Are Mobile Ordering Apps a New QSR Necessity?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile ordering was a becoming a top priority for quick-service restaurants. Giving customers the power to place their own orders before leaving home can substantially increase operational throughput. With the pandemic and public safety concerns in play, mobile ordering has taken on new importance as a way to limit interaction and potential exposure.
Large, nationwide brands that the Dhanani Group franchises with, such as Burger King and Popeyes, already have mobile ordering apps available for download. Smaller, less drive-through-focused brands such as La Madeleine do not have one currently. But as the pandemic drags on, mobile ordering app usage is exploding—a trend which could very well continue long after the crisis recedes.
There are a number of reasons why quick service restaurants are experiencing success with mobile ordering apps:
  • Mobile ordering brings in more customers (namely, those that value the convenience and speed these apps provide).
  • Ordering ahead via mobile app reduces bottlenecks in the drive-thru lane or at the counter, allowing greater throughput.
  • Mobile ordering reduces bottlenecks in the kitchen, as orders are typically received well in advance of customer pickup, giving staff time to prep and fulfill orders without holding up the entire operation.
  • Mobile ordering reduces the need for face-to-face conversations between staff and customers, keeping everyone safer during the pandemic. (This can also facilitate contactless delivery or curbside pickup).
  • Mobile ordering apps can encourage customers to order more frequently and/or try new menu items with features such as loyalty/rewards programs, push notifications, and gamification elements such as achievements, leveling up, and more.
There’s another good reason why so many QSRs are implementing mobile ordering apps: Slowing the rise and proliferation of aggregators likeUber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates, and GrubHub.
These companies offer many of the same conveniences of branded mobile ordering apps that customers love, such as easy ordering from anywhere and contactless delivery. However, they eliminate many of the benefits for restaurants, including brand loyalty programs, menu item highlighting, and more. Most importantly, these third-party ordering apps cut into QSR profit margins with their outrageous commission fees.
Utilizing a proprietary mobile ordering app is a smart solution for both established or fast-growing QSRs that is popular with customers and can help insulatea brand fromthe (profit-killing) meal aggregator game.What’s more is that larger and larger numbers of customers are coming to rely upon and expect these apps from all of their favorite restaurant brands during the pandemic. That preference is not likely to fade away soon, even after the pandemic is over.
If you’re interested in building one of the world’s largest QSR empires as the Dhanani Group has done, you’d be wise to factor app functionality into your calculus on which franchises to invest with. It’s an important brand asset that’s currently growing more critical by the day.

How the Pandemic Fuels Drive-thru Business

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the American restaurant industry hard in 2020, forcing a dining-room shutdown almost everywhere, instilling fear and uncertainty over customer and employee safety, and generally changing the way restaurant businesses must operate in order to safely serve guests. For most businesses, it has been a difficult crisis to successfully navigate.

Not all restaurant concepts suffered equally, however. In a recent story from QSR Magazine, the periodical reported that location technology company Bluedot’s second “State of What Feeds Us” report found that 74 percent of people have visited a drive thru the same amount or more often than usual since COVID-19 landed. That’s a 43-percent jump in growth from April.

The report only confirms what we in the QSR sector have already seen with our own eyes: Consumers are leaning on drive thrus to avoid crowds and contact during the coronavirus crisis. It’s no secret why, either: In addition to their natural convenience, drive-thru lanes reduce human contact, and therefor the risk of viral transmission. They have also not been affected by dining-room shutdowns. For these reasons, QSR concepts with drive-thrus have enjoyed a critical lifeline and advantage over restaurants that do not.

No one really knows exactly how long this pandemic will last, or how it will affect QSR consumer trends afterwards. But in our new age of social distancing, the shift of focus away from the on-premise dining room is likely to alter customer preferences well beyond the current period. For QSR businesses to flourish in both normal and uncertain conditions, they must be technology-enabled, efficient, and safe for customers.

As one of the world’s largest and most successful QSR franchise owners, the Dhanani Group is helping to lead the way in restoring consumer confidence in dining safety. This requires extreme flexibility and learning on the fly as our restaurants across the United States pivot to contactless ordering, pickup, and transactions. These options will all be critical design considerations moving forward as we work to expand our business, along with tech-based sanitation solutions.

Many QSR franchises have already experimented with order-ahead pickup lanes inside their restaurants. Permanent drive-thru pickup lanes may follow. The more convenient we make the experience for guests, the safer they will feel and the more satisfied they will be. But as we continue to adapt to new challenges, we know we can continue to rely on the drive-thru lane to be our greatest asset in attracting business during the pandemic.

What is a QSR Franchise Owner?

What is a QSR franchise—and why would I want to own one? That’s a common question from people outside our industry, and we certainly understand why! After all, not everyone is an expert on franchising, or the food service industry, for that matter. To explain, then, let’s start with the basics: “QSR” stands for “quick service restaurant.”

What is a quick service restaurant? Well, a quick service restaurant is any kind of food service business that serves its food quickly. Some may have a drive-through window; some may have counter service. Almost none of them, however, have a wait staff. In other words, a QSR is not what we typically think of as a “sit-down restaurant.”

To many people, QSRs are known as “fast food” restaurants. We don’t use that term for a couple of reasons. First, “fast food” has a negative connotation to some people and we don’t think negatively about our franchises. Second, “fast food” doesn’t quite capture all the different types of quick service restaurant franchises that we own and operate.

A QSR franchise restaurant like the ones the Dhanani Group, Inc. operates is an individual restaurant location that’s part of a larger, franchised chain of restaurants. Some QSR franchises are part of national or even international brands; others are smaller, more regional chains. But each franchise location is independently owned.

A QSR franchise owner like the Dhanani Group, Inc. contracts with a restaurant business to sell that company’s food products. After paying an initial fee and agreeing to pay the company a certain percentage of revenue, a franchise owner can use the company’s name, logo, and guidance to create a successful business.

The Dhanani Group, Inc. is one of the largest and most successful QSR franchise owners in the world. We own and operate hundreds of QSR franchises across the United States. Our first franchise was a co-branded Burger King restaurant in Houston, Texas that we purchased in 1994. We haven’t stopped growing since. The reason why is simple: Everybody needs to eat, so there is a market for QSR franchises!

If you would like to know more about our family of dynamic QSR companies or join our winning team, contact us today. We are always interested in partnering with smart, driven individuals who are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to succeed at this level.

Driving Ambition: 38-Year-Old Operates 125 Popeyes in 4 States

Amin Dhanani didn’t have to look far for a business role model: his father came from Pakistan 37 years ago with 11 children and $50 in his pocket. Although his father didn’t speak English, he became a successful entrepreneur with convenience stores and gas stations. His work ethic still wows his children.

Apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree: Dhanani, just 38, recently was named Franchisee of the Year by Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. He was also recognized with the Mega-Growth Leadership MVP award for expanding his Popeyes franchise to 125 restaurants (40 of them new builds) in just 5 years.

“I think this kind of drive and ambition is part of our family’s way of doing business,” says the owner and president of Sugar Land, Tex.-based Z&H Foods. “Everybody’s like that. It started with my dad, who is 83 but still gets excited about any new deals we come up with. I go to him for advice. His blessing is still important for anything I do.”

Dhanani and his siblings grew up working in the family business, which included service stations, convenience stores, and Burger Kings. “I worked my way up from assistant manager to GM to district manager to director of operations, so I brought 10 years of operations experience to the table when I acquired my Popeyes franchise,” he says. “Burger King provided a great platform to learn from.”

Even while growing at warp speed, the young husband and father of two believes he’s been able to maintain the quality of his restaurants, now in four states (Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri), by being very hands-on.

Nor does Dhanani have any plans to slow down any time soon. He’s aiming for another 10 “organic” stores and other new acquisitions in 2015. And he’s taking his team along for the ride.

“I’ve learned that people become excited about growth,” he says. “They love to be part of something new. It’s human nature.”


Name: Amin Dhanani
Title: Owner and president, Z&H Foods
No. of units: 125 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Age: 38
Family: Wife Saeeda, daughter Summer, son Ary
Years in franchising: 25
Years in current position: 5


Formative influences/events:
My father, a great businessman, has been a great influence on me. He’s a true American story coming from Pakistan with 11 kids and little money and starting his own business.

Key accomplishments:
Getting into the Popeyes system in 2010 and making a large 49-store acquisition in 2012. In 2013, after always doing business in Houston, I branched out into other cities and states. It’s been a great year. A few weeks before I received the MVP award, I was named Franchisee of the Year at Popeyes’ annual conference in Orlando.

Work week:
I’m gone about half the month. Monday through Friday I’m on the road or in the office, and on weekends I’m with my family as much as possible.

What are you reading?
by Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder. She’s a great motivator.

Best advice you ever got:
To always take care of my people and to make them feel part of a team.

What’s your passion in business?
I love growth. It excites me and keeps me going.


Business philosophy:
Work hard, take care of your people, and live a balanced life.

Management method or style:
I’m hands-on and very involved in my business. I know almost all my upper store managers and a lot of the GMs.

Greatest challenge:
To balance my life between work and family and hobbies (basketball, football, golf).

How do others describe you?
As a very aggressive entrepreneur at a young age.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
I don’t do it that much anymore, but we retain by being competitive with pay, offering good compensation packages, and caring for our employees. We have grown a lot in five years and people ask me, “How do you get managers for all those stores?” They just come by word of mouth. When you take care of your people, word gets out because all the managers from different brands in the market know each other.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
$150 million.

2015 goals:
To grow another 10 Popeyes stores organically and to keep looking for more acquisitions in the brand.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
By top-line sales. I believe growing top-line sales will fix everything on the P&L to give you a better bottom line.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years, I’d like to grow with the brand to about 300 restaurants. In 10 years, I’ll still be with the brand, hitting maybe 400 stores. Then I’ll start looking to focus more on personal goals, such as more charity work, more international travel, and coaching a basketball team.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We always give them a good compensation package, bonuses, and annual reviews for salary or wage increases. We also give them the tools in the restaurant that require more repair and maintenance, such as fryers, AC, and headsets.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I would love it if my kids became involved in the business as they grow up.

2015 MVP: Mega-Growth Leadership Award

Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
I think 125 restaurants in 5 years is the answer.

How have you raised the bar in your own company?
By telling them I want to be the best franchisee in the brand–in operations metrics, sales, and development. I’m currently seven stores behind the largest franchisee. I hope to pass that in about six months. That will be a major milestone.

What innovations you have created and used to build your company?
I was the first one in the system to put in digital menu boards (Houston) four years ago and the brand started taking off on that two years ago. I was the first franchisee to do a 60-seat prototype (San Antonio) when everybody was doing 48-seaters. Most recently, I did my own prototype in Arizona. It’s larger for higher-volume stores and Popeyes is now adopting the prototype.

What core values do you think helped you win this award?
I started from the ground up and worked very hard.

How important is community involvement to you and your company?
We have a global charity trust that helps where needed inside and outside the United States.

What leadership qualities are important to you and your team?
Three things I truly believe, and I live by: You observe, you delegate, and then you follow up. All three need to work together. If you leave one out, the whole system falls.

Entrepreneur Shoukat Dhanani Runs One Of America’s Largest Private Businesses — Very, Very Quietly

Shoukat Dhanani, 60, isn’t the type of entrepreneur who courts publicity, but his company, Dhanani Group, has gotten too big to ignore.

Dhanani Group is the largest franchisee in the Popeyes system, as well as a giant Burger King franchisee, making it the nation’s third-largest restaurant franchisee, with 2015 revenues of $871 million, according to trade publication Franchise Times. But those numbers capture only a piece of the group’s businesses, which include convenience stores and gas delivery, as well as the franchised restaurants. In a recent conversation, Dhanani told me that “if you add everything up, it would be over $2 billion” – an amount that would likely qualify Sugar Land, Tex.-based Dhanani Group for FORBES’ list of America’s Largest Private Companies.

Dhanani’s story is a classic tale of entrepreneurship, and how a hard-working family can build a giant, and highly succcessful, business without venture capital or private equity money. The group today includes 130 convenience stores in the Houston area, 502 Burger Kings and 170 Popeyes. It remains 100% family owned and operated. “We always believed in staying low-key and under the radar,” says Dhanani. “That’s what our dad taught us.”

Dhanani’s father, Hassan Ali Dhanani, who died earlier this year, was a born businessman and the family’s guiding force. Back in Pakistan, Dhanani recalls, his father started working at age 13, rolling cigarettes by hand and packing them for sale. “He could smell the money everywhere,” says Dhanani, who immigrated to the U.S. to attend college. “He saw opportunities and he guided us. He taught us business.”

The business, which dates to 1976, began with convenience stores. Dhanani moved into restaurant franchising in 1994, with Burger King. “In those days, co-branding fast food and convenience stores was just being talked about, and I thought it was a great idea,” Dhanani says. He opened what he believes was the first one. “It was just a corner dedicated to Burger King,” he recalls.

Over the past few years, as restaurant franchisees have gotten bigger and bigger (for our magazine story on America’s largest restaurant franchisee, see here), Dhanani’s operation has grown exponentially. In early-2010, he figures, the group had only 40 Burger Kings, but then they started making acquisitions. “We had a lot of cash. The economy was good. And it was a great time to buy out troubled franchisees,” he says. By 2012, the group had roughly doubled in size.

Dhanani focused on buying struggling restaurants, and turning them around. “We consolidated pretty much the whole Houston market, where we are still dominant,” he says. “We bought those restaurants that were run by franchisees who were not doing well financially for some time. The facilities were old and tired. We remodeled all the restaurants.” He figures that when he bought restaurants, they averaged around $1 million in sales, and that his restaurants are now in the range of the national average for Burger King, around $1.35 million.

In 2012, Dhanani moved outside Houston for the first time, making a large acquisition of 100 Burger Kings in the New England area. “We doubled our size overnight,” he says. “We had to put the infrastructure and be ready for what to do when you are managing long distance.” Then, in November 2014, Dhanani acquired another 255 restaurants from Blackstone Group, again doubling in size.

It was a similar story in Popeyes, which is now run by Amin Dhanani. “Our timing was perfect getting started with Popeyes,” Shoukat Dhanani recalls. “That was after Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder had started with Popeyes, and she has done a marvelous job with the brand. We just got on it when the brand was on the upswing with a couple of Popeyes in Houston.” More acquisitions, and some development followed, bringing the Popeyes holdings to 170, over the past five years.

The convenience stores now are a slow-growth business, but as consolidation continues apace in the restaurant business, Dhanani continues to see opportunities. “Our plan is to still continue to grow with Popeyes and Burger King,” he says. “We are looking at different other opportunities, like fast casual or fine dining.”

But he’s in no rush as prices for deals go higher. “When you have too much money chasing opportunities, the prices keep going higher,” he says, “and I’m not used to paying higher prices or market prices. If we have to wait two years or five years it doesn’t matter.”

The one thing he won’t do, however, is go looking for Wall Street money, as many other restaurant franchisees have. Outside money, after all, always comes with strings, tying you to someone else’s strategy and vision. “I would never put up with that,” Dhanani says. “As an entrepreneur, I like the flexibility and the freedom of making my own decisions rather than wondering what Wall Street is going to think.”