In the last few years, Bennigan’s opened new franchises in Melbourne, Florida; Veracruz, Mexico; Larnaca, Cyprus; Doha, Qatar; and Armwaj, Bahrain.
Three recent prototype locations—in Steubenville, Ohio; Mandan, North Dakota; and Monahans, Texas, continue to outperform projections, the company said. These units are about half the size of Bennigan’s typical 10,000-square-foot box.
Mangiamele adds the chain inked a 50-unit deal for the eastern seaboard and has north of 100 locations in some phase of development.
They’ve been “pleasantly surprised,” he says, by the franchising interest in pandemic-challenged months. “We’re almost never been busier,” Mangiamele says.
A lot of these conversations are actually born out of crisis conditions. Conversion opportunities are rampant—just like they were in 2008–2010 from the Great Recession. And parties, entrepreneurs to consumers, are looking for brands that run on loyalty, trust, and familiarity.
“When you’re known for your quality food and made from scratch and people know your food and they’re jonesing for a world-famous Monte Cristo or baby back ribs … we have to make that available to them,” Mangiamele says. In other terms, guests, locked down or not, will seek out what they miss. It’s an era fueled by pent-up demand, not discovery.
Yet Mangiamele knows it’s not quite that simple. COVID-19 arrived at the worst time for Bennigan’s.
When does the chain start preparing for St. Patrick’s Day? “It’s always March 17, right?” Mangiamele says. “We begin for the next year on March 18.”
The chain rented tents. Finished prep. Put advertising in place. But just as it was about “to unleash the kraken of St. Paddy’s Day,” Mangiamele says, Bennigan’s retreated.
Dining rooms across America closed. Venues shifted to takeout, catering, and delivery, and it’s been a mad ride since, from racial protests to looting to new case spikes.
“If you’re like me and grew up in the streets of New York, when you get sucker punched you’ve got to be a street fighter,” he says. “You’ve got to know how to come back from that and get around that, and make sure you’re still providing a safe environment for your team and your guest, but you’re also adapting.”
Bennigan’s formed an internal team to monitor updates, on the local and CDC level. Restrooms are cleaned every 30 minutes. Hand sanitizer is available upon request. Training was reconfigured and is available virtually. The entire corporate team works remote, as they did pre-crisis. Mangiamele says new home-office economics nationwide will provide cost savings for consumers—spending that, in part, could go to dining occasions, whether it’s eating out, delivery, curbside, and so forth.
All of Bennigan’s employees have state-approved food safety handler certification as well. Menus and tabletops are cleaned between use. At the bar, there are markers and Bennigan’s took some stools out. It’s designed so couples could sit together if they wish, but groups have the ability to separate from other patrons. Bennigan’s also pared down its menu to simply operations and improve profitability for franchisees, with the goal to tack items back on as volumes pick up
It’s a typical playbook for an uncommon time.
But the difference will be in the sustainability of it all, Mangiamele says. “It’s one thing to do that when we open back up. But it’s another thing to make sure that is the standard of operations from here on out,” he says.
Details like Plexiglas partitions and socially distant dining rooms represent the new definition of bringing value to the guest experience, Mangiamele says. “Most brands now are forced to go above the call of duty,” he says. “Here’s where we’ll see people survive or not. Will they be able to keep that up?”