Food and franchising in this tricky post COVID recovery

We deal with food franchises a lot. Mostly fast food but restaurants as well and over the years we have watched many as they take their journey as a franchise group. It’s exciting. This year though, we are seeing a couple of trends which we think will lead the industry and set some apart from others.

First – the growing trend towards eating healthier

And yes, even Maccas has jumped onto this band wagon which means it’s important. Like many other trends now, this trend has been around for a while, but it was COVID which has given it a big push. People are concerned about wellness, and it is affecting every area of their lives – fitness, food and drink, mental health, lifestyle – this list goes on.

Unsurprisingly, fast food does not have a reputation for healthy eating though. And, of course, some of the big names are giving this some thought.

“Most often, when we ask consumers about wellness, what they eat and drink sits at the top of the list,” says Mark Brandau of market research firm Datassential. “They mention things like clean labels, food quality, and weight management.”

As a result, in the States and it’s beginning to show here, some fast-food brands are paying attention to fresh ingredients, publicising nutritional data and sourcing information, addressing different dietary restrictions, and putting in substantial resources towards R&D around increasing nutritional value.

However, did you know that Australians eat takeaway or restaurant food an average of four times a week? And this move towards wellness and heathy eating is in direct conflict with much of the offerings from the fast-food sector.

So ‘Healthy Food’ Magazine sent a dietitian off to find out just how difficult it was to eat healthy in Australia’s fast-food chains. The result is surprising. There are better choices, and you can make them even better by asking for extra veg and skipping the fries. Yes, even Maccas has a healthy grilled chicken wrap that meets the requirement.

The bottom line is, people want an element of choice in what they order and in response, some brands have increased customers’ ability to customise, replace, and substitute items, often at the expense of service speed and streamlined operations.

Vegan Margherita or Vegan Spicy Vege Supreme or make your own veg with no cheese from Domino’s anyone?

Healthy eating restaurants

The thing is this trend is not going away.

Look here at Soul Origin – as they say – “Our philosophy is that everyone deserves to eat fresh food, every day… after all – your body deserves it. We have a vision to lead the way in re-educating the world about how they think about fast food.”

Their salad bars are a relief to see at most airports and shopping centres around Australia. No need to go home after an overdose of fast food after a bout of travelling.

Sushi Train and Rolled with their offerings of Pho and rice paper veg filled rolls are other examples.

Just remember though, it is associated with a wider trend for sustainability, plant foods, vegan, and vegetarian eating. This is a growth area and the growing customer segment looking for it will only support outlets which meet their values.

Customers are also looking for other things to go hand in hand with this movement such as a significant reduction in food waste, sustainably sourced ingredients, sustainable packaging. And around the corner in Australia, and well-engrained in Europe, is the carbon footprint. These values need to be shown front and centre for this market.

What this means is there is room for improvement in both established and new restaurant groups and the space for specialist healthy eating offerings and restaurants is wide open.

Service with a smile

A second trend we see does not have such a happy story to tell. Following COVID, there is no doubt there is a significant shortage of staff for the hospitality industry. Yes, we know the Government is finally doing its best to bring in visa-workers and new migrants to meet this need.

But you know what – the food industry across the board is not just finding it hard to get staff – it is really feeling the loss of its experienced managers – and it shows. Probably the worst experience we have had recently was at an event run by us at a major hotel chain in Surfers. We have been running these for years in the same hotel and used to know the staff by name. The last we ran was a disaster.

Not the fault of the staff attending to us but because they had given us new restaurant staff at the last minute. And they were given tasks which they had no idea how to do because they had not been trained in them. The room was not cleared during breaks, the tea water was cold, the coffee even worse, things were not delivered, we couldn’t get the AV to work.

Needless to say, the staff concerned were distressed with the situation because they knew they just didn’t know what to do and relied on us to tell them – often when it was too late.

Over the years we have helped many budding food-based franchisors put franchisee operations manuals in place. Without exception the budding franchisor said, ‘This is a waste of time – we train on the job’.

Since COVID, we have watched the food industry struggle with untrained staff and no experienced managers to train them on the job.

You are hoisted by your own petard people. Put in good operations manuals and give your new managers and newbie staff a chance. This is not something that is just a pet niggle of ours.

QSR Magazine has a review each year of the top 50 QSR restaurants in the US and one of their categories is guest satisfaction. The top 50 restaurants fall into three groups – leaders, stragglers and chasers. Last year the leaders held their own in a difficult year for staffing as everyone knows. The stragglers and chasers, however, who form the vast majority in this list, fell backwards in scores given and the gap between them and the leaders is significant.


Well, QSR also looked ratings for at staff satisfaction.

And no surprise there is a link between the two lists. Leaders measured higher staff satisfaction and retainment than the others along with higher guest satisfaction.

Maccas with their strong documented systems were at the top of the list closely followed by other big names – Subway, Starbucks, Burger King, Domino’s all in the top 10.

Look after your teams folks; give them good documented systems, train them well and support them to give your guests the best service possible. And make sure this includes both your franchisee partners and their staff teams.

Then everyone will be happy – staff will stay, guests will like the service – your outlets will be more profitable, and your franchisees will be glad to pay you the royalties you deserve.Brian Keen has been involved in the franchise industry for more than 30 years and Prue has been involved with systems and business for as long. Together they founded Franchise Simply, Systems2Grow and Microloan Foundation Australia. Brian’s on-the-ground business experience as a multi-unit franchisee, franchisor and consultant helping many of the big names create their own franchise systems and growth over the years combined with Prue’s structured approach has been fed into Franchise Simply, helping today’s SMEs and Franchisors grow their business by franchising.

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