US burger brand Wendy's is targeting major expansion in the UK, with plans for at least 50% of its restaurants to be drive-through locations.
Michael Clarke, managing director of Wendy's UK and Europe, told The Caterer the group had a "really strong pipeline" of locations over the next few years.
Wendy's returned to the UK in 2021 after a 20-year break and has since opened just over 30 sites, including company-run and franchised restaurants as well as delivery kitchens. This has included four drive-through sites in Colchester, Peterborough, Derby and Brampton Hut.
"We think there are loads of opportunities across the whole of the UK for us to open drive-through restaurants," said Clarke. "In terms of accessibility, it's actually great for the customer."
Wendy's launched in the UK with a breakfast offer but Clarke said it was looking to extend the opening hours of more sites to target late-night spending, with one restaurant currently open until 2am and some closing at 10pm.
There are plans to launch new products including wraps in the UK for the first time in Q2 next year, along with a ‘frostyccino', a mix between Wendy's frozen desserts and espresso.
Wendy's recently took on a fourth franchise partner, which will open its first UK site in 2024, and all franchisees have extended their development agreements.
While Clarke could not put a figure on the number of sites he hopes to reach by the end of next year, he said the company was "aggressively" expanding.
"We want to open as many restaurants as we can," said Clarke.
He added: "Our plan is, how do we get Wendy's to as many people as possible across the UK? We will open anywhere and everywhere that our customers want us to."
Wendy's was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969 and has more than 6,000 US restaurants but no European sites outside the UK. The brand plans to use the UK as a base to grow into the market and is recruiting franchisees for Ireland and Spain.
Clarke said Wendy's had performed "above and beyond where we expected it to be" since the chain returned to the UK in 2021 after shutting down its UK sites in 2000.
He added that Wendy's had "come back with skin in the game" and running company-owned UK restaurants allowed it to test changes before they were rolled out to franchise sites.
All franchisees now spend up to 12 weeks in a Wendy's company restaurant to learn how they are run.
Despite the difficult economic market, Clarke said the chain was optimistic about the future: "We're just trying to stay focused in our lane. We know the rates will go down, the utilities will get better and everything will improve. We've got to make sure we stay true to our mission, which is to be the most-loved hamburger brand in the UK."
He added: "We just feel like we've got a really good foundation to grow and to hang around forever."