Achieving nationwide expansion in the restaurant industry
Wednesday 31st August 2016
Akbar’s founder Shabir Hussain explains the challenges associated with successfully expanding a restaurant chain across the country.
The restaurant industry is one of the most competitive business environments, and one where constant evolution and innovation is required to stay ahead of the competition.
For those starting out in the business, it is important to have a clear plan in place that takes into account the potential challenges you may encounter during the journey.
As with any business venture, there will be unique challenges that present themselves, but by having as many components in place as possible, you can place yourself in the best possible position to succeed.
A long road
In 1995 when I was opening the first Akbar’s restaurant on Leeds Road in Bradford, I knew that the road ahead was long, and by far the most difficult thing about that first venue was acquiring the finance required.
Whereas an established restaurant may have both the reputation and capital to expand its reach, starting out with that first venue is always the hardest, and it was a happy day indeed when the doors were opened on that 28-seat restaurant.
Today it is a far larger venue but retains everything that I believe distinguishes Akbar’s from other restaurants – a consistently high standard of food and service and a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere.
As the years have gone by and the chain has expanded, the one crucial component of every new restaurant has been that high standard of food and service, which I believe is integral to achieving nationwide expansion.
As with any branch of any business, it is important for customers to walk through the door and know what to expect, even though we like to constantly surprise our loyal clientele with changes to the menu and new dining experiences.
Adapting to change
Regardless of your approach, challenges will come and go that must each be navigated – changing consumer tastes and demands necessitate evolution, and our evolving menu is evidence of that, which is why we continue to travel to South Asia to discover new flavours.
At the same time, economic pressures and political concerns such as the recent Brexit vote will all filter down to business owners, with even the smallest changes having potentially great consequences when magnified across a nationwide chain.
It is therefore important to take advice on how to best protect your assets and be sure that the procedures and processes are in place to ensure business continuity.
Resting on your laurels can be costly, especially in the restaurant business where competition is so high, and so one eye always needs to be placed on what’s next.
By carefully monitoring demand and activity, we were able to expand into Leeds, Manchester, York and Sheffield, before setting our sights further afield and launching new venues in Middlesbrough, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow.
We are now looking at Nottingham, Leicester, Milton Keynes and London, where potential venues would further expand our national reach and illustrate that we have no signs of slowing down.
There is an old saying that you should not run before you have learned to walk, but by having a framework for expansion in place, you will be in the best possible position to expand when the opportunity arises.
For those hoping to follow the same path, it is crucial to use all the tools at your disposal, which of course includes researching funding options and market demand, but also means harnessing new methods of technology, promotion and communication.
Social media is a hugely powerful tool for understanding what your current and potential customers want and need, and using it effectively can ensure you are addressing their concerns and requirements and also give you an entrepreneurial edge.
My mindset now is the same as it was in 1988, when at 18 years old I knew I wanted to become a restaurant owner, using the name of my father to become synonymous with fine South Asian cuisine.
The desire to build on this reputation is the same as it has always been – anything is possible, it’s just a case of how bad you want it.
The advice I would offer to those looking to follow in the same footsteps is to aim big but be realistic, and use all the tools at your disposal to achieve your dream.
Shabir Hussain is founder and managing director of Akbar’s. For more information on Akbar’s nationwide chain of restaurants, visit www.akbars.co.uk.