StreetFight - The Skinny on FAT Brands Franchise Innovation

BOOM: The Skinny on FAT Brands

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FAT Brands sends us regular news announcements about their growth, menu updates, and company strategies. We’re wowed by their speed of franchise innovation. We reached out to their executive team to get insights into the FAT philosophy and forward-looking path.

As a MULO (multi-location) brand, they are clearly one of the gentle yet powerful giants.

How many different brands and locations does FAT Brands have today?

“FAT Brands is a leading global franchising company that strategically acquires, markets, and develops fast casual, quick-service, casual dining, and polished casual dining concepts worldwide. The company currently owns 18 restaurant brands: Round Table Pizza, Fatburger, Marble Slab Creamery, Johnny Rockets, Fazoli’s, Twin Peaks, Smokey Bones, Great American Cookies, Hot Dog on a Stick, Buffalo’s Cafe & Express, Hurricane Grill & Wings, Pretzelmaker, Elevation Burger, Native Grill & Wings, Yalla Mediterranean, Ponderosa, and Bonanza Steakhouses and franchises and owns approximately 2,300 units worldwide (40 countries and 48 states).”

How do you see FAT Brands as being different from other MULO (multi-location) dining brands?

“We truly have a diversified portfolio in terms of the restaurant categories that we operate in (quick-service, fast casual, casual dining, and polished casual dining) in addition to cuisines (burgers, wings, hot dogs, pizza, BBQ, steak, cookies, ice cream, pretzels, etc.). Nowadays, a high percentage of franchisees are multi-unit operators. About half of our franchisee base falls into this category), so many of them see great value in expanding their portfolio while staying under our umbrella.

Similarly, we are flexible and creative in the co-branding options we offer for franchisees. We recently debuted three new options, our first tri-branded model, Fatburger, Buffalo’s Express and Hot Dog on a Stick, a co-branded version of Fatburger and Round Table Pizza, Johnny Rockets, and Hurricane Wings

Another advantage we have is our significant scale and global presence, which gives us significant purchasing power (approximately $600 million). Our scalable platform also provides us with the opportunity to synergistically incorporate new concepts with minimal incremental corporate overhead. Both benefit our franchisees as they get lower cost of goods and because of our platform and synergies, more dollars are available to boost awareness and visibility for their stores.”

What are some of the creative ways you’ve brought your brand experience to consumers?

“We targeted our consumers with enticing limited-time offers, promotions, and out-of-the-box collaborations, all unique to each brand’s identity in the portfolio.

  • For Johnny Rockets, we leaned into our popular chicken sandwich for a limited-time collaboration with Eggo—a chicken and waffle sandwich with Eggos as the buns. Johnny Rockets was the first branded fast-casual restaurant to add Eggo Waffles to the menu.
  • Our cookies and ice cream brands, Marble Slab Creamery and Great American Cookies, also partnered with March of Dimes to highlight the heroic work of NICU nurses and their patients during NICU Awareness Month in September.
  • At Fatburger, we recently collaborated with a favorite partner, Pepsi, to share a little love on their 125th birthday by offering a limited-time 1.25 lb. burger and special edition merchandise.
  • And, finally, at Round Table Pizza, we’re digging into the brand’s roots by activating on the founder’s original tagline – ‘Share a Little Pizza with Someone You Love,’ in our latest ad campaigns.

These are just a few examples of the levers we pull creatively to connect with our loyal customer bases.”

Any surprises in terms of your customers or employees recently?

“Pick-up and delivery are here to stay post-pandemic and restaurants need to think about adjusting their build-out plans to operationally accommodate the growing segments of the business. This is further underscored by so many consumers continuing to telecommute to work, at least part-time, who will order their lunch through delivery channels.

Additionally, despite a continued focus on health and wellness, consumers still want to indulge in their favorite sweet treat which has led to an even greater demand for our snack-based treat concepts.”

What are you proudest of in your brand’s evolution?

“I think it all comes back to taking advantage of your current resources. Everyone wants to grow, but it must be strategic, especially in today’s restaurant landscape. We have acquired 12 new restaurant brands in the last three years. With that comes a lot of learning and,
ultimately, change.

We have been very strategic in our growth and leveraging the scale that comes with it.

Today, we can proudly say there are many synergies across our concepts. For example, we recently opened the first co-branded Round Table Pizza and Fatburger in Texas, which has been incredibly successful. Likewise, we are heavily tapping into our manufacturing facility, producing cookie batter to fuel dessert category growth across more than half of our 18-brand portfolio.”

How have you incorporated technology into your consumer experience?

“AI is rapidly entering the restaurant industry. We are developing an AI Chatbot to help handle first-level consumer questions across our portfolio of brands. The Chatbot can change its personality and tone based on the brand from which the consumer is requesting help.

We are also gearing up for many AI menu board tests, including drive-thru for the Fazoli’s brand. Finally, we see AI as a tool to be more efficient in developing our menus and bringing concepts to consumer testing faster.”

What’s on the horizon for 2024?

“2024 will be a year where Fat Brands leans into the core identities of each of our concepts. We want to remind customers why they love our brands and bring them back to their beloved food items. I think brands can often get too caught up in innovation rather than focusing on what is bringing fans back to their locations time and time again.

From a growth standpoint, we have a healthy development pipeline of over 1,100 units across our 18 brands and look to open 150 units in 2024.”

So, in summary, the keys to explosive growth in the MULO restaurant sector are:

  • Always be innovating and testing
  • Get smart about AI
  • Stay on top of consumer tastes
  • And, above all, leave room for desserts!
Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.