Bravely moving forward

A successful franchisee of McDonald’s, H&S Restaurants is active in the development of its people and trying out new concepts, in order to continually delight its customers

The combination of working with good people, staying relevant to its customers, and being brave enough to invest, has been revealed as the secret to H&S Restaurants’ success in the last 12 years by its owner, Nigel Dunnington. A franchisee of McDonald’s since November 2006, Nigel now operates a total of 14 restaurants in Preston and Blackpool and has experienced significant growth in that time.

“We have seen a lot of changes in the way McDonald’s connects with its customers,” he begins. “Twelve years ago, you either used the Drive Thru’ or ordered your food in the restaurant and were served traditionally by a member of staff who took your order. While these options are still available today, the world in which we all live has moved on significantly. Today technology plays a much bigger role in our customers lives and we have had to ensure that we have stayed ahead so now we have so many ways that our customers can order from us and these are set to continue to grow in popularity.”

What Nigel refers to are the touchscreen kiosks installed across McDonald’s restaurants that enable visitors to place an order and go to the counter to collect it, or even more conveniently select the table service option where the customers food is brought to them at their table. “In addition, people can now order via our mobile app and our investment in McDelivery is also ensuring that we have a big presence in this area too. This is an incredible growth area that responds to the way our customers now live their lives and we are set to ensure that we make the most of this because of the investment we have all made.

“I think the main benefit of the advent of technology is that every customer gets food that is prepared specifically for them. A few years ago, we would prepare, say, a cheeseburger in advance and keep it in the holding area for a maximum of ten minutes, whereas today, everything is made to order, we start assembling a meal only when the order for it comes through,” he explains.

“Investment in technology is a necessity if we are to stay relevant to our customers,” Nigel continues. “Visitors expect me to make investments that enhance their experience, and so do my staff. Yes, this area does require significant investment not only in infrastructure but also for training and developing our team, but when you think about it, there is also a cost to not investing, which cannot always be seen. We need to stay relevant to our customers and be there when and where they want us, these are just a commercially astute decisions.”

As a result of this policy, the last few years have borne witness to the expansion of all 14 restaurants run by Nigel. Furthermore, he has demonstrated willingness to level up the business’ recyclability efficiency by placing separate bins for liquids, plastics, and paper items in the dining areas and encouraging restaurant visitors to be more conscious of where they dispose of their rubbish.

The unprecedented growth of the business means that Nigel is constantly facing the need to hire more staff, with the training and development of his workforce being another area where he directs his investment. “There is a difference in the type of work our staff members are doing, compared to their roles ten years ago. Nowadays, our priority is to ensure that we offer a great experience to every customer, so whereas ten years ago we may have prioritised the kitchen areas today we place much more focus on the teams who look after our customers on the dining area and front counter,” he points out.

“I genuinely believe that people are the heartbeat of any business and if you have a motivated bunch of employees, they are going to help you achieve your goals. Good well trained and motivated people will lead to good sales and good sales help your profitability. Driven by this philosophy, we have a strong focus on providing our employees with valuable skills and, right now, I have about 50 people going through various levels of apprenticeship. My personal pledge is in full harmony with that of McDonald’s, as both parties want everyone who has gone through our training to leave the company in as better people, than they were when they first joined us. There are a few people who leave after a couple of years’, including university students who get a part-time job with us to help fund their education, and it is our utmost desire to see them leave better educated, better qualified, and with better understanding of life itself,” Nigel expounds.

Customer options
Discussing the disciplines, the employees are being trained in, he notes that there is a mix of formal McDonald’s courses and more informal internal H&S Restaurants’ schemes. “For example, if an hourly-paid employee has the aspiration of becoming a manager, then, they need to go to one of McDonald’s Hamburger Universities where leadership courses specific to the company are being delivered. In parallel, I organise various development and team-building sessions within our group. We have also just held an event with Mind, the mental health body to discuss some of the issues the young people of today face today. Out of the 1350 employees we have, around 40 per cent are under 18, however 25 per cent are over 25 years old with around 50 staff being over 50, so it is important that we do all we can to support them and to support our managers in helping them to help themselves.”

At the end of our conversation, Nigel talks of how McDonald’s overcame a period of slight decline in the late 1990s and the 2000s, focusing on the new items that have been added to the menu in recent years and the popularity they have enjoyed, particularly within his own restaurants. “There was a time when McDonald’s lost a bit of relevance, but since then, we have had 50+ consecutive quarters of growth, which is unbelievable for a business like ours. H&S has been able to capitalise on trends around Big Flavour Wraps, salads, and porridge, and we have been selling a lot of these, alongside all other products you would expect from McDonald’s like Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets, having a menu that offers choice is vital, this allows people more options to make the right decisions for their needs.

“Coffee sales have also grown massively, and in my opinions it’s not only the best coffee but the best value coffee you can buy. Consumers’ tastes have developed in the past 20 years, so, instead of just ordering a cup of tea or white coffee, they now want Cappuccinos or Flat Whites and we are able to provide these at an affordable price. The same goes for Frappes and smoothies, which we have made more accessible for those who want to try them. Three years ago, you could pay over £3 to get a smoothie, now you can get one for £1.99 with us,” Nigel reveals.

“The truth is that nobody knows the future,” he says with regards to the trends that might emerge in the coming years. “You can do as much research as you want, to predict what consumers will go for and predict future trends, but sometimes you have to leap into the unknown, too. Collectively at McDonald’s we review the evidence and we work together to identify the right approach and solutions for the future, that is where the strength of this business lies. You need to be brave and to continue to invest in new concepts. Standing still is not an option, we have to continually delight and surprise our customers if we want to remain successful,” Nigel concludes.