John Morell

Get a Grip on Big Data

Franchisees, C-suite executives, and marketing experts in the limited-service industry have likely all come across the term big data in some form or another over the last couple of years.

But unless their background or interests lie in analytics or statistics, they probably shrugged it off as part of a conversation between numbers nerds.

Now, however, things are about to change.

Striking Gold

Steven Chan’s business was at a crossroads last year. His Atlanta-based fast casual Tin Drum AsiaCafé launched in 2000, sold its first franchise in 2001, and was growing slowly due to Chan’s determination to keep it debt-free. At the beginning of 2012, Tin Drum had 10 franchises in Georgia and Alabama that highlighted its pan-Asian menu.

On the Market

Stock market watchers have been observing a curious trend in 2012: the reintroduction of the restaurant IPO.

“With the sagging economy over the past few years, we saw a lot of restaurant and other hospitality companies put their plans to go public on hold,” says Roger Pondel of PondelWilkinson Inc., a Los Angeles–based investor relations firm. “Since the beginning of the year, everyone’s been thinking the same thing: They want to get their plans going and their IPOs out there as the market starts to move back up.”

The Art of the LTO

Offer a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder to casual McDonald’s customers, and they might shrug. But offer a Shamrock Shake or a McRib, and there’s a good chance they’ll salivate. These menu options have become hugely successful at the fast-food giant, despite being offered for only a few weeks out of every year.

So why doesn’t McDonald’s add them to the permanent menu? Largely because quick serves have discovered that a good limited-time offer can boost brand excitement and even single-handedly drive sales.

Honey, I Shrunk the Store

One concept hopes an inexpensive, portable kiosk will jumpstart expansion.

As the U.S. economy shows signs of new growth in 2012, many quick serves are cautiously looking at expansion plans to see if they can jumpstart the growth that stalled with the recession.

Some franchise concepts are banking on the fact that cheaper, smaller footprints might be more attractive to potential franchisees in this rocky lending environment. One in particular, Philly Pretzel Factory, is hoping a new kiosk offering will draw new franchise partners and excite its existing franchisee base.

Are Smaller Portions Answer to Health Debate?

The quick-serve industry has taken its share of blows from media and government alike as they suggest fast food is contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic. And while the industry has risen to the challenge of offering lower-calorie, lower-sodium, and all-around healthier menu offerings, some still suggest that more could be done in the realm of portion sizing.

Even though shrinking the portion size of popular menu items may seem an easy response to the demands for healthier food, experts say the solution is not so simple.

How to Name a Winning Menu Item

Enter a Souplantation in New Mexico and you might be enticed to try a bowl of Posole Soup, a Southwestern concoction made with pork, chilies, and tomatoes. “It’s one of my absolute favorites, I always get it,” says Souplantation CEO Michael Mack.

However, despite being one of the CEO’s preferred dishes, you won’t find Posole Soup at any of the company’s 120 other locations around the U.S. because the word posole doesn’t market well outside of the Southwest.

SBA Loans to the Rescue?

Most businesses can’t get off the ground without a little financial help, a fact that is especially true in the quick-serve industry. Opening a quick serve, be it through buying a franchise or starting a new concept, requires cold hard cash, meaning any entrepreneur who intends to be a player in the industry has to become friendly with a bank or a broker.