Have you always wanted to start your own business? Perhaps you have a passion for food and want to share your culinary expertise with eager customers. Starting a restaurant franchise can be a rewarding and profitable venture, but it also can require a substantial investment in time and money.
Before taking the leap to become a restaurant franchise owner, it’s important to carefully consider the multitude of food franchises available to you. Which best matches your knowledge and skill set? What restaurant chain will be most popular in your area? Do you meet the requirements to invest in the franchise?
What Is a Restaurant Franchise?
When a restauranteur achieves success, they might choose to franchise their brand and business model. A food service franchise involves a contractual relationship between the restaurant’s corporate owner, the franchisor, and one or more individual operators, the franchisees.
Franchisees purchase the license to use the parent company’s brand, trademark and marketing plan. By opening a restaurant with a proven business model, operating procedures, training and support systems, the franchisee increases their odds of success, while the franchisor increases their profits and expands their brand.
- READ MORE: See our Franchise Guide
The Restaurant Industry in 2023
The restaurant industry continues to rebound from the global pandemic, and it’s expected to hit $855 billion in 2023 sales. While restaurant owners have struggled with issues related to supply chain, inflation and labor shortages, the food service industry continues its technological expansion of the past decade thanks to app-based ordering and online menus. In fact, many restaurant brands have countered the labor shortage by adopting AI technology to automate tasks such as receiving phone or drive-thru orders, as well as managing inventory systems.
Why You Should Consider a Restaurant Franchise
Thinking about investing in a restaurant franchise opportunity, but unsure if it’s the right fit? Foodservice store owners gain a variety of benefits from their business ventures, including:
- Brand strength – When you start a restaurant franchise, you don’t have to spend time and money establishing a brand that customers trust and respect. The new location comes with a recognizable name.
- Training support – Most franchisors will provide new franchisees with all the training they need to successfully run the restaurant, as well as ongoing support to help them succeed.
- Turnkey packages – When you start an independent restaurant, the owner has to worry about scouting and securing a location, equipping it, stocking inventory, designing a menu, and marketing its opening. A franchise owner, however, might be offered a turnkey package where all the heavy lifting is completed by the parent company.
- Proven resources – A new franchisee has access to all of the franchisor’s valuable resources, including operating systems and manuals, marketing plans, quality control, brand standards and much more.
- Buying power – Individual operators within a franchise group often can combine their buying power to achieve lower inventory prices, increasing each franchise’s profitability.
- READ MORE: 16 Breakfast Franchises
Top Restaurant Franchise Options
Looking for business franchise inspiration? There are plenty of restaurant franchise brands from which to choose. Whether you hope to invest in a popular fast-food franchise or you dream of running a fine dining establishment, there is a plethora of enticing options.
Fast Food and Quick Service Restaurant Franchises
A fast food or quick service restaurant franchise is one that provides food quickly and at a lower cost. They usually serve customers in the drive-thru or the dining area, but they do not provide table service.
While fast food franchises can be extremely profitable businesses, they require significant initial investment and ongoing costs to operate. Minimum net worth requirements range from less than $100,000 to more than $1.5 million, and franchisees usually pay an initial franchise fee ranging from $10,000 to more than $50,000.
Some of the most popular fast food and quick service restaurant franchises include:
- Burger King
- Taco Bell
- Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen
- Carl’s Jr.
- Dairy Queen
- Jack in the Box
- Chester’s Chicken
- Chicken Salad Chick
- Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers
- Sonic Drive-In
- A&W Restaurants
- Taco John’s
- Del Taco
- Pita Pit USA
- Long John Silver’s
- Checkers & Rally’s
- Raising Cane’s
- Five Guys Burgers and Fries
- Shake Shack
Fast Casual Restaurant Franchises
Customers often perceive fast-casual restaurant franchises as healthier or of better quality compared to fast food, and therefore the prices usually are higher than quick service restaurants. Most fast-casual restaurants take orders from customers at their counter and deliver the food to their tables; they also specialize in take-out orders.
While still profitable ventures, fast-casual restaurant franchises can cost less than more well-known fast-food brands. The minimum cash required to purchase the franchise location often ranges from $100,000 to $200,000, although some franchises are available for a minimum initial investment of as little as $50,000.
A variety of popular brands are available to franchise a fast-casual restaurant, including:
- Fresh Healthy Cafe
- Ufood Grill
- Qdoba Mexican Eats
- Captain D’s
- Buffalo Wild Wings
- Teriyaki Madness
- Salad Station
- Panda Express
- Moe’s Southwest Grill
- Noodles & Company
Casual Dining Restaurant Franchises
Casual dining restaurants offer table service in family-friendly environments, although this type of restaurant also includes certain adult-oriented venues like sports bars with a full menu. Casual dining establishments usually price their menu items higher than fast food or fast-casual restaurants, but less than fine dining competitors.
Depending on the brand, starting a casual dining franchise can cost about $1 million for the initial investment, with franchise fees averaging about $40,000. However, franchisees also are often required to demonstrate a net worth of $1 million.
- Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
- TGI Fridays
- Huddle House
- Bennigan’s Grill and Tavern
- Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
- Perkin’s Restaurant and Bakery
- Tony Roma’s
- Winger’s Restaurant and Alehouse
- Ruby Tuesday
- Hard Rock Cafe
- Rainforest Cafe
- Planet Hollywood
Fine Dining Restaurant Franchises
Entrepreneurs who want to provide their customers with a truly remarkable dining experience should consider investing in a fine-dining restaurant franchise. Fine dining establishments boast highly-skilled personnel, sophisticated menus, higher-quality ingredients and accompanying higher prices.
A successful fine dining restaurant can be extremely profitable, but they also require a substantial investment. The initial investment to open a fine dining franchise can range from $650,000 to upwards of $5 million.
Interested in opening a fine dining restaurant franchise? Some of the most popular options include:
- Rodizio Grill
- Mastro’s Restaurants
- The Melting Pot
- PF Chang’s China Bistro
- Olive Garden
- Red Lobster
- La Madeleine
- Capital Grille
- McCormick & Schmick’s
- Smith & Wollensky
- Houston’s Restaurants
- Bonefish Grill
- Carrabba’s Italian Grill
- Seasons 52
- Romano’s Macaroni Grill
- Buca di Beppo
Just as its name implies, a pizzeria franchise specializes in pizzas and other convenient foods like salads, appetizers and sandwiches. Most pizzerias offer delivery service, and many also feature a dining room with or without table service. Pizza pricing ranges greatly depending on the sophistication of the menu and the quality of the ingredients, but many pizzeria franchises offer customers affordable and simple menu options.
The cost to open a pizzeria franchise varies greatly and can range from just $25,000 to more than $1 million, depending on factors like the brand and the restaurant’s location. The initial investment for most, however, falls between $200,000 and $600,000.
Numerous pizzeria franchise options abound for interested entrepreneurs, including the following:
- Pizza Hut
- Papa John’s
- Marco’s Pizza
- Boston’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar
- Russo’s New York Pizzaria
- Mountain Mike’s Pizza
- Papa Murphy’s
- Chuck E. Cheese
- Cici’s Pizza
- Fox’s Pizza Den
- Romeo’s Pizza
- Uno Pizzeria & Grill
- Donato’s Pizza
- Hungry Howie’s Pizza and Subs
- Rosati’s Pizza
- Little Caesar’s
Breakfast and Bakery Restaurant Franchises
Breakfast and baked goods remain popular food choices for consumers around the world, and a host of franchises offer customers quick service and casual dining experiences with menus including donuts, cinnamon rolls, freshly-baked breads, and a variety of breakfast fare.
Because the scope of breakfast and bakery restaurant franchises ranges so greatly, so do the costs associated with opening one. The initial franchise fee can be as low as $25,000 or as much as $90,000, while the total initial investment can be anywhere from $275,000 to $2 million.
If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant franchise that specializes in breakfast or baked goods, consider the following choices:
- Krispy Kreme
- Another Broken Egg
- Paris Baguette
- Great Harvest
- Hurts Donut Company
- Auntie Anne’s
- The Flying Biscuit Cafe
Smoothie Shop and Ice Cream Parlor Franchises
Consumers continue to demand frozen desserts, in both sweet and healthier varieties. As a result, both smoothie shops and ice cream parlors remain profitable franchise options. Custom ingredients help propel the market, whether the menu caters to customers with a sweet tooth or those favoring a healthy yet delicious meal replacement.
Franchises starting a smoothie shop or ice cream parlor should have a net worth of about $300,000 with about $100,000 in liquid capital. While the initial franchise fee often is less than $25,000, the total initial investment can range from $250,000 to more than $400,000.
Whether you want to specialize in frozen treats like ice cream or frozen yogurt, or you prefer to offer customers healthier choices like smoothies and juice, the following restaurant franchises might be of interest:
- Smoothie King
- Baskin Robbins
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Tropical Smoothie Cafe
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Dippin’ Dots
- Kona Ice
- Bahama Buck’s
- Rita’s Italian Ice
- Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
- Buzzed Bull Creamery
- Jeremiah’s Italian Ice
- Orange Leaf
Sandwich Shop and Deli Franchises
Sandwiches are a popular food item that seems to never go out of style. Sandwich shop franchises, therefore, are a successful type of restaurant that has withstood changing markets. However, this success also has led these eateries to create a highly competitive sphere.
Most sandwich shop franchisors require candidates to have liquid capital of at least $150,000, and the total cost to invest in the new franchise can total $300,000 to $400,000, although factors such as location and brand strength can require a greater investment.
Sandwich shop and deli franchise options are abundant, but some of the most popular choices for franchisees include:
- Jersey Mike’s
- McAlister’s Deli
- Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop
- Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches
- Firehouse Subs
- Port of Subs
- Cheba Hut Toasted Subs
- Tubby’s Sub Shop
- Cousins Subs
- Jason’s Deli
Coffee is the second-most popular beverage in the United States, trailing only water, so it only makes sense that coffee franchises form a profitable and competitive market. The vast majority of coffeehouse franchises feature simple menus and accommodations, and they boost their revenues by also selling baked goods, sandwiches, and other light fares.
The cost to open a coffee shop franchise varies depending on the brand and location, and it can range from $60,000 on the low end to as much as $700,000, including the initial franchise fee.
If you’re interested in opening one or more franchise locations that specialize in coffee, you have plenty of options, including:
- Scooter’s Coffee
- The Human Bean
- Biggby Coffee
- Ziggi’s Coffee
- Ellianos Coffee
- Aroma Joe’s
- Just Love Coffee Cafe
As its name suggests, a steakhouse franchise is a restaurant specializing in steak, although the menus usually expand far beyond choice cuts of beef. In fact, many steakhouse restaurants also feature seafood, salads, gourmet side dishes and delectable desserts. These full-service restaurant franchises offer guests memorable dining experiences that generate profit and repeat customers.
While the cost to open a steakhouse franchise varies depending on the brand and the location, the average initial investment for a steak restaurant franchise is between $1 million and $2 million with some requiring an investment as high as $6 million.
A large variety of steakhouse franchises exist for entrepreneurs to consider, but some of the most popular include:
- Quaker Steak and Lube
- Bonanza Steak and BBQ
- Western Sizzlin
- Golden Corral
- Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
- Longhorn Steakhouse
- Outback Steakhouse
- Logan’s Roadhouse
How Profitable Are Restaurant Franchises?
While establishing a successful restaurant franchise requires hard work and dedication, the endeavor is not without financial incentives. A restaurant franchise can be profitable for the franchisee, in spite of the initial investment. The amount of profit will depend of course on sales, but also on recurring costs like franchise fees and royalties. After all, costs are considered, restaurant franchise owners earn an average salary of about $82,000.
- READ MORE: How to Open a Restaurant
Which Food Franchises Are the Best?
There is no single food franchise that is superior to others across the board. What attracts one potential investor to a franchise might not offer qualities that another entrepreneur seeks. If you seek strong brand recognition, you might consider starting a restaurant franchise with an established company that charges a significant investment.
If, however, you have less capital to invest and don’t mind less automatic marketing, there are plenty of other food franchises that can meet your needs. Don’t forget to evaluate the franchise agreement carefully to determine any contractual stipulations.
What Is the Easiest Restaurant to Franchise?
Which restaurant franchise is the easiest business opportunity to take advantage of? There’s no simple answer to that question. Some franchises offer lower fees and overall initial investments, making them easier to start for potential franchise owners with lower net worths. Other franchises will offer lower requirements such as restaurant experience, while many franchises will also entice investors with a thorough franchise support system.
It’s important for anyone considering a restaurant franchise to thoroughly review the associated franchise agreement.
How Much Does It Cost to Open a Restaurant Franchise, Including the Initial Franchise Fee?
Understanding the financial requirements to open a restaurant franchise requires a candidate to review all of the various startup costs and franchise fees. Some franchises require franchisees to demonstrate a relatively low net worth and pay franchise fees and startup costs totaling less than $100,000, while others might require several million. The variances are largely based on the profitability of the location, as well as the recognition of the brand.
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