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The quick service restaurant sector remains a firm favourite for cash-strapped, time-hungry consumers looking for convenience and value.

Monique Verduyn




Inexpensive and reliable fare that is freshly prepared, portable and ready on demand – that’s what makes quick service restaurants like Wimpy, Panarotti’s and Milky Lane successful. People have been looking to escape the kitchen in favour of these establishments for quite some time.

The first hamburger chain was White Castle, founded in the US in 1921 by Walter Anderson and Billy Ingram. Featuring a grill and a fryer that was open for customers to see, the restaurants were designed to build confidence in the notion that low cost could coincide with high product quality. Consumers have never looked back.

In South Africa, where the concept of quick service franchises was introduced in the 60s and 70s, the quick service restaurant industry appears well positioned for gradual growth in the first half of 2012, despite the sluggish economy.

“Operators have managed to improve results in the last few months on the back of steady if modest traffic improvement and the consequent rise in sales,” says Gregory Binstead, general manager of Maxi’s. “Consumers are becoming more confident and starting to increase their discretionary spending. At the same time, operators are also focusing on containing costs and offering customers value for money. There’s no doubt that popular brands have the potential to drive growth.”

Binstead stresses that consumers definitely cut back in the past few years. But now that they are starting to spend again, they are fighting for quality of product, value for money and great service. Despite the challenges in the industry, there are many successes, with some operators and franchisees seeing up to 30% growth year-on-year. He notes that in the restaurant sector, the franchise model reduces the volatility in earnings and increases cash flow generation.

The Ideal Franchisee

“You don’t have to have a specific personality type to work successfully in the quick service restaurant sector, as customer service and relationships with employees are of paramount importance in any business,” says Vera Valasis, executive director of the Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA). “However, you should be able to deal with customers and staff effectively.  If you prefer to sit in a back room working on your computer, then a business in this sector is not for you.”

Like most quick service franchise systems, Maxi’s has specific requirements when it comes to identifying ideal franchisees. Binstead suggests asking yourself 12 key questions:

  • Are you a hands-on operator?
  • Are you willing to work long hours?
  • Are you prepared to protect your brand?
  • Are you service and people orientated?
  • Are you willing to go the extra mile for your customer and your brand?
  • Are you prepared to learn?
  • Are you prepared to add value?
  • Are you proactive or reactive by nature?
  • Are you non-discriminatory?
  • Do you understand the importance of national operational standards?
  • Do you understand that increased involvement at store level is equal to increased profits?
  • Do you have the prerequisite finances?

“In sit-down quick service restaurants, the owner is a key driver of success,” he says. “The personality of the franchisee helps to drive the brand. Customers like to eat at places where people know their name. At an over-the-counter venue, you may get away with employing a manager, but the same does not apply to sit-down venues where the owner should always be on-site.”

Avoiding Costly Mistakes

Binstead notes that some people buy into a franchise without realising the level of personal involvement and commitment that is required of them. An owner-operator sets the pace of the business and determines the energy level of the staff, which is why their presence is critical. To prove his point, he refers to manager-run restaurants as ‘damager-run’.

When it comes to reasons for store failure Binstead – who has many years’ experience in the franchise industry, says it results from mistakes that are common across the industry. “If you don’t believe that the success of the brand is your success, then this business is not for you. Franchisees sometimes make the mistake of buying non-licensed products because they are often cheaper. But cheaper is usually also inferior, which results in damage to the brand and ultimately the failure of their store.”

Mismanagement of funds is another issue. Cash flow, the total amount of money moving in and out of the business, is critical and affects the liquidity of a store. “Inexperienced franchisees who come from the corporate world, for example, can make the mistake of assuming that it’s okay for them to continue to earn a guaranteed income even though they are now operating in an entrepreneurial environment where money flowing out of the business must be kept to a minimum, especially in the early stages.”

He advises franchisees in the quick service restaurant sector to focus on cutting back where they can. “Because labour costs are so high, it can be very dangerous to throw lots of staff at problems. Hands-on franchisees know the importance of having the right number of people on site at the right time. During periods of the day when sales decline, such as mid-morning and mid-afternoon, staff should be clocking out and not sitting around idle. Many franchisees are going the mixed route where they have 30% permanent staff and 70% casual. This helps them to manage their fixed labour costs.”

This type of cost-containment is vital in a country where electricity costs have gone up four times in one year and rental increases have been as high as 15%.

Finding Funding

Banks are more tight-fisted than ever and are doing their homework a lot more thoroughly when it comes to lending money to entrepreneurs. Many big brand franchisors have good relationships with one or more of the banks and may be able to assist franchisees when it comes to negotiating the best deal. But access to finance is by no means easy. “It takes twice as long as it used to take to get a loan approved and the process can take months,” says Binstead.

Valasis concurs. “Funding remains an obstacle to growth in the industry. Traditional funders are risk averse and require unencumbered collateral of at least 50% of the total investment which makes access to funding available to a small number of high-end individuals.  Many quick service restaurants are expensive to set up so expansion at this level could be curtailed to existing franchisees wishing to expand within the same brand.  There are some funding agencies that grant funds and in some instances give grant money to franchisees but the application process is cumbersome and time-consuming.”

Depending on the size of the outlet, a Maxi’s store costs between R1,8 million and R3 million, excluding VAT, working capital and landlord contributions. 50% of the total cost is required in cash. All new franchisees pay a joining fee of R100 000 excluding VAT for the rights to the use of the Maxi’s brand.

Costs include building, signage, in store signage and branding, point of sale equipment and computers, kitchen equipment, project design and management, shop fitting, kitchen smalls and opening stock, training, uniforms, and marketing, which includes an opening campaign and materials.

Working capital amounts to approximately R300 000 for a restaurant. This cost includes items such as stock, training, wages for staff while in training, provisions for rental and electricity deposits, and additional expenses such as legal fees and stationery.

A management fee of 6% of monthly net turnover is charged, as is a marketing royalty of 4% of monthly net turnover. These costs are in line with the industry average.

To manage the costs of running a restaurant, Binstead advises that ongoing audited income statements, and quarterly reviews and feedback are essential.

Beware the Risks

Any business is risky as there are no guarantees. But there are several risks specific to the quick service restaurant industry. Valasis lists them as follows:

  • Incorrect site selection: What research has been done to verify the site viability?
  • High set-up costs: Will you get a return on your investment?
  • Overstated turnover and profit figures: Were the projections given based on a national average or actual turnovers of similar locations?
  • Weak marketing: What is the marketing feedback from existing franchisees?
  • Incorrect retail pricing policies: Is the product too expensive for the market in the particular location?
  • Competitor activity: How many direct and indirect competitors are there in the vicinity and what is their unique positioning if any?

The Road Ahead

High labour costs, increasing fuel prices, spiralling electricity costs, credit unavailability, and weak income growth may weigh on industry profitability well into the future. According to a US report by Zacks Equity Research into the restaurant industry, restaurants globally have been trying to win back cash-conscious customers by revamping promotions, offering discounts and focusing on value-for-meal menus. The report notes that consumers continue to look for value, distinct dining experiences, as well as convenient and enhanced menu deals against a gradually improving economic backdrop.

Industry trends

“Some new trends have developed,” says Gregory Binstead. “For example, families are downsizing the meals they order for their kids and will often order one meal for the children to share. But the fact remains that people like to treat themselves and eating out is still one of the most popular activities. A great plus for the industry is the major growth in the number of black customers.”

It’s also becoming important to have a diverse menu. People are shopping for lighter meals and healthier options such as wraps and salads. Some restaurants in the quick service sector now cater for diabetics and vegans. But there’s no doubt that consumers still love quick service classics like burgers and fries. There’s also a growing demand for meat on the bone, chicken and steak in particular. Quick service restaurants like Maxi’s do especially well in the breakfast trade, which is very popular and remains a key driver of growth. Binstead adds that special promotions like pensioners’ days also help to drive traffic and are popular with cost-conscious consumers.

Industry regulations

There are a number of regulations that owners have to comply with like labour law, the Liquor Act, the Competition Act, and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The definition of a franchise agreement in terms of the CPA is fairly broad and includes a full business concept franchise arrangement, as well as similar arrangements such as license, distribution and agency arrangements or contracts.

A franchise agreement must allow the franchisee to cancel a franchise agreement without cost or penalty within 10 working days after signing an agreement. The agreement must also describe the obligations of both the franchisor and the franchisee. Many of the requirements of the CPA with regard to franchising have always formed part of the standard franchise agreement.

Although international best practice has for many years dictated that disclosure should be given to franchisees, this has previously not been law in South Africa. FASA membership has for many years required that franchisors should furnish franchisees with a competent agreement, a compliant disclosure document, and an operations manual. The CPA regulations also set out requirements in relation to disclosure documents which are required to be furnished to franchisees, licenses, distributors or agents, at least 14 days prior to the signing of an agreement.

Ask the Right Questions

Binstead notes that the CPA provides excellent protection for franchisees, but the onus is still on them to do their homework. “If you are interested in buying a quick service franchise, talk to the existing franchisees and look closely at the disclosure document. Find out how long the company has been around, and choose established brands, particularly if you are new to franchising.” Fly by nights usually don’t have a fixed address, or an office address and a landline. They make promises of a quick buck without much effort.  Their references may not all check out or they may supply false information.


Drivers of the quick service restaurant industry

The Zacks Equity Research report names four potential drivers of net income growth for the restaurant industry: unit expansion, same-store sales, cost-containment efforts and marketing tools.

  • Unit Expansion: Emerging from a lacklustre economy two years back, most of the companies have accelerated their pace of restaurant openings. A relative recovery in consumer confidence has also encouraged companies to return to unit expansion. In fact, the companies are also exploring international markets.
  • Same-Store Sales: The second driver consists of menu price increases and traffic counts. Many quick service restaurant operators have reported positive same-store sales and customer traffic growth in 2011. Growth in menu price has also accelerated.
  • Cost-Containment Efforts: Some cost cuts have been achieved through integrated information systems, including point-of-sale, automated kitchen display, labour-scheduling and theoretical food cost systems.
  • Marketing Tools: Social media as a marketing tool has taken the industry by storm. Many overseas operators rely on social media for promotion. They are likely to incorporate Facebook, online review sites, Twitter and blogs aggressively into their marketing mix going forward. Television advertising is also an important tool for promotion.

Hiring employees

In general, franchisors guide and advise franchisees when it comes to suitable candidates, but the franchisee is ultimately responsible for hiring and firing staff. Probationary periods are therefore important and protect both the franchisee and the employee. Binstead recommends using recruitment and selection tools, particularly if you are not used to interviewing and employing staff. “The right recruitment process can provide security for the employer,” he says. “A new recruit may tell you that he has transport or lives close to the workplace when that is not true. Once you employ them, the problems start and they arrive late for work or not at all. A proper screening process can prevent this from happening.”

He also recommends a realistic job preview which enables prospective employees to spend time on-site and to determine whether they are right for the business and the business is right for them. This can save a lot of time and frustration for all involved.

Apart from following the requirements as stipulated in the Labour Act, you should also ensure that the people you employ in your business deal with customers in such a way that you, as a consumer, would be happy to be served by them.  “Employees consistently need to treat customers like the little gold nuggets that they are, and not just be friendly on the day they feel good about themselves,” says Valasis. “More importantly, what do you do when an employee underperforms? Every day that they remain employed in your business more damage is being done to your investment unless you take swift and effective
action to correct their ineffectiveness.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.


Sector Focus

How To Start A Funeral Business

Running a funeral business can be lucrative, but you must determine whether it’s the right venture for you.




In South Africa, burial remains the most popular end-of-life choice.

“Just how many burials take place is difficult to measure because there is a formal and an informal funeral industry in South Africa,” says Rey von Ronge, secretary of the National Funeral Directors’ Association, an industry watchdog organisation specialising in resolving disputes between undertakers and the public.

Franchise vs independent operators

In South Africa, the funeral industry operates through two channels – independent companies and franchises.

The two franchise players are Martins Funerals and 21st Century Funerals, both members of the Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA).

A Martins Funerals franchise costs upwards of R485 000. This includes start-up stock. Royalties are paid on gross monthly turnover at 7%, working on a sliding scale. The franchise contract is renewable after ten years and full training and ongoing support is included.

There are independent operators in the market, but setting up a well run business that complies with the laws of the country is expensive. “The problem we face is that there are many fly-by-night funeral businesses in South Africa,” says Von Ronge.

Related: Want To Invest In A Billion Rand Industry? Then Look To the Funeral Business

Fly-by-night undertakers do not provide proper services and are in the business purely to make money. Fly-by-nights operate without a licence and do not comply with the industry’s rules. People are buried in the wrong graves and health requirements are not met.

Some smaller private funeral homes make use of government crematoriums and store bodies at private and government mortuaries until it is time for the burial or cremation. It’s the responsibility of local municipalities to ensure the proper management of cemeteries, crematoria and funeral undertakers within their areas of jurisdiction.

The cost of running a fully functional private funeral home

funeral home“Most people think that the funeral business is an easy way to make money, but it isn’t,” says Theo Rix, MD of Independent Crematoriums of SA.

He says the cost to set up a fully functional crematorium in South Africa is around R7 million. A cremation furnace costs around R1,5 million and you need at least two to run a profitable business. Other costs include smoke extractors and their installation, protective clothing for radiant heat and so on.

A typical start-up

Consider a typical existing upmarket funeral home based in Johannesburg:

  • Sales revenue: R4 million
  • Cash flow: R1,2 million
  • Employees: 7
  • Hearses: 3
  • Leasehold rent: R108 000 per annum
  • Size of the premises: 300 m2

It can take up to two years to get the necessary permits and permission to run a funeral home from local municipalities and government authorities.

“Because the paperwork is so extensive, we don’t attempt to do it ourselves. We employ attorneys to get the process going on our behalf,” says Rix.

Related:The Complete Guide to Starting a Business in South Africa

Are you the right person for the job?

Starting a funeral home is not for everyone. Here are some points to consider:

  • Because of the nature of the business funeral directors must be able to work at odd times of the day.
  • A person who runs or owns a funeral home should be an excellent communicator and a good listener. People from various cultures and traditions will have to be managed with equal ease.
  • An understanding and caring attitude is a must, while at the same time the funeral director has to be emotionally strong and not shaken by other people’s distress.

Usual tasks include:

  • Speaking to the bereaved in order to make funeral arrangements.
  • Liaise with others such as the clergy and cemetery workers, and even write obituaries.
  • Keep records, such as lists of items that come with the body.
  • Obtain all clearances and adhering to regulations associated with the event, he or she will need to be well versed in procedures and legal issues.
  • Have extensive knowledge and respect for the religious sentiments and beliefs of various cultures and communities and will also need to know about different customs and rituals followed by various religious groups during the funeral service.

Related: Want to Run a Funeral Business? Then You Must Know This

Study the art of funeral directing

funeral directingMany funeral home owners seem to view training and personal development as more optional than essential; that is all set to change with the opening of the very first funeral director training school in Gauteng.

The Funeral Academy for Africa (FAfA) offers a Certificate in Funeral Service (NQF Level 3) which has been introduced for the first time in South Africa and Africa. The course teaches students to prepare and present funeral services and manage funeral logistics and administration. FAfA also offers a variety of short courses and has opened campuses in Durban and Cape Town.

For more information, visit

Regulation for burial societies on the cards

The burial society business in South Africa is largely unregulated. But this is set to change with the establishment of a new, overarching regulatory body – the Burial Society of South Africa. By Gill Abraham

What is a burial society?

A burial society is an informal self-insurance scheme. It absorbs the costs of social activities and cultural requirements of funerals. The total amount invested annually in burial societies is said to be around R6,4 billion

“Burial societies have massive potential for wealth creation within South Africa’s poor and vulnerable communities, given the right assistance. Research has shown that more than 20% of the South African adult population are members of a burial society – so the importance of this sector must not be underestimated. Burial societies also represent a significant spend with members prioritising 15% of their income for this financial product,” says Inseta’s CEO Sandra Dunn.

“The aim of the newly formed Burial Society of South Africa (BSSA) is to unite all the burial societies that operate in the informal sector under one umbrella,” says secretary general of the BSSA, Zulu Ratswana. “Each burial society has about 30 members and each member contributes R50 a month. This money is then deposited into a bank account where it stays until it is needed.”

Related: 7 Disgusting Businesses That Could Be Tomorrow’s Mega Money-Spinners

Banks and insurance companies need to change

Tradition and belief influences the decision-making of a burial fund member when arranging a funeral for a member of the family. “Banks offer policies, but they have never consulted with the burial societies and they do not appear to understand their needs,” explains Ratswana. All causes of death are covered by burial societies with no questions asked, whereas formal insurers exclude (or at least make it difficult to claim on) certain deaths such as HIV/Aids or suicide. The banks do not include the needs of the extended family, whereas burial societies do.

“We also want to provide a free last will and testament to those who join the BSSA,” he says. The membership fee is R100 per year. The BSSA will also seek to mass produce coffins in order to keep costs down.

“We want to assist with pauper funerals and we believe ‘a human being is a human being’, meaning that even if someone is destitute, that person deserves a decent funeral. So we would adopt the corpse, and by giving that person a proper funeral; they will be able to rest in peace,” explains Ratswana.

Another aim is to allow members to borrow money at very low interest rates. Ratswana says the BSSA plans to include education and training for the industry as well, and will offer bursaries to deserving students.

A need to unite

Because the industry is unregulated, Ratswana explains that burial societies need to organise themselves, which is why the BSSA has been formed. Ratswana sees the insurance companies and banks as a possible threat because the burial societies lack the skills and resources to provide their growing market with the right products and services at the right price.

“If we organise the players in this industry we will be able to compete with the formal funeral insurance sector. We will be able to provide proper control and manage fraud as well as the many problems that HIV/Aids has created. Once we are united, it will be much easier.

“We intend to establish offices in all provinces of South Africa and we will impose standards. We will become the watchdog of the industry,” he says.

“As the informal market becomes more sophisticated, and companies include funeral insurance in salary packages, the market will change,” says Dr Chris Molynex, past president of the National Funeral Directors’ Association.

Registering burial societies as co-operatives

Inseta is pushing for burial societies to register as co-operatives in an endeavour to become more professional. Inseta has committed to provide capacity building workshops that will be held nationally.

Contact Inseta’s call centre on 0860 113 0013 for  dates and venues for these workshops.

Pros and cons of funeral businesses

Pros and cons of funeral businesses“R5 billion is spent on funerals annually in South Africa,” says Inseta’s CEO, Sandra Dunn.

Threats to the industry as a whole include the lack of burial land. At Avalon cemetery in Soweto, for example, it has been reported that over 200 funerals take place every weekend. This is Johannesburg’s biggest and busiest cemetery, accounting for 40% of burials.

Another threat to the sector is emissions caused by cremation. Cremation spews about 400 kg of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas blamed for global warming – into the air, along with other pollutants like dioxins and mercury vapour which are emitted if the deceased have silver tooth fillings.

But these threats to the industry also can and have created opportunities. Internationally, there are many new practices which are being used to deal with these problems. In Japan, most deceased people are cremated. According to a recent BBC report, it has become extremely difficult for the Japanese to find places to store ashes, especially in big cities. The solution has been to save space and money by converting old warehouses into storage facilities for the ashes of family members.

Because Israel is such a small country and tradition dictates that the dead are buried, a simple solution has been devised where two family members are placed in a single grave that is dug deeper by an extra metre. Israel has also designed above-ground niche burials, in which the niches are pre-cast concrete units. However, the most significant innovation is the multi-level cemetery. It allows for single and double conventional graves as well as niche burial, on at least two levels.

Related: Steps for Writing a Mission Statement that Means Something

Sub-contracting is a good way to make money

“A funeral director is in fact an events manager, but one who doesn’t have as much time to organise an event,” says Dr Chris Molynex, past president, National Funeral Directors Association Southern Africa. Funeral directors sub-contract services such as catering, fresh flower arrangements, rental of tents and chairs, transport for mourners, tombstones, coffin name plates and wreaths.

A popular tribute at a funeral can be a dove or butterfly release at the graveside. Another appealing choice is a bagpiper or a ‘live’ jazz band to play at the end of the ceremony. These services are all spin-off revenue earners. Other business opportunities include the manufacture of casket trimmings, linings and handles.

Green burial

In some parts of the world, and especially in the United Kingdom, the increasingly popular green or natural burial movement is working hard to reform how the dead are returned to the earth. With natural burial, bodies are not embalmed; coffins are simple and made of easily decomposable, non-toxic materials.

Sonja Smith, CEO of Sonja Smith Funerals for Pretoria, has been awarded the franchise rights in South Africa for natural woven coffins. “I want to help the funeral industry in this country to become a friend of the environment,” says Smith. “I started my research two years ago when I read an article about natural woven coffins in a British publication called The Funeral Journal.

“I was convinced that this concept would work well in South Africa and started to liaise with the company in England. I was offered the sole mandate for South Africa and Africa. The range features coffins woven from natural fibres like seagrass and cocostick. They are bio-degradable and made from easily renewable resources that don’t pollute the atmosphere when they are burnt in crematoriums.”

Smith’s first consignment of adult woven coffins arrived in April and she was overwhelmed by the response from funeral directors across South Africa. More than 80 funeral homes took a keen interest and wanted more information.

Coffin making

In South Africa a coffin should be manufactured to SABS standards. Coffins are generally made from wood, while caskets are produced from wood or metal. Most importantly, a coffin must be sturdily constructed in order to protect the dead and safeguard the health of the living, which is why the SABS has set strict standards.

There is a growing demand for coffins and training centres where coffin making is taught. Courses are available throughout South Africa and they provide the necessary practical knowledge to start a coffin and casket manufacturing business. Online business was formed eight years ago due to the huge demand for affordable funeral products.

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Sector Focus

The Pros & Cons Of Owning A Restaurant Franchise

Do you have what it takes to be a successful restaurateur? Our franchise expert offers some words of wisdom.

Jeff Elgin




There are many different types of business format franchises, but when most people think of a franchise business, their first thought is of food. The success and growth of the many big brand-name fast-food franchises makes this a logical first stop in the thinking process.

When evaluating restaurant franchises, you must focus on the characteristics of the business from a franchisee’s perspective to determine whether this industry is the right one for you.

There are some wonderful advantages to having a food business, but there are also some challenges you need to be aware of before proceeding in this industry.

The advantages


In assessing a food business, the main advantages are typically considered to be:

Built-in Demand

Consumers have been trained to look for franchise food outlets, which can represent a big advantage for a start-up. You need to make sure the product offering of the food franchise has “staying power” in the marketplace rather than being a fad or fringe product.

Related: The Only How-To You’ll Need To Start A Restaurant

Ease in Financing

Traditional lending sources are very familiar with the real estate and equipment needs of a prepared food operation, which may ease the challenge of obtaining start-up financing. These sources also like the relatively high revenue production of a typical food franchise.

Track Record of Success

Many food franchises have multiple units and have been operating for a while, making it fairly simple to determine and verify their track record of success. That can help you make an informed decision about the business prior to getting involved.


Whether valid or not, many people associate a high degree of glamour with a person who owns a food franchise business. The fairly high degree of status associated with this occupation is important to many prospective franchisees.

The disadvantages


In assessing a food business, the main disadvantages typically include:

High Initial Investment

Most food franchises require a significant investment to get started. Food preparation stations, sinks, stoves and ovens, grease disposal systems, venting requirements, customer seating and bathroom areas – the list goes on.

Zoning and Code Compliance

The government tries to ensure that any food business meets numerous codes and guidelines so the food product is safe for the public to consume. Complying with these regulations can initially can be time consuming.

Virtually any food franchisor will provide extensive assistance to a new franchisee in terms of dealing with zoning, permits, code compliance and all other site-related issues, because the new franchisee probably doesn’t have a clue how to do this whereas the franchisor has lots of experience on these matters.

If a food franchisor doesn’t offer extensive support on these matters (you can determine this during your conversations with existing franchisees), pick a different one.

Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!

Labour Challenges

Most food businesses require the services of a significant number of low paid employees to conduct their business. Turnover of these employee positions is normally very high, and recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of acceptable quality employees is typically listed as the number-one challenge in any food franchise.

Relatively Low Margins

In food operations, the franchisee has both the cost of goods sold and Labour costs to contend with in an environment that is very price sensitive, especially in fast-food outlets. The net margins of most food businesses are not nearly as high as other (particularly service-related) franchises, and you’re also dealing with spoilage, theft and other issues that you don’t find in many other types of franchise businesses.

Quality of Life

As mentioned above, many people associate a high level of status with owning a food business, at least until they understand the facts of a typical food franchisee’s life. The hours can be very long, as you’re often the first to arrive and the last to go home. The Labour challenges can be very frustrating and are the main reason owners cite for wanting to leave this industry. Then there’s also the issue of what a person smells like after spending long hours each day in a food franchise.

In conclusion


The obvious question, assuming you don’t have previous experience running a food business, is “how do you know whether you have these skills and aptitudes?” The best answer, and one that is actually required by a few of the most successful food franchises, is to go to work in an existing unit and shadow the present owner until you’ve gained enough experience to know for sure.

This isn’t going to be a process involving an hour or two – more likely it’ll take at least a few weeks to know for sure. The time commitment involved may seem high, but it is infinitely better for you to find out early (and without risking your life savings) if this business is not for you.

A final consideration related to food franchises is this: Some food franchises run very simplified operations and can provide a business model that avoids a number of the disadvantages listed above. These are typically businesses that don’t involve cooking a product, at least not on site. They may use a commissary system to deliver ready-to-serve products, or products that only have to be assembled in order to serve, to the franchise outlet. These types of businesses, like a Subway outlet, can avoid many issues but almost always still have to deal with the employee issues discussed above.

Give some serious thought to the franchisee role in terms of the tasks required in a typical day or week, the hours worked, the investment and the possible returns. Make sure you know what it takes to succeed and that you possess those qualities. Then you’ll know whether being a restaurateur is right for you.

Evaluation Tip

The secret to success in evaluating any food franchise (or any franchise for that matter) is to clearly identify the skills necessary to succeed, then make sure you either have them or go do something else. The food business can be very rewarding to a person who has the special blend of skills and aptitude to make the business work, and these operators are among the most respected in all of franchising because of their success.

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Sector Focus

Comfort Food

Restaurant franchises are overcoming the challenges presented by the economic downturn, high operating costs and increasing competition.





Although the economic woes are subsiding for some South African consumers, many are still watching their spending. One would expect that this means less eating out and takeaways, yet the restaurant industry says this isn’t the case.

Tyrone Herdman-Grant, MD of of the Spur Group says South Africans are most definitely starting to eat out more as a result of the current economy. He explains: “I believe that our customers are still scared of committing to buying assets like houses and cars and are still fearful of a second recession. This has resulted in more disposable income which they spend on food and entertainment.” Sean Holmes, marketing and operations,

Primi Piatti, believes people find comfort in food and as a result when they have some form of disposable income they choose to spoil themselves by eating out.

Michael Terespolsky, director, Col’Cacchio pizzeria, confirms that there has been a growth in the number of South Africans eating out over the last year. He adds: “That being said, the economic climate is still tough, and people aren’t willing to part with their hard-earned money for an average dining experience.

Customers demand a high standard of food quality and service at an affordable price. Customer perception of value is the most important thing to bear in mind!”

Opt for a franchise

Herdman-Grant believes franchised restaurant brands have a stronger future in the sector than independently-owned outlets. He says: “Independents usually cut their marketing budget when times are tough, while top brands increase their marketing spend.

The strength of a good brand cannot be valued enough – especially if the franchisor provides the franchisee with ongoing support and guidance to improve and streamline their business, but never at the expense of the customer.” Herdman-Grant says good franchises offer a proven business formula – they have learnt most of the lessons that need to be learnt.

Holmes says franchise businesses have proven themselves internationally. He adds: “A franchise offers less risk and stands a greater chance of success and survival than independent start-up businesses. They say a franchise business has 80% more chance of succeeding than an independent start-up.”

However, Terespolsky is of the opinion that a franchise does not necessarily have a stronger future in the restaurant sector than an independent. “It depends on the strength of the franchise and its ability to be responsive and appealing to the market.

Nothing comes without hard work though and the restaurants that are the most successful (franchised or independent) are the ones that are owner run and managed.”

He says that if restaurant franchises can offer consistently high quality and service and the brand name is held high then they’ll be likely to succeed.

The advantages of franchised restaurant brands such as strong brand awareness, cost advantages through economies of scale and constant support means that the likelihood of success with a franchise brand should be greater than with an independent.

Terespolsky says a franchise offers a “tested and proven” method which mitigates the risk of your offerings not being accepted in the market.

“Ease in financing is also a benefit of investing in a restaurant franchise. Traditional lending sources like banks are familiar with restaurant- related costs which may ease the challenge of obtaining start-up financing,” he concludes.

Andries Strydom of Wiesenhoff highlights some of the advantages of choosing to invest in a franchise, including bulk negotiating influence, sharing of information between franchisees and being able to offer the consumer peace of mind with a familiar brand.

He adds: “Many people in the brand focus on different segments necessary for growth. Independent operators have too much to think about and focus on. Franchisees focus on running their stores while franchisors focus on running the brand.”

Staying competitive

Herdman-Grant says that restaurants can remain competitive by improving the value proposition and investing in the people who run their businesses. Other measures include upgrading sites and continually staying ahead of the game in a constantly changing market.

For Holmes, remaining competitive requires the business to evolve continuously and stay closely connected to customers’ wants and needs.

“We remain competitive through the use of well-planned strategies. Being a competitor in the food and hospitality industry requires constant monitoring of your situation and the events that are taking place around you. To remain profitable, you need to have strategies available to stay competitive in the marketplace,” says Terespolsky.

He adds that restaurants need to remain abreast of current trends in the industry and look for ways to innovate and stand out. “If there’s nothing special or unique about your offering, customers are bound to feel the same way.

Making meaningful connections with customers through well-managed and engaging websites and social media pages is also a competitive advantage at this point in time.”

The weather factor

Some franchises are more successful in the summer months when consumers are more active and upbeat, but restaurants aren’t negatively affected by the cold winter period.

“South Africa is a very sport-orientated country and when the weather is good, South Africans prefer being outdoors and braaiing. When the weather is bad, we definitely see an increase in the number of customers who support our restaurants,” says Herdman-Grant.

Holmes advises that during quieter months, restaurants need to look at their overhead structure and trim in line with winter sales trends. “The introduction of specials or ‘value adds’ will also help entice customers out of their homes to wine and dine,” he says.

This is echoed by Terespolsky who says for some restaurants there is a drop off in sales. He says: “Store owners need to work hard to ensure they keep foot traffic through their doors with a great product and service offering. Increased marketing initiatives and special value adds are introduced during the winter months to encourage more customer visits.”

Current trends

According to Herdman-Grant, customers are now voting with their feet and chosing where to spend their hard earned money.

The independents and the brands that offer the best-quality service in a wholesome environment will be the ones that survive. “The trend is definitely leaning towards quality and good service; you are only as good as the last meal you serve,” he adds.

“A ‘value for money’ offering is definitely popular in the current economic climate,” says Terespolsky. He says consumers seek good quality food and great service at an affordable price.

“The SA market is becoming increasingly sensitive to growing health issues and as a result people are looking to make more healthy food choices. Restaurants that cater for all dietary requirements and offer healthy, freshly prepared food at a competitive price will flourish. “

Holmes says a popular dining experience at the moment is where there is transparency between the food being served and consumed and the original source.

Making it work

According to Herdman-Grant, restaurants that offer the best customer experience and continually reinvest in their business by upgrading and improving the quality of their product and service, will survive.

He says that some of the biggest challenges restaurant owners currently face include the increase in labour and energy costs, as well as “unrealistic rentals expected by some landlords.”

To retain customers, Holmes says restaurant owners need to stay connected. “Service and quality is a must and expected, it’s the connectivity and relationship built between the restaurant operator and their customer that will ensure a long-term loyal customer.”

Some of the challenges he highlights include maintaining the dedication and motivation to efficiently operate the business, controlling costs and in turn motivating staff to do the same.

“Keeping a keen focus on customer service is key,” says Terespolsky. He explains that if customers are continually delighted by the dining experience they’ll be more likely to remain loyal to your brand and tell their friends and family about it.

“Invest in training and the up-skilling of staff as they are the closest touch point to your customers. Warm, sincere staff will make customers feel welcome and comfortable. Customer relationship marketing should be well managed to keep up the contact and value offer to returning customers,” he advises.

“There are a number of challenges that affect all restaurant owners such as growing food, electricity and rental costs. Those who are successful will be the store owners who learn to utilise space and manpower the best.”

Strydom says to remain competitive, restaurants need to be unique, offer great service, quality products, great staff, good training and have a suitable location. Some of the challenges, he says, include staff retention, quality of staff, supply chain and food inflation, but he adds that the advantages of a restaurant franchise are ROI that outweighs that of other businesses, and daily cash flow.

What it takes

Michael Terespolsky, director of Col’Cacchio pizzeria says that in the current market the greatest challenges are finding suitable franchisees who have the financial means to buy into the brand.

In order to be a Col’Cacchio pizzeria franchise owner you should possess:

  • An entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to own your own business
  • A great work ethic and the willingness to spend time in your business
  • The ability to deal with pressure
  • A ‘don’t quit’ attitude
  • Leadership and management skills
  • Business acumen
  • Customer service orientation
  • The same kind of passion as the rest of the Col’Cacchio pizzeria team.

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