Burger and Chips

Fast Food Business: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Market

Danielle Collard
20 Jan 2023

The fast food industry is one of the most competitive and crowded sectors. Every year, dozens of new businesses enter the market in every city, vying for customers' attention and loyalty. (Some might say it’s a hotdog-eat-hotdog world…)

We know it can be hard to stand out from the crowd when you're just starting out, but with a few key strategies, it's possible to make your mark in this lucrative field. The key is in offering something unique or different that will draw customers in and keep them coming back.

In this article, we'll discuss how to open a successful fast-food business that blows away the competition. We'll look at marketing strategies, menu design, customer service techniques, and more that can help get your fast-food restaurant or business noticed and stand out.

With these tips, you can create an unforgettable experience for your customers that will keep them loyal to your establishment even as other competitors come on board. So read on to learn how to get ahead of the McPack!

Pros and cons of opening a fast-food business

The very first step to deciding to open and run a fast-food business is to start a business plan. Here is where you can weigh the pros and cons of opening your quick service business, which can help you decide if it is a good return of investment for you.

The biggest advantage of a business plan is that you can also prepare for difficulties, mitigate their impact, and take advantage of the opportunities the industry provides. 

Here is our top-level breakdown of pros and cons related to fast-food restaurants. You may want to expand this list with your own comments.

Pros of the fast food business:

  • High demand for convenient food options. Every day, plenty of consumers in any area will be looking for fast food to try out, and you can be ready to take their orders.
  • Low startup costs and overhead expenses. It doesn't cost a huge amount to open and run your own fast-food restaurant.
  • Potential to franchise the business and expand quickly. If things go well and your business is making profits, you'll have the option to grow your business into a fast-food empire.
  • Relatively easy to run a fast-food business without a lot of prior experience or training. Running day-to-day operations in fast food is fairly simple, mostly based on inventory, customer relations, and staff management.

Cons of the fast food business:

  • Intense competition in the market with well-known brands. Though the fast-food market is large, winning your share of it will involve fighting with competition of all sizes and putting a lot of energy into winning your target market.
  • Difficult to differentiate your product from competitors' offerings. Fast food does segment into different varieties. But often there are not huge differences between products. Distinguishing yourself often means pricing your products higher and losing some custom as a result.
  • Short shelf life on perishable items leads to high waste costs. Wastage is a big frustration for most businesses in food production. But targeting high sales numbers and preparing the right quantities is difficult - and under-preparing can mean a loss of sales. The result is high wastage for many businesses.
  • Labor intensive and difficult to staff large teams of employees. Fast food is hard work, with hot ovens, a constant hurry, late nights, and a fight to maintain a clean workspace. Keeping a large team of staff motivated and on track is a key part of the job.

What makes running a successful fast-food restaurant so difficult?

Okay: we didn’t mean to hit you with a reality check so early on in this article. But while starting a fast-food restaurant may be exciting, your road to making it successful in the long term can be difficult. We only say it now to prepare yourself!

Let’s start with the good news: the demand for fast food will never slow down. The very idea of a super quick, super tasty dinner is good enough that consumers return to the best fast-food businesses again and again. 

However, the problem many new fast-food restaurants face is that, due to the popularity of these businesses, the industry is saturated with competitors, both large and small.

Consequently, when quick-service restaurants open, they face great difficulty finding ways to stand out, either by providing quicker service, better quality, or something special with their food. Every business plan and every business owner has ideas around demonstrating a USP (unique selling point), but distinguishing yourself in fast-food isn't easy.

So how do you distinguish your fast-food business early on? Answer: branding.

Branding a fast-food or quick-service restaurant means getting a few simple things right. You want to ensure when a customer has a positive experience; they remember your name and logo. We’ll explore this in great detail later in the article.

We should clarify: while you won’t have a marketing budget as large as the biggest names in the industry, such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, branding will still set you apart. We promise it is not impossible - just difficult. Remember the phrase: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen? Well, we know you’re not going to quit that easily.

However, if setting your own branding up seems like a nightmare, franchising could be the option for you, if you’re still intent on opening a fast-food restaurant. A franchise agreement with a larger fast-food chain provides a business with the opportunity to benefit from an established, recognizable brand that its existing customer base will flock to. It’s highly popular at the moment for many businesses - and offers a slightly easier path than starting from scratch.

Sell faster and safer with an Epos Now POS system

The best way to separate yourself from other fast-food restaurants is through a POS system that can teach you more about your business and help your business stand against larger competition:

  • Make the best decisions using detailed reporting on sales, customers, staff, your menu, and much, much more.
  • Benefit from the latest transaction technology, with in-house payment processing services, product information tiles, and quick service software.
  • Integrate with delivery, accounting, marketing, and other in-house and third-party business software through the Epos Now AppStore.

Find out more

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Opening a stand-out fast-food restaurant: planning

Starting a fast food business requires careful planning and execution. It is essential to take the time to research the local market, understand customer needs and preferences, and to create an effective brand strategy.Plus you should develop a sustainable business model that will ensure long-term success! 

With proper preparation and foresight, you can open a successful fast-food restaurant that stands out from the competition, despite the perceived difficulties. Here are the key areas we recommend you look into:

  • Location
  • Restaurant POS and payments system
  • Budgeting
  • Branding
  • Marketing
  • Menu
  • Staff
  • Growth plans

Yes, these plans may evolve as your fast-food restaurant develops, but it’s good to plan as much in advance as possible to ensure you keep standing out. If you developed each of these areas, even a little, you’ll be in a much better position to stand out. While your food will speak for itself, these other areas can be just as important to get right!

We’ve expanded on the most important key areas below, to discuss how you can utilize your plan to make your business a continued success.

Choosing a location

With the prevalence of delivery apps and as online ordering makes up an increasing portion of fast-food sales, your location isn't everything. However, it remains a pivotal element, and settling for a less-than-ideal spot could make progress much harder to come by.

There are many elements to consider, and this may be the most time-consuming part for fast-food franchise managers and independent business owners. Naturally, the cost of rent/real estate and the taxes is a concern and establishes a baseline for the profit your business will need to make to stay afloat.

A high-rent location won't be the end of the world if the spot you pay for is near fast-food consumers. For instance, a location with passing foot traffic, perhaps near nightclubs (famous fast-food fans) and other crowd-drawing businesses, will help keep your new restaurant busy many nights of the week. (And if you’re lucky enough to balance low expenses from rent, with good proximity to customers, that makes a near-perfect location.)

Practical issues such as accessibility and visibility for customers are also worth thinking about. Can drivers park near the business to drop in? (You’ve got to think of both customers and delivery drivers here.) Can you be spotted on a main road? Customers able to spot you and quickly park will lead to a continual passive accumulation of new customers who can be turned through great, fast service and quality food into a dependable customer base.

The number of competing fast-food restaurant businesses close to your location will dilute some of the benefits of passing traffic and good parking. Finding an urban area without any fast-food competition is likely impossible (though some reasonably populated rural spots could offer a good location). Therefore, the target location should have minimal competition relative to customer potential, helping you optimize how much of the local market you can capture, as well as providing visibility to make potential delivery customers aware of your presence.

A small but still sometimes significant factor could be zoning and operating regulations that could impact your ability to expand your service or menu. Will you potentially want to expand the premises or use specialist equipment that health and safety could prevent you from using on-site?

Finally, is the population in this area growing or shrinking? What about within your target demographic? If you plan to run a fast-food restaurant that targets younger diners, are you near a school or park where you might grab the attention of multiple generations of attendees or visitors?

These factors will all impact on your decision on the best location for your business - but it will also set you up for success to stand apart from the competition.

Budgeting for opening and running a fast-food restaurant

Opening a fast-food restaurant requires more than just finding the perfect location. It also requires financial resources to get it up and running, as well as ongoing expenses for day-to-day operations.

Securing adequate financing is essential for any business owner looking to launch or expand a successful fast-food enterprise. From budgeting basics to exploring loan options, you'll need to incorporate the financial side of how you'll get up and running (and stay running!) as part of your business plan.

Whether you open a new branch of an existing franchise, or an independent business of your own, you'll be looking at tens of thousands of dollars minimum to open your restaurant. This makes the time you spend planning your finances extremely valuable, as there are savings to be made in many areas that have short-term and long-term benefits.

Opening a big brand franchise

Let's start with franchises: to open a Mcdonald's, you would need a minimum of $500,000, which puts this wildly successful brand out of reach for many ambitious entrepreneurs. But, surprisingly, this base figure puts Mcdonald's in the middle ground in terms of how much a franchise would typically cost to open for a multinational fast-food corporation.

Plus, it's important to note that having the funds to pay that $500,000 will not be enough to get you running a Mcdonald's of your very own. That covers the fee required to pay Mcdonald's to open a branch. There are many things included in that amount, but your location and equipment aren't likely to be included in that figure[1].

Other fast-casual restaurants with similarly powerful names can cost even more. Taco Bell averages around $750,000, while Wendy's tends to go above the million-dollar mark[2]. However, if there is a locally successful fast food restaurant, it might be prudent to take their name and help them expand their business.

The reason franchising can cost so much is due to the power of established fast-food chains. Customers have already experienced their quality and service, and have a set expectation.  So, having that name improves the chances of profitability by a huge amount. 

Most franchises for smaller companies will cost far less than the figures above, with the average between $10,000 and $50,000 and the legal minimum as low as $500.

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Budgeting for your business

Given the stiff competition you'll face, creating a budget for an independent fast-food restaurant is essential to ensure the business's success and longevity. The following steps outline the various aspects that need to be considered when creating a full budget:

  1. Establish how much you're able to invest – You may have assets stored in many areas, and they'll likely be needed to help you in your endeavor. Documenting the resources available to you, and what needs to be done to redirect them, is an important first step in budgeting.
  2. Estimate initial investment costs – Once you know how much capital is available to you, you can start thinking about how much opening the business will cost. This includes all costs associated with starting up your business, such as registering or leasing a building space, obtaining permits and licenses, purchasing equipment and supplies, installing fixtures/signage/decorations/wallpaper and furniture, and marketing/advertising expenses (including website design). You will need to be highly organized to plan for all these costs and expenses, given the range of deadlines (and repeat costs). Missing expenses at any point could trip you up during periods when few resources are available to you.
  3. Calculate ongoing expenses – In addition to the initial investment costs mentioned above, regular expenses must also be taken into account when setting up a budget for your fast-food restaurant. These expenses include rent payments (if applicable), utility bills (such as electricity and water), payroll costs (including taxes, employee benefits, etc.), food costs (ingredients and packaging materials), disposal fees (including waste collection services), insurance premiums (including liability coverage for injuries that may occur on site) and any additional operational costs that may be incurred in the course of running your restaurant.
  4. Forecast potential profits – After calculating the costs of the initial investment required to set up your restaurant, plus ongoing operating expenses, you can then estimate potential profits from sales. Not only can you forecast, but knowing your expected financial situation come opening day, you can set targets for the business.
  5. Finalize your budget – Once you have collected all the necessary data regarding potential investment costs, plus operating expenses versus potential profits, you can then create an effective budget plan tailored to meet specific goals of your new fast-food restaurant business. Use this to enable you to track progress over time while still keeping expenses under control. This way, you don't overspend in any one area, and can avoid financial hardship down the road once operations have commenced.

Branding your fast food restaurant

While budgeting is an important part of managing your finances, good-quality branding and a solid marketing plan can boost your revenue like nothing else. Here are some tips on how to create a strong brand that stand out from the crowd for an independent fast-food restaurant:

Create a logo with impact

Your logo ought to be two main things: simple and memorable. A logo that focuses on achieving those two attributes will be easy to print onto promotional materials, receipts, signs, and more. It will also be easy to notice casually, as opposed to an overly intricate logo that bewilders viewers.

Typically, colorful logos are the most successful. If you think of some of the most memorable logos, most will be bright, basic, but unmistakable. You'll also want it to be quickly associated with the service you love, perhaps with food imagery incorporated into the logo. This ensures that the logo communicates your service every bit as much as the name of your business.

Develop a consistent design

This includes creating a color palette and font selection that you'll use across all of your marketing materials, including logos, menus, signs, and digital spaces such as your website and social media. 

A consistent design creates visual cohesion. This helps build up customer recognition the more they engage with the business, building brand recognition that wins new customers and increases the loyalty of existing customers.

Design your marketing materials and your restaurant around a theme

You may feel very differently from day to day, but your business should inspire the same emotions in your customers every time they step through the door or see you online.

You'll want to make your marketing decisions based on the values of your target customers to attract diners from that demographic. 

Do you want it to seem modern and cool, to reach a trendy target audience? Go minimalist with your logo, colors and font, with sleek furniture and some modern art on the walls. Apply those values consistently across your business.

Do you want to be seen as a family-friendly fast-food restaurant?To create a brand children and parents respond to, perhaps try warmer colors (such as brown, orange, and green), or primary colors (red, yellow, blue). Ensure you supply comfortable seating, fun, light materials, and language that can appeal to parents and children alike. This can also be integrated into other aspects of the business, such as the menu items and customer service policies.

If you’re specializing in a certain fast-food item, such as chicken or sushi, then have fun creating a logo design that incorporates it, or include unusual furniture and decorations along that theme. This can create a real ‘talking piece’, inspiring customers to remember your restaurant or even take photos of it for their social media (gaining great free promotion).

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How to market your fast-food restaurant to stand out

When you've discovered your brand identity that is distinct, identifiable, and different from that of your competitors, you need to make sure it's heard far and wide. So how do the best fast food restaurants market themselves?

Start with social media

A business's social media account provides free advertising which is unrivaled by other forms of marketing. It can cost nothing (but time) to maintain and yet can reach hundreds and thousands of consumers on a regular basis. Our best tip is to start out focusing on only one social media platform though, or you may spread yourself too thin with your marketing efforts.

Your social media account doesn't always have to focus directly on the business. One way of gathering followers is to post about tangential events, being funny, engaging with the local community. As long as this contributes to and remains in line with the brand voice, this can be valuable.

However, you'll certainly want to keep followers up to date with upcoming events and news about the restaurant, including new menu items, special offers and promotions, and general business-related news. You can also engage with customers in a two-way dialogue, responding to comments, running polls, and learning about customer opinion. This can also mean earning reviews and handling customer complaints.

Social media provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate how customers impact the business, which can make them feel more attached to your success, further increasing customer loyalty. This can transfer to products as well. For instance, if a customer votes for the new breakfast sandwiches or following their suggestion, you start selling hamburgers, they'll be sure to come and try the new products.

Write engaging copy in newsletters, socials, and across all materials

Whatever tone you choose to write in, whether sharp and professional or light and funny, it needs to grab your reader. This means packing it full of information rather than writing "filler." Your customer's time and attention are valuable and limited. Producing substance and quality should therefore be paramount in your marketing.

Making sure your best writers have a say in your marketing can help remove spelling and grammatical errors, and making marketing a part of your (or a colleague's) role can ensure you produce enough marketable materials and keep your customers coming back.

Producing blogs, a newsletter, promotional emails, posters, and social media posts takes time and money. But it all contributes to a brand that you depend on to stand out from your competition, and in fast food, there's a lot of competition to stand out from! It’s also worth always looking for opportunities to get your name out there - ask to get on local radio for an interview, or get promoted in local newsletters too.

Apps like Mailchimp can streamline this process, and you can use your POS to quickly gather a long mailing list of customers who will have greater loyalty if you continue to reach out through newsletters and promotions.

Keep that independent mindset

If you join a franchise, in all likelihood, your marketing materials will be sent to you directly. You'll have less to think about on that front but many other things to consider, such as your continued relationship with the parent company.

However, as an independent fast-food restaurant, it can be easy to mimic older, larger competition. Maintaining a clear brand identity means refusing to copy anyone else and keeping belief in the identity you've created.

Staying true to yourself and having the independence to stand out from the crowd is important in saturated industries like fast food.

How a POS system sets you up for stand-out success in the fast-food industry

Efficiency, reliability, and speed of service are all characteristics that any business owner wishes to provide customers, and this is particularly true for fast-food restaurants. If this isn't your first business, you'll probably be familiar with the central role your POS system plays in ensuring you achieve the quick and reliable service you need.

But how can a good POS setup ensure great quality, that makes your business the best of the best?

Tastily-quick transactions and processing

POS transactions can achieve both simple and complex orders in quicker time than any other method of selling. The hospitality industry, with fewer products (usually) than their retail counterparts, gain the brilliant benefits of being able to make their entire menu accessible to servers with a few touches of the right hotkey.

Incorporating additional software features such as integrated payment processing can reduce time taking payments, while product plus (an Epos Now feature) places all product information just a touch away. Using this feature, even new staff can serve with encyclopedic knowledge of your menu, impressing customers and preventing mis-sales.

Color coordinating and ordering your products and the categories they sit in can fully optimize the transaction process. For example, you might put vegetarian options in green, have drinks and food separated, and have the option to create a fully bespoke map of your menu on the screen. Servers barely have to look away from the customer to place orders, which can print out directly in front of the staff preparing the dishes (or even appear on a kitchen display screen).

In short, the right POS system can ensure that your fast-food restaurant stands out from the competition for reliability, quick service, and attention to detail, among many other things; all in all, a fast, tasty, convenient meal from start to finish.

Incorporating software to streamline your operation

Larger POS companies like Epos Now create and partner with the best business software and companies to incorporate the advantages of their technology into one all-encompassing system that you can run your entire company through.

These apps and programs cater to the needs of all businesses, including the fast-food industry. This includes inventory and product management, customer account management, staff management, and payroll, but also business reporting, accountancy, loyalty programs, online ordering and website management, marketing, and more.

POS software can be relied upon to incorporate the business structure you need. For instance, when you hire employees, you'll not want to give them the same level of access as an assistant manager. Epos Now staff roles allow you to create and assign access permissions to allow staff to see and use functions they are trained and authorized to use.

The staff role function simplifies the screen new staff sees, making it easier for them to figure out the basic use of the till system, and prevents more significant mistakes from being made, protecting both staff and your excellent customer experience. This helps Epos Now users save time on new staff, who can be trained in as little as fifteen minutes to deal with most customers and their orders.

How to stand out in fast food? Do it differently

Whether you use your POS to create a bespoke system or you create a menu with memorable names for your products, it's easy to stand out when you imbue your business with personality. What's more, that personality will make you hard to forget.

Knowing who you are, and teaching your staff to take customer orders using branded language and the bright mood your customers love, will help to create a customer experience that stands out from your competition.

You stand out with a colorful menu full of interesting names most restaurants don't use, such as the Rabbit's Burger, instead of the Veggie Burger. Burger King did this with great success for their famous "Whopper" product, which proves hard to forget, and even harder to resist.

Grow your new fast-food restaurant with Epos Now

It can feel overwhelming to open a new business or even a new branch of your chain. Especially with competition lining the streets and big-name businesses marketing their products on television and beyond. But Epos Now puts small business owners on a level using cloud technology to store data and help you make the best decisions.

Epos Now fast-food POS systems offer the flexibility to create a distinguished, independent system that allows you to offer customers a service they'll never forget:

  • Use Epos Now Payments to incorporate card processing into your POS with a simpler, easier style. Accept a wide range of payment methods from every major card provider, and don’t limit yourself or your customers when you accept chip and pin, contactless and remote payments.
  • Create bespoke transaction setups on secure, speedy software to shave time off the sales process.
  • Gain every advantage with hundreds of apps and partnerships with the best software in all areas of trade.
  • Manage your business stress-free with cloud technology that gives you instant access to the latest business data from anywhere in the world!

To find out more about Epos Now hospitality POS solutions, submit your details below and speak to a member of our expert team.

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