Ground Round Grill and Bar

Ground Round

As a franchisee-owned company, Ground Round Grill and Bar

brings new meaning to the phrase ‘owned and operated by.’

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

Becoming a franchisee is a long-term decision and Ground Round Grill and Bar strives to make it an attractive opportunity by offering a stake in the company and flexible term agreements. “We are a close-knit group and driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of our owners,” President and CEO Jack Crawford says.

“All our franchisees have skin in the game and are committed personally to the brand, its menu and marketing initiatives, and direction.”

The Freeport, Maine-based casual dining restaurant began in 1969 as a spinoff concept to Howard Johnson’s, and provides a neighborhood pub experience that caters to everyone. Ground Round’s original menu offered 12 items, primarily featuring burgers – hence the company’s name – snack food and pitchers of beer.

Today, Ground Round features 80 menu items and burgers still account for 30 percent of the company’s sales. The restaurant is a two-room concept where families can relax in the dining room while adults meeting friends or watching the game can be equally comfortable in the sports lounge.Ground Round Fact Box

“Our primary customers are families, friends and sports fans who enjoy and are loyal to our great food and variety, and prefer our two-room layout,” Crawford adds. “With a history in casual dining for more than 45 years, we are as known a brand as any of our competitors, and with our menu variety, quality food and prices, we are a value choice versus some competitors and a quality choice to others.”

Pride in Ownership

In 2004, Ground Round became a franchisee-owned company. Since taking over the brand leadership, they have evolved the menu and offerings, upgraded prototype designs, returned to growth and enjoy a more driven and committed franchise community leading the way. The company offers a unique franchise agreement where operators not only can own a franchise, but also a share in the overall company.

“New franchisees can enter the group and have the same standing as our founding owners,” Crawford says. “When we sell a franchise to new franchisees, they have the option to buy a share of the brand to be a member/partner in the group. As a member, they pay a preferred royalty rate and have voting rights and direct input on our brand’s direction.”

In addition to a share of the brand, franchisees are offered five- and 10-year terms, which Crawford says is more flexible than other franchise opportunities where you are locked in for 20 years. “That’s a long time to commit 20 years and we have had some good franchisees join our system because of the shorter term options,” he adds. “We are owned by franchisees, so we think like a franchisee. We are also flexible with construction options and welcome conversions and brand changes as a means to join our system, without having higher leverage from only new build options.”

Crawford says because of its business model and close-knit family of operators, Ground Round has been rated very highly in Franchise Business Review’s (FBR) “Top 40 Food Franchises” for the past three consecutive years. Results are based on an independent survey conducted by FBR that measured overall franchisee satisfaction of the brand, leadership and support.

Franchisees are heavily involved in every aspect of Ground Round because they have a stake in the brand’s overall success. “We are in constant communication with our owners,” Crawford says. “They have voting rights, are involved in menu development and marketing direction and all franchisees meet in person frequently at annual and regional franchise meetings throughout the year.”

From Ideation to Reality

Ground Round Sports Grille is a newly developed brand and smaller version of Ground Round Grill and Bar designed to operate in nontraditional venues, such as within bowling and entertainment centers, airports, movie theaters and hotels. “The idea came from a franchisee who owns bowling centers and wanted the brand in his center,” Crawford says. “We worked together to develop it and we are just getting started in its application and growth potential.”

The major differences between the traditional locations and the Ground Round Sports Grille is the smaller square footage and menu options. The sports grille is about 2,000 square feet, whereas a traditional grill and bar is 5,000 square feet. “It’s inside another entertainment venue, so it’s a smaller version,” Crawford explains. “The grill and bar has 80 menu items where the sports grille has 40 items, still having a lot of customer favorites available.”

Ground Round Sports Grille’s logo is similar for brand identity, but distinctive to Ground Round’s traditional locations, so customers can easily associate the difference in the two. Ground Round Sports Grille is just one example of how franchisees are making a difference within the company and expanding the brand’s reach. “It gives the brand diversity and might give the franchisee an opportunity to have two distinctive locations in a market,” Crawford says.

Although only two locations are in operation today near the company’s headquarters, the nontraditional development concept has only just begun for Ground Round. “We have contacts and networking going on that we may soon see an airport development,” Crawford notes.

Building the Brand

Ground Round grants a seven-mile radius of protection per new location developed. For a multi-unit territory, Ground Round would expand the radius to cover an ample amount of area for the number of units to be developed.

Today, Ground Round operates 27 locations in nine states spread throughout the Midwest and Northeast United States. Its goal is to open three to five restaurants per year and have more than 40 locations in operation in the next few years. “It could be a mix of Ground Round Grill and Bar and Ground Round Sports Grille brands, but we intend to open three to five locations a year,” Crawford says. “I would say the majority of growth will come from our grill and bar brand, while sports grille development will come along as the sites fit that need.”



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Cringleford Business Centre
Intwood Road
Cringleford, Norwich, UK

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