Since the first Mandarin Restaurant arrived on the Brampton scene in December of 1979, it has grown to become an iconic family-friendly presence in Ontario. Today there are 29 locations across Canada, 28 of which are franchised, offering a combination of dine-in, takeout, and delivery. This fall, Mandarin will be celebrating the opening of its 30th location in Hamilton, Ont.
Mandarin has remained true to its mission statement that every customer must feel welcomed as soon as they arrive and every customer must be happy and smiling when they leave, says Tina Chiu, Chief Operating Officer. “Our management and staff work together towards the goal of providing friendly service, delicious food, and a warm atmosphere for our guests.”
In 2017 Mandarin opened a sister concept, M2Go by Mandarin, at York University, a fast-casual restaurant that offers classic Mandarin dishes and other items. The second M2Go by Mandarin location opened in Brampton, Ont. in 2020. “They seat about 30 to 40 people and have an active takeout program,” says Chiu. “We are working on expanding the concept in the coming years.”
Prior to the pandemic, chainwide sales for Mandarin stood at $160 million. However, like any other foodservice establishment, the lockdowns took their toll like any other foodservice establishment, says Chiu. In fact, Mandarin reported drastically reduced sales of $54.4 million in 2020 and $58.9 million in 2021.
To combat the loss of dining-room sales, the team at Mandarin was forced to pivot to keep the lights on.
“While we have had takeout and delivery since we opened, the pandemic pushed us to add third-party delivery services and our own online-ordering platform more quickly than we would have anticipated. This allowed us to grow our takeout sales significantly.”
Throughout 2022 Mandarin was still recovering from lockdowns in terms of dine-in, but overall, it fared better than 2021, she reports. At year-end December 31, 2022, the Brampton, Ont.-based company, which currently employees 2,400 people systemwide, reported gross sales of $138.3 million, 75 per cent of which came from on-premise dinner occasions and 31 per cent from takeout/delivery orders.
“Our takeout and delivery program continued to exceed pre-COVID times. Now a majority of our restaurants have returned to pre-COVID in terms of operating models, including all-day buffet, but there are a handful that continue to offer a-la-carte menus for certain days of the week.”
The main challenge over the past year was finding and keeping staffing, she adds. “Many of our long-time staff retired or changed industries. We now have quite a few new staff members, so training is taking a bit more time than it used to.”
Supply-chain issues have been another challenge shared by many restaurants, says Chiu. “Finding enough supply of quality products at a reasonable price when you wanted it made things very interesting for us. The challenges, however, actually provided the opportunity for us to pull together as an organization to better solve issues.”
A main focus over the past year was recipes, menu mix, and promotional menu offerings. “We worked closely with our culinary and operations teams and suppliers to improve our dine-in and takeout menus, taking into account customer preferences, rising food and labour costs, and supply,” she explains.
Now that things are back on track, the technology investments will continue. “At the moment, some of our locations are testing robots to see if they can help with certain tasks such as assisting with hosting, bringing the food from the kitchen to the buffet tables, and bringing take-out orders from the kitchen to the take-out counter. We are evaluating whether or not this will work for us over the long-term.”
The focus for 2023 is on returning dine-in customers, says Chiu, who estimates sales for 2023 will come in at around $152 million. “We are looking at various elements of our operations with a fresh lens and making improvements as we need to. We are also ramping up for our 45th anniversary next year. So far, things are going well. Many of our customers are happy to be back, whether it is celebrating a special occasion, or just for a meal, and we are happy to serve them.”
BY DENISE DEVEAU