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Houlihan’s Restaurant Franchise:
A Unique Casual Dining Success

by Patricia Schaefer

About a year ago, my then 19-year-old daughter Stephanie and I stopped in for the first time at a local Houlihan’s for lunch. As we walked in, we paused to read the “Specials” board. Being a quiche lover, Stephanie’s mind was immediately made up when she spotted the Ham & Cheddar “Quiche of the Day.”

We each ordered the “Quiche Combo” of quiche and Caesar salad. Both the quiche and Caesar salad were exemplary. The quiche was deep-dished, luscious, and cooked and seasoned to perfection. The Caesar salad boasted crisp, fresh, dark green leaves of Romaine lettuce tossed in a tasty dressing with shavings of delectable Parmesan cheese. And considering the quality and taste of our food, the prices seemed especially reasonable.

Since that day, we have returned many times with family and friends, and have yet to be disappointed. Whether it’s the Mustard Encrusted Salmon on a bed of potato, onion, bacon and spinach, or Houlihan’s Original Baked Potato Soup, menu offerings have been attractively presented and pleasing to the palate. Uncommon for a casual dining establishment, the décor is elegantly comfortable with dark woods, stained glass and soft dark lighting. Service and management staff also aim to please with their courteous and efficient demeanor. Best yet, with their relatively large seating capacity, one can go to a Houlihan’s on a busy Saturday night, and usually manage to get a table without too long of a wait.

It turns out this writer is not the only fan of this casual dining restaurant where, according to Houlihan’s CEO Bob Hartnett, customers are offered “a sophisticated, classy and comfortable atmosphere for eating and socializing, yet with a reasonably priced menu. The fine-dining atmosphere and food presentation at Houlihan’s is a cut above the average casual restaurant chain, but our prices aren’t.”

Enjoying more than 30 years of success, Houlihan’s presently has 89 restaurants nationwide; 58 franchise-owned and 31 corporate-owned. At the current time, Houlihan’s also has development agreements signed for over 100 franchised restaurants nationwide, with a total of 25 new restaurants expected to be opened in 2006.

Houlihan’s attributes its endurance to “a wide range of factors, including progressive, forward-thinking leadership; dedicated and hard-working franchisees; innovative menu items; a well-know brand; and the wherewithal to keep pace with trends without losing its heritage. A solid example is the new restaurant design that recently made its debut in an upscale Chicago suburb and will be used for all future Houlihan’s restaurants. The new design promotes socializing in a comfortable, contemporary atmosphere with a visible kitchen with display cooking and a modish bar at the restaurant’s center that opens up to an outdoor patio with seating.”

Hartnett says one of the things Houlihan’s prides itself on is its scratch cooking inspired by fare around the globe. “Houlihan’s crafts dishes made from scratch with assertive flavors, officering a unique culinary experience. Our culinary and creative teams are responsible for coming up with menu items as well as the stylish presentation of each dish. New items are constantly being researched and tested before being eventually introduced at restaurants to maintain Houlihan’s reputation of keeping pace with consumer dining trends with a fresh, eclectic menu. We’ve added Asian-influenced foods, desserts that offer miniature-sized versions of Houlihan’s most popular sweets, and a wine list that seeks to entertain rather than intimidate.”

Best-selling food items include their traditional originals, like the Brentwood Chicken Sandwich and classic Burgers Grilled to Order, and many of their newer items, such as Fish Tacos, Chicken Asian Chop Chop Salad, and Tuna Wontons. Chocolate Martinis and Luxe editions of classic beverages are a few of the crowd pleasers at the bar and dinner table.

Individuals seeking to own a Houlihan’s franchise need to meet the following criteria: at least five years of experience in the restaurant industry, knowledge and familiarity with local real estate and market trends, commitment to developing multiple units, and financial wherewithal to develop desired number of units.

And what does Houlihan’s have to offer prospective franchisees? “Houlihan’s is a nationally recognized casual dining restaurant brand with only 89 restaurants nationwide. There is plenty of desirable territory and much opportunity for development. Houlihan’s offers a flexible menu, operational support, purchasing contract pricing, marketing creative and support, training materials, and ongoing culinary research and development. We offer exclusive territory rights and protection that is becoming less common in our industry.”

Houlihan’s flexibility – in site development, menu building, and purchasing – is what sets it apart from other casual dining franchises, says Hartnett. “Franchisees are free to choose their own sites and either buy or lease the land according to their development preferences. Houlihan’s is open to developing freestanding restaurants, end-caps, concessions venues, and hotel sites. Houlihan’s offers two prototypes to franchise partners and our in-house design and construction team helps tailor each building plan to fit the individual market.

“We offer a menu program that allows franchisees to build their own unique menus based on a core list of menu items and a recipe library. They can remove less popular items and replace them with market specific items as they see fit.

“Franchisees are also able to purchase spec products from the vendor of their choice. They are certainly welcome to take advantage of our contract pricing, but they are not obligated.”

Copyright 2006, Attard Communications, Inc.

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