Five Lessons I Learned Going From Franchisee to Restaurateur
By Wally Mostafa
As part-owner of middle eastern-fusion restaurant BEKYA, my prior experience of owning four Subway franchises has been enormously helpful towards the early years of setting up a restaurant of my own.
So, here are my top tips for others looking to make the big move…
- Franchising teaches you how to divide up your budget
With Subway, it’s all there in the manuals and the training provided—what percentage of operating costs should go on staffing, rent, produce and other costs, and even how to turn over a reasonable profit. Having worked in the hospitality field through Subway for so long, it’s taught me what proportion of my costs should go into each area of the budget to maximise profit.
That said, with a popular franchise like Subway, location is key, as people come to you because you’re located in a convenient spot. With a restaurant, you become the destination, so the rent represents a lower percentage of total costs, wages, and training; the things that make for a great customer experience from the food to the treatment they receive, are of a higher percentage.
- Staffing your restaurant at the optimal level is a big part of your success
Staffing is a huge element of getting a restaurant right. You need enough employees back-of-house creating wonderful food, and you need the right number front-of-house ensuring a great customer experience. Getting it wrong means blowing out costs, and damaging your reputation. My years with Subway have taught me how to get that balance right.
- Customer experience is key to fine dining—they aren’t just looking for a well-priced sandwich close to work.
In a Subway store, people come in for a quick and easy sandwich. One bad experience won’t necessarily cause a great deal of damage to your profit, but it always pays to strive for excellence. You also have some leeway when you get started, as people are ‘kinder’ to mistakes at that end of the hospitality industry. But with a restaurant, it can be one strike and you’re out. With social media, all it takes is one bad review and your restaurant sees a dip in sales. This means you need to hit it right out of the park to start with and maintain a high level of customer satisfaction. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in damage control, trying to earn back a good reputation.
- As a franchisee, a lot of the operation is made easy for you, and when you go out on your own, you need to learn new skills
With a franchise, you’ve got pre-existing supply chains and buying power when it comes to ingredients and other materials—from uniforms to cutlery and packaging. You’ve also got support on tap if anything goes wrong. If, for example, a machine breaks down, you simply call head office and it’s dealt with quickly from there. Since opening BEKYA, I’ve had to build my own network of suppliers, negotiate the best price for the best produce, and stay up to speed with pricing. Likewise, if machinery breaks down, I have contracts with the equipment suppliers, but it’s not quite as seamlessly sorted out, and definitely not as quick
5: Being a franchisee gave me the flexibility to open on my own
Owning a franchise like Subway usually provides a stable income, and that’s the appeal for a lot of owners. A Franchise system gave me the flexibility in my personal life to get set up and ready to go out on my own. It’s also taught me many of the skills I use now and it’s provided something of a blueprint to what I need to be doing to turn a profit.
Obviously, there are differences between a restaurant like BEKYA and a chain sandwich bar like Subway, but there are also many basics that stay the same, and without my experiences there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.