By Frank Deluca
Franchise location buildouts can be complicated, particularly in the highly specialized food-service sector. With all the variables in play, food-service buildouts tend to be the most costly among franchises, take the greatest of care in planning and, most importantly, requiring a very skilled general contractor (GC) who understands the elements that go into a good restaurant.
There are several factors to consider not only when choosing a location, but also when determining whether that space is the right fit for your business. The specifics of your franchise will dictate the exact renovations you will have to make to a space, but there are certain common elements you should be on the lookout for. While your franchisor can offer valuable resources or advice, it is still your responsibility to know what to expect, look for and avoid when building the restaurant franchise of your dreams.
When it comes to food-service franchises, there is one tried and true rule you must follow—location, location, location. In an industry where heavy customer traffic and easy access are vital, you simply cannot afford to choose a poorly situated location. Having said that, you also need to be fully aware of whether a location—no matter where it is—will accommodate your food-service franchise’s design requirements. Are there costly base building requirements? Can the building accommodate your mechanical requirements?
In the case of older buildings, you inherit the space and any costs associated with upgrading or maintaining it (e.g. fire separation, sprinkler requirements, or worse yet, structural issues you weren’t aware of). For example, you could sign a lease where the existing building does not meet the fire or building code. If you are unaware and sign a lease that states you are taking the space as is, then you will be responsible for bringing the location up to code. If your franchise will be located in a condo or office building, where running exhaust for your cooking equipment is hindered by concrete or structural steel, it could be costly—or maybe impossible—to vent your cooking systems or run drain lines.
Depending on your franchise’s specific requirements, food-service locations can range from 93 m2 (1,000 sf), for something like an ice cream shop, up to 371 m2 (4,000 sf) for a sit-down full-service restaurant (FSR). While overall area is a primary consideration, there are also other factors you, your franchisor and your GC need to consider.
In general, it is best to look for a rectangular or square space. Shape is very important in food-service settings, because you have to pay special attention to things like barrier-free access and work flow from kitchens to eating areas. Tight areas, corners or even building support columns are not good, and will likely impede you and your employees once the franchise is open for business. By sticking with a nice basic shape, you are free to design exactly what you need in the space without worrying about any possible obstacles or hindrances.