In the 1970s and into the 1980s, new fondue restaurants started popping up in various cities and towns and then the trend, due to changing consuming dining habits, started to fade. But don’t tell that to the franchisees who keep investing in The Melting Pot, which has been around for 48 years.
It has expanded to 95 locations, 91 of which are franchised, and four of which are company-owned by Tampa-based Front Burner Brands, a franchiser and restaurant management company, which also operates fast-casual Oronzo Honest Italian. Melting Pot operates in 29 states with one location in Edmonton, Canada.
Bob Johnston, CEO of Front Burner Brands and Melting Pot, attributed its longevity to its “catering to what people want, enabling them to connect with each other, family members and good friends, and nervous first dates as well.” He said it offers “entertainment” since the chef prepares the meal at the table in front of the guests, making it an interactive meal and inviting conversation.
It has also adapted its menu based on consumer feedback, so it now offers a Big Night Out special that includes what he calls a “bundled” meal of four courses consisting of cheese fondue, salad, entrée fondue and dessert courses, for $110 a person. But its average check for a la carte dinners of entrée and beverage is $52 a person.
A fondue specialty eatery, The Melting Pot, has rode the trend for nearly five decades, by knowing how to franchise, and delivering a hearty meal out, often as a special occasion.
Aren’t many people cutting down on heavy meals of cheese fondue? Not the least bit defensive, Johnston replied that “Guests don’t eat with us every week. We are where you go when you want to treat yourself to a special meal.”
Johnston said the menu accommodates those who want lower-calorie meals by offering vegan cheese options, and lean cuts of meats served in a broth.
A Multi-Layered Target Audience
He described its target audience as multi-layered and included “young people choosing to celebrate a report card, graduation or proms; young adults starting to date; couples who haven’t been able to connect but get a babysitter and dine out with friends; and often multi-generation families of three generations.”
He called its ideal location as mostly “affluent suburban communities where there’s a density of population.” He noted that none are located in New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago, the three largest metropolises in the country, though they’ve just begun to explore entering larger cities.
Exploring a New Concept
Because dinners are often multi-courses and leisurely, many guests average a 90-minute stay. It’s also exploring a proof of concept with Melting Pot Social, where guests would stay an average of 60 minutes and there would be greater emphasis on bar revenue, and would serve prepared meals in addition to fondues.
On Yelp, many guests were positive about dining at Melting Pot with minor reservations. For example, Lauren from Gainesville, Fl, dined at a Tampa location for her birthday. She enjoyed the cheese and dessert fondue and was “stuffed by the end.” She was only disappointed that there weren’t any birthday specials on the menu.
Michele from Tampa ordered the four-course dinner option and stayed for two and a half hours and never felt rushed. And Beth and her husband also ordered the Big Night Out dinner, which included salmon, shrimp, chicken, teriyaki beef, potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli, with six different sauces.
The Ideal Franchisee Is Hospitable
But the Melting Pot depends on its growth and sustenance by finding the right franchisees. Johnston described the ideal franchisee as “someone who is passionate about hospitality and derives enjoyment from throwing a party every night for the guest. If that’s not part of your make-up, you’re not an ideal Melting Pot franchisee.”
He also said franchisees must “understand the risks of business ownership and be energized by that risk.”
Will Front Burner Brands operate like a private equity firm and look to cash out? Johnston rejects that description, saying “We are owner-operators, driven by hospitality and guest services. Nothing lasts forever, but we don’t think about selling on a daily basis.”
Asked about future growth, Johnson expected to open 8 or 9 new locations by year’s end and then add another 8 or 9 the following year, enabling it to surpass 100 locations by year’s end.
He described the three keys to its future success as: 1) Strong franchisee partnerships, 2) Delivering the guest’s perfect night out every time, 3) Creating more brand awareness of what guests can expect when they dine out at Melting Pot.