Seven Tips For Fast Casual Operators

By Sean Kenniff | Jaclyn Warren


Sean Kenniff
Jaclyn Warren

The food at small, independent, fast casual Burger-Chan is brilliant. For husband and wife Owner-Operators Willet and Diane Feng, creating delicious burgers was practically a breeze compared to tackling some of the unexpected challenges they encountered after opening in Houston’s Greenway Plaza food court in 2016. Lessons learned-- and with a second location in the works-- these entrepreneurs have some advice for other chefs and businesspeople who want to enter the fast-casual world.  

1. Do a simple search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database to make sure you’ll be able to trademark your concept’s name. You want to avoid receiving cease and desist letters down the road. Plus, with geo-tagging, trademarks are more important than ever.     

2. Before seriously looking for a space, hire a lawyer and a real estate broker. Ask your peers from other restaurants for recommendations. This will save you time and headaches down the road.  

3. Donuts. There are big picture decisions you can make to build morale and a strong, cohesive team, like pay more than minimum wage and organize staff-development outings. But don’t forget the small stuff. Even donuts on the house can make a difference. Get to know your staff on a one-on-one, personal level.   

4. Sous vide is not just a technique in service of flavor and texture. It also has the practical use of preventing cross contamination. HACCP, holla!   

5. If you’ll be a chef-owner, know the ins and outs of every single position in your concept—from dishwasher to cashier to grill. Lead by example. Command authority without being authoritarian.      

6. Partner with someone who has different skill sets from you. If you’re a chef, align yourself with someone who has a complimentary background like a teacher, accountant, or floor captain. 

7. Be flexible. And, if you don’t live nearby family or close friends, consider relocating before opening a business. Their support is immensely helpful, especially if you plan to grow a family.   

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