One of the biggest advantages of joining a franchise instead of opening an independent restaurant is the support a franchisor offers. Most people expect large, national brands to offer top-tier franchisee support, but small, emerging franchisors can give franchisees excellent support along with a level of personalized and dedicated support that larger brands can’t offer.

Look for experience.

Smaller brands can still offer a lot of experience—whether it is a restaurant that has been open for decades before it started franchising or a new brand with an experienced team. Look for a restaurant franchise that is creating an exceptional franchise system instead of one just trying to sell a bunch of units for franchise fees. These franchises should have all the systems that bigger brands have because they are planning for growth and longevity. If they don’t have a specific support mechanism, ask about it. Brands committed to building a longterm franchise system will have a desire to do right by the franchisee and should be motivated to continually add to their infrastructure as necessary.

Take advantage of being one of a few instead of one of 100+.

There’s no doubt that large, national brands have established infrastructure and huge teams for franchisee support, but don’t forget that small brands can often provide the same amount of support with less people because there are far fewer franchisees. Instead of being one of 100 or more, you may be one of only a few new franchisees. That means the franchisor will be wholly focused on helping you succeed.

It’s also smart to look for a small brand that is scaling growth in a sustainable way. Ask about a brand’s growth plans and ask yourself if those plans seem realistic or sensible. A brand with plans to jump from five units to 50 or 100 in a short period of time may not have the right infrastructure to support all those new franchisees and they may not be growing for the right reason. For example, Rascal House is ramping up growth in a deliberate and structured fashion. While we have plans to grow into a national brand, we will open our sixth location this year and plan to add three to five total in 2021. This is planned so that we can fully support each new franchisee while also growing our infrastructure.

Consider how the brand plans to grow.

Whether you’re looking into investing in a small franchise or a large, established system, there are some questions to ask. You can tell a lot about their commitment to your success during the selection process. Does the franchise accept any franchisee? Will they allow franchisees to open in any market?

Most successful franchisors will want to ensure you will follow their system since it has proven successful. Many will also require or prefer at least one member of the team to have restaurant experience. Geography is important. Good emerging franchises will limit new restaurants to a day’s drive from the corporate office, which makes providing the right amount of support much easier, especially for smaller brands.

Ask about marketing.

Marketing is crucial for new restaurants, and franchisors should be prepared to support your new location. Make sure any brand you consider knows how to establish a brand presence, especially in a new market. You want a franchisor that has the technology and strategy that larger brands offer. Experience in social media marketing and an existing online ordering platform can make a big difference in your success. Check the brand’s Facebook page and website to see if they know how to market themselves.  

Online ordering is more important than ever before in today’s restaurant environment. Joining a smaller brand doesn’t mean the franchisor shouldn’t be able to offer a robust online ordering platform. Look into the details of each brand’s online ordering platform. If a franchise is committed to robust technologies, websites and tech platforms should not only provide a better level of service to customers but also drive marketing and remarketing through the various platforms.

Make sure training is solid.

Training is one of the most important parts of running a restaurant, and a franchisor of any size should be able to provide that to franchisees, especially for any differentiators the brand offers. For example, Rascal House has a robust catering program, so it is a critical component of our franchisee training program. First, franchisees observe how we handle catering at a corporate restaurant. Then, members of the corporate team spend a couple weeks with the new restaurant’s team in their restaurant focusing support on catering opportunities. This simultaneously gives a new franchisee a chance to handle their first large sized orders with the corporate support team still there.

Put simply, look for a smaller restaurant franchise that has a sound growth plan and understands that the success of its early stores is critical for its overall success in the long run. They should provide ongoing support and the necessary tools for franchisees to succeed—whether it is their first, second or 500th franchisee.


Niko Frangos is president of Rascal House, a Cleveland-based elevated quick-serve restaurant franchise serving pizza, burgers, wings and more.

Franchising, Growth, Outside Insights, Story