Bennigan’s entry into food service 38 years ago launched the beginning of the casual dining niche and introduced the world to a new kind of restaurant experience. Today, the brand is growing in new territories and is looking for savvy, passionate franchisees to join its team.
Founded in 1976 by the iconic Norman Brinker, Bennigan’s was designed to fill the gap between fast food and fine dining while being a family friendly, Legendary experience. Opening the first location in Atlanta, GA, the space featured a full service food and beverage menu offered at an affordable and high value oriented price point.
Bennigan’s grew to around 400 restaurants before filing for bankruptcy in 2008, when all of the U.S. corporate locations closed. However, the U.S. and international franchised restaurants remained open due to Bennigan’s tenacious franchisees and supplier partners who carried the banner and proved the strength and the value of the brand.
In 2010, Bennigan’s began its renaissance and has now restored itself, once again, to the top of the casual dining segment. Now with over 150 restaurants open or under contract worldwide, Bennigan’s Franchising Company is poised to more than double its size in the coming years.
“Bennigan’s rapid growth demonstrates the strength of the brand, its iconic nature, and the emotional connection consumers have with the brand,” says Paul Mangiamele, CEO of Bennigan’s.
The new generation of Bennigan’s restaurants fits a distinct prototype that includes a revamped chef-driven menu, innovative beverages, a fresh look and authentic feel. “The restaurants are cool, hip, efficient and high energy; they are forward looking and feeling but keep vestiges of our heritage,” says Mangiamele.
Bennigan’s is now focused on attracting the millennial generation, having already won over the baby boomers through the brand’s nostalgia and tolerance for only the highest standards. The new prototype features a shotgun, or one-sided, bar that allows for open sight-lines to the kitchen, ensuring that the food is the star in the dining room.
Bennigan’s is also moving forward with its latest development, Bennigan’s On the Fly. These fast casual, non-traditional restaurants are located in high-traffic areas such as airports, train stations, university food courts and hospitals. Pushing to create a blended investment and return, these locations are ideal in markets with an established Bennigan’s presence. This concept has already gained a lot of attention in international markets, with the first location opening in a train station in South Korea.
“We’re moving strongly forward again, and that’s a testament to the strength of our brand, our franchisees, corporate staff and the great supplier partners we have on our team,” says Mangiamele, adding that Bennigan’s sister brand, Steak and Ale, will also be making a comeback this year.
Now poised for a major growth spurt, today Bennigan’s operates throughout 15 states and 12 countries. One of the latest additions to the Bennigan’s family has been awarded a master license for the Indian subcontinent, committing to 50 restaurants over the next several years. The first location is projected to open this spring in Mumbai. Ten additional Bennigan’s restaurants are on tap for the United Arab Emirates, where two popular locations are already in operation.
Other key areas of international development include Algeria, Ecuador, Mexico, Central America, Cyprus and South Korea. “Wherever the arithmetic makes sense, we’ll look into developing,” Mangiamele says.
Potential Bennigan’s franchisees must have the determination to succeed, “bleed green” and have a 25/8 attitude towards the brand and the business. “The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, so franchisees need to have a strong work ethic and love what they are doing,” Mangiamele says. Potential franchisees must also be financially sound with a considerable net worth and liquidity to build and open their restaurants, while possessing the working capital reserves to get them through their first six months of operation. Candidates must also understand the importance of delivering the brand’s “Legendary” customer service.
“We’ve started a revolution where casual dining is responsible for delivering great service, and in our case, we take it from great and make it Legendary,” he says. “We have great chef-driven food with unique flavors that appeal to our customer base. We turn our customers into guests and those guests are loyal and ‘lifetime.’ For us, that’s what it’s all about.”
Bennigan’s is seeking candidates who are current franchisees with other non-competing brands, who understand the need to adhere to the company’s standards and accountabilities, and are capable of following a system.
“We’re looking for eagles; individuals who fly high, do a superior job every day, and bleed green,” Mangiamele explains. Ideal candidates are those looking to pursue multi-unit development while delivering Bennigan’s renowned experience to guests.
The initial fee to own a Bennigan’s franchise is $35,000 with a royalty of four percent and an additional one percent going to marketing, which is significantly lower than other casual dining franchise organizations. Mangiamele wants to attract potential franchisees that are looking for strength and value in an iconic brand.
The franchising process at Bennigan’s provides franchisees with the infrastructure and resources needed to be successful in a competitive industry. Starting with an inquiry, application process, and Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) review, the Bennigan’s team then provides training for all levels in every area of the business, keeping their promise to deliver respect, trust and integrity throughout the entire process. Candidates have the option to attend a Discovery Day in order to speak with Bennigan’s senior executives about the opportunity, support and guidance available to all franchisees.
The intensive, competency-based training runs between two and eight weeks and covers how to operate a business from soup to nuts. “We set expectations for franchisees from a financial standpoint and show them how to achieve these goals through inventory control, menu control, management, labor, food costs and all other functionalities of the business,” Mangiamele explains.
Bennigan’s detail-oriented selection process for approving franchisees and general managers is one of the key factors in the brand’s recent success and growth. “Training and franchisee selection is critical because Bennigan’s will only ever be as strong as its weakest franchisee or location,” Mangiamele says. “Bennigan’s corporate team plays a huge role in selecting franchisees and general managers because we know what it takes to be successful, and what has made Bennigan’s so successful.”
Members of Bennigan’s corporate team offer 25/8 support through a variety of different methods including the online training module, Bennigan’s University. “It’s one thing to create the training, but the key to success is to constantly refine the training because we are always learning,” Mangiamele says.
Bennigan’s recognizes the possibility of dramatic retention loss and, therefore, reinforces training from the beginning. Franchise owners are provided with modules to follow for both front and back of house that cover everything from training and safety, to bartending and brand ambassador responsibilities. Bennigan’s corporate staff members visit restaurants, stay informed about local markets, handle social media and provide four-walls marketing to ensure every location operates to Bennigan’s high standards.
“The corporate team bleeds green, and that speaks to the passion they have for the brand and is represented in the strength of the support we give our franchisees,” Mangiamele says, adding, “If our franchisees need anything, all they have to do is pick up the phone.”
A unique aspect of the Bennigan’s brand is its non-existent development department. That’s because Mangiamele himself covers this area. “People want to talk to the person with the vision, the CEO of the company,” he says. “When people show franchise interest, I am the one shaking their hand and giving approvals on locations.”
After reenergizing and revitalizing the brand, Mangiamele is 100 percent dedicated to paying attention to the elite qualifications of potential franchise owners and ensuring corporate involvement at all levels.
Bennigan’s also recently received an award from the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes for its nationwide support of the leading veterans charity through its Wall of Heroes campaign. The program, in its second year in 2013, encouraged guests to purchase a drink and write a message of appreciation to an active-duty soldier or veteran, then post it on Bennigan’s Wall of Heroes mini-site. For every photo posted, the company donated one dollar to the Coalition.
Bennigan’s is catching the attention of many, and the brand is benefiting greatly from positive word-of-mouth. Customers are not only verbally sharing their experience with friends, family and co-workers, but also posting, uploading and sharing their opinions on social media sites such as Yelp!, Four Square, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Bennigan’s corporate team manages and directs the majority of the brand’s marketing such as public relations, direct mail, radio and outdoor advertising. In turn, franchisees are responsible for sustaining the marketing initiatives at the local level. Through direct and regular communication with the corporate team, franchisees can easily coordinate branded and consistent messaging. Brand ambassadors for each location are responsible for augmenting grassroots marketing, a hyper-critical factor for success in today’s competitive market. Each location is provided with binders detailing neighborhood marketing activities and corporate-directed webinars outline key initiatives, allowing them to market to their local areas efficiently and effectively.
“To celebrate the success of our brand’s resurgence, we are hosting all our Franchisees and General Managers at our Global Franchise Conference next month in Fort Worth,” said Mangiamele. This event will allow Franchisees, General Managers and the corporate team to share their ideas regarding the restaurant’s menu, vision, initiatives, programs, marketing and operations. “I’m proud to announce that our keynote presenter will be Jim Sullivan, a world-renowned restaurant expert that I’ve known for many years,” he said. “Jim will speak candidly and directly about the importance of recruitment, training, operations, flawless execution and how going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, (ABCD), will strengthen the emotional connection we enjoy with our guests.”
When talking about the company’s enhanced culture, Mangiamele expresses the importance of creating an atmosphere where the Bennigan’s staff performs in a manner that shows guests they truly care about their experience. “One of the key ways Bennigan’s differentiates itself from so many other brands out there is that we’re not in it just for the money,” he says. “At Bennigan’s, it’s not just service, it’s Legendary service. It’s not just an experience, it’s a Legendary experience. It’s not just good food with ample portions, it’s chef-driven food that’s different from what you can get anywhere else. While we all want to make money, it is not our sole motivation. We have found that the more we are focused on the right things, like a strong value proposition and delivering on our ‘Legendary’ promise to our guests, the profits follow.”
With ample room for growth, both in domestic and overseas markets, Bennigan’s is actively seeking the right individuals to join its restaurant revolution. “If you’re ready to work hard, have what it takes to win in an ultra-competitive marketplace and are looking to make an investment in an iconic brand, this could be the brand for you,” Mangiamele concludes.
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