Chris Holland meets a fast food entrepreneur who turned a temporary job into a flourishing business empire

FLIPPING burgers will be regarded by many as a dead end job.

But try telling that to Pritpal Singh.

What started as a stop-gap job while looking for engineering work after graduating has developed into a successful business career.

Over the past 33 years Walsall-born Pritpal has become one of the leading operators of franchised McDonald's sites with 23 restaurants in West and North Yorkshire.

He came to Yorkshire to open and manage McDonald's first Sheffield restaurant in 1985, only 18 months after joining the company .After 11 years as an employee of the US-owned global fast food giant Pritpal

took on his first franchise in Halifax in 1994.

" I joined McDonald's in 1983 after graduating from Nottingham University in chemical engineering and fuel technology. It was a time when jobs in engineering were scarce and at first I regarded it as a stop-gap move.

Pritpal said: "I was offered a trainee management position and accepted as I believed it was a not just a burger firm but a company that managed people well and offered good opportunities in a growing business.

"At that time McDonald's had fewer than 100 UK restaurants and this has expanded to more than 1,200. Over the years there have been many changes and developments; for instance back then we didn't do breakfasts."

Pritpal believes McDonald's has enabled him to become an entrepreneur, something he may not have been able to achieve in engineering .

"Franchising was alien and just emerging back in the 1980s.To apply for a McDonald's franchise you had to have reached a certain grade as an employee and attained required performance levels to apply for a franchise in 1994.

"Fortunately, I had met the requirements and decided to apply for a franchise. It's tough but rewarding to run your own business and see it develop.

"Today, 70 per cent - around 900 - McDonald's UK restaurants are franchised with more being moved into franchisees' hands," he said.

We were meeting the day after the restaurant near Morrisons at Five Lane Ends re-opened following a major internal and external makeover, involving a six-figure investment.

It was the tenth of his 23 restaurants to be refurbished, which included adding another 20 seats and extending the drive-through - which accounts for two-thirds of trade at Idle - to two lanes.

Upgraded McDonald's have digital technology at the centre of their operations, including a digital ordering point; electronic menu and order tracking screens.

Pritpal said: "It's a major undertaking and Five Lane Ends was 30-odd weeks in the planning. It's an opportunity to start from scratch so it's best to close, particularly as the work requires a complete new IT infrastructure as well as the new look.

"Franchisees have the benefit of support from McDonald's construction department which works with them to develop designs. There is some choice with flexibility in the look and design of each site. Fort instance, our Guiseley and Keighley restaurants are different from Idle. The construction department is very good at advising franchisees on what's best for each site.

"I'm delighted with the outcome and still get a thrill to see the transformation of a restaurant. It's like getting a new toy."

Pritpal believes the popularity of the drive-through service at Five Lane Ends is due to Morrisons shoppers buying meals to take home, whereas sales at Guiseley and Keighley is evenly split between drive through and restaurant trade.

Pritpal's McDonald's empire includes four restaurants inside Asda stores, including at Rooley Lane, Bradford and Pudsey; three in Halifax; three in Leeds city centre, including an outlet at Leeds railway station and restaurants in Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Overall, his restaurants employ nearly 1,800 people, with most recruited locally, ranging from students and mums seeking part-time work to graduates seeking career opportunities. Pritpal said 95 per cent of McDonald's restaurant managers start on the shop floor.

"Some people may feel that as a graduate you are wasting your time working for a fast food business but I refute that, It has enabled me to build a successful business operation over 33 years.

"We have people celebrating 25 years' service who started with no qualifications and have developed successfully and taken on responsibility. We have a successful apprenticeship programme providing training to Level 2 qualifications in hospitality and catering which has seen 480 people trained since 2010 .

"Our level of training is second to none. When you take a 16-17 year-old who has never worked in a team before and never been customer facing and see them develop and become confident and come out of their shell it gives you a big sense of satisfaction.

"For me, the thing about this business is its customer facing aspects which requires the skills to run your own business and manage people and be responsible for recruitment, training, development and dealing with the public. Not many businesses give you that scope, It's a seven days a week operation and you need to be totally focused," said Pritpal.

He now has an operations manager reporting directly to him and overseeing three area managers, each responsible for eight restaurants.

But he remains hands- breaking away from paperwork and strategy to on flip burgers and clean tables when he gets the chance.

"If you want the business to succeed you have to be hands on. You have to know how the system works. I can't tell staff how to do things unless I know how to do it myself and how things are done.

"I don't particularly like paperwork so the opportunity to come and work behind the counter is great.

"The support structure I have in place helps me but that doesn't mean I take a back seat. You shouldn't expect people to do things that you can't do yourself and working in the restaurants occasionally keeps me grounded," said Pritpal.

In July Paul Pomroy, McDonald’s UK chief executive officer, announced that the company, which opened its first UK site in Woolwich in 1974, would create more than 5,000 jobs by the end of 2017. This will add to the 8,000 announced in 2014 which has taken the workforce to over 110,000 ahead of schedule.

He said: “As a major UK employer, we have added more than 15,000 people to our workforce during the last five years as a result of our sustained business growth and long-term investment in recruitment and training.

"Growth has been driven by investment and innovation in the restaurant experience, new restaurants and extended opening hours - over half of our stores are now open 24/7 throughout the week.

“Together with our franchisees, our multi-million pound investment into the next chapter of the McDonald’s story continues. We are on track to convert a further 250 stores by the end of this year. Innovations like table service where customers place their order via our new digital kiosks and have their food brought to them, are proving incredibly popular and in place in over 350 restaurants across the UK.

“This focus on continued investment and innovation has seen another strong quarter performance for the UK business. We have now delivered 41 consecutive quarters of sales growth in the UK.

“These remain challenging economic conditions but I’m pleased that, together with our franchisees, we remain committed to the UK and our continued focus on serving quality, affordable food and giving our customers a great experience is enabling us to keep investing in our business and creating jobs.”

So, does this mean Pritpal is looking to expand his franchise network?

He said: "I'm comfortable with the business I have for now but never say never. In 1994 I expected to be McDonald's 'Mr Halifax' but have been fortunate to be able to expand beyond that."