As any seasoned traveler knows, the best advice about a place rarely comes from a guidebook. Instead, it’s the locals, the people who live and work there, who point out the off-the-beaten-track attractions and helpful hints that truly make for a successful trip.
With that in mind, QSR sought out operators around the globe to get the skinny on what you need to know to make it in their markets. From Central America to Europe and the Middle East to Asia, here’s what they had to offer.
Richard Eisenberg knows a thing or two about running restaurants in Central America. As president of quick-service franchise-holding company QSR International, he oversees a total of 78 KFC, Quiznos, and Teriyaki Experience units in the region—from Guatemala and El Salvador to Costa Rica, Panama, and numerous countries in between.
“It is a good market because people need to eat, and international quick-service restaurants are perceived to be better than local mom-and-pops from a quality perspective,” says Eisenberg, who also spent four years as PepsiCo Restaurants’ executive director and general manager for Central America and the Caribbean. “In addition, the market is growing, and people are becoming more accustomed to eating out versus eating at home.”
But despite the opportunities Central America offers, competition is fierce, with KFC, McDonald’s, Quiznos, Burger King, Pollo Campero, Pizza Hut, and Subway already established as major players.
To succeed, Eisenberg says, restaurateurs need to start with a lot of capital.
“Financing options are very limited and expensive,” he says, adding that prime real estate is costly relative to that in the U.S., and Central Americans’ preference for eating in rather than taking out means a larger footprint is needed.
Sourcing is also a concern, since as Eisenberg says, “There are no Syscos in Central America.” Instead, suppliers must balance imported ingredients with local options that often require more prep work. Complicating the picture is the fact that currency devaluation among countries that don’t use the dollar requires price changes as often as every month, causing fluctuations in food cost for imports.
Staffing, too, is a challenge, due to strict labor laws.
“Full-time, eight-hour shifts are the norm, with nighttime premium pay and significant overtime penalties adding to the complexity,” Eisenberg says. Since Central American consumers are not accustomed to busing their own tables, extra workers are often needed, and full-time, armed security personnel are essential in many areas.
Ultimately, Eisenberg says, Central America is not for operators looking to kick up their heels.
“To succeed in Central America, one must be a hands on operator with a well-rounded executive experience in operations, marketing, finance, supply chain, and training,” he says.
Located in the middle of Europe, Prague is an important economic and cultural center for the continent and a gateway to emerging markets to the east. But despite the promise of Central and Eastern Europe, few quick-service brands have a strong presence there.
Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen, a quick-service pizza, pasta, and sandwich concept based in New Jersey, opened its first location in Prague in 2006. Since then, the chain has opened two others in cities in the eastern part of the Czech Republic.