint abandons the one-size-fits-all model. As flexible footprint locations show, it’s no longer essential that every location fits the exact same mold. Additionally, conformity does not guarantee a location will be successful.
A flexible footprint allows franchisees to decide how big or small their location is. It also gives them an option to work from a reduced menu. This approach opens up opportunities for more people and loosens specific, stringent guidelines. It also gives options to those who can only raise a limited amount of capital for start up costs.
If you’re looking for examples of this in action, Nature’s Table was an early adopter of the flexible footprint. After noticing their food court locations were attracting a big crowd of office workers, they decided to open a location in an office building. From there, they’ve gone on to add other locations in places like airports, museums, and gyms.
When choosing a location for your quick service restaurant, there are several things that come into play along with questions you need to consider:
Who is your target customer? Are they abundant in the area you’re considering for your QSR? Opening a QSR that’s popular with children and parents may not work as well in a neighborhood where residents traditionally skew older.
Estimated foot traffic
If you choose a location in an area that’s heavy on foot traffic, is that a constant or does it spike up and down? If you choose to open a QSR is a business district, how heavy is foot traffic outside of traditional working hours?
Is the location easily accessible by foot and other modes of transit? A QSR that’s in a transit hub may be easy for bus or train riders to get to, but what is the likelihood someone not using transit would visit the location?
A flexible footprint layout opens up many more options for QSR locations. For example, fast-food giant Wendy’s has moved towards a flexible footprint model. In this model, franchisees can choose from 55, 40 or 30 seat restaurants or options in between.
The backbone of Wendy’s flexible footprint model is based on market research. The research looks at metrics like the drive-thru versus dining room pickups, and breaks down the number of transactions in 30-minute increments. Using this data, they’ve been able to make a strong case for franchisees to remodel existing spaces instead of building new ones.
Wendy’s understands that great sales aren’t dependent on space in the dining room. The stronger sales driver is delivering the most convenient customer experience possible.
Benefits of a Flexible Footprint
A flexible footprint for your QSR may seem like the ideal solution. Consider the following benefits of this approach:
You’ll have reduced startup and operational costs.
A flexible footprint location can be an excellent option for a smaller initial investment and lower operational costs.
In the short term, there’s less money being spent on construction costs, labor, and fixtures. Over the long term spending on rent, utilities and staffing are also lower.
There’s a greater opportunity for market growth.
Instead of only three or four large scale locations in one city, with flexible footprints you can potentially operate a greater number of locations.
Also, by choosing to go with smaller models, you may be able to get into locations that were previously unsuitable.
It requires a smaller footprint.
In urban areas, space is limited and the cost of real estate is high, particularly in prime locations. A flexible footprint provides the opportunity to open a location that may otherwise be unfeasible financially.
Kitchen footprints are also getting smaller as technology evolves. With a limited menu, you can use less equipment, or equipment that’s multifunctional. Tackle this by changing out grills for a griddle. Or, use smokers instead of roasters. Save space and boost efficiency with vertical instead of horizontal toasters and combination ovens.
For example, Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger have both made the switch to griddles. These can be used to cook a wider variety of foods. They also cook more evenly, and the overall cook time is shorter.
You can work within an existing infrastructure.
Choosing a flexible footprint can be more cost-effective when opening a location in a spot with an existing structure, such as a mall kiosk, storefront or even in an airport.
It can also allow you to use an unconventional or unusual space for a more memorable guest experience. Whether it’s an old factory loft or a converted historic space, people love experiencing a space that has personality. Choose an unexpected space to add a destination factor and help attract additional customers.
More opportunity to provide a tailored customer experience.
Understand where your target customers spend their time. Then, create an environment that meets their needs and provides a great customer experience. A flexible footprint can make this more feasible.
For example, somewhere like a gym may not have the space for a full service restaurant, but a smaller-scale version could be possible. A QSR that offers smoothies or health bowls would be a natural fit. These optional also take advantage of the grab-and-go behavior of consumers entering or exiting a gym.
Is This Style Right for Your Quick Service Restaurant?
When deciding whether to open a full-sized quick service restaurant or one with a flexible footprint, there are three key factors to consider — finances, location, and efficiency.
Is your budget limited?
According to one survey, start-up costs begin at $175,000 for a 65-seat restaurant.
New restaurants often overspend in areas like equipment, technology, and decorating. By going with a smaller, flexible footprint where space is limited, it may be easier to keep the budget in check as there is a finite amount of room. A smaller location can also become profitable more quickly thanks to lower initial start up costs.
Are you looking for a space in a hot location where competition is high?
Trying to find the perfect location in a coveted area won’t only be a budget issue, but may also result in space constraints. When inventory is limited, being open to a flexible footprint provides more potential options. Plus, being willing to do a remodel versus a new build can also open up possibilities if you’re looking in a highly urban area.
Do you need to streamline operations?
Physical layouts are changing due to consumers’ evolving needs — ordering ahead for pickup or express lines are becoming more in demand. Due to this, flexible footprint QSRs are more focused on speed and efficiency versus offering a large dining area.
Ordering kiosks and mobile POS are becoming more popular and can help increase the speed of service while also reducing staffing costs and increasing revenue. These innovations enable QSRs to have a smaller footprint as they don’t require as much traditional counter space for customers to order.
With technology integrated into your operations, you’re able to free up staff to operate more efficiently in the areas that cannot be replaced by tech such as food preparation and guest experience.
Making the Right Decision for Your Quick Service Restaurant
Flexible footprints offer QSRs the opportunity to expand in new and unexpected ways. By understanding the benefits, from increased operational efficiency to lower operating costs, QSRs looking for new locations can make an informed decision if a flexible footprint is the best option for their business.
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