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In mid-January, better-burger fast-casual concept Fatburger and its sister brand, Buffalo’s Express, opened a new co-branded location in Barstow, Calif. The 3,800-square-foot location offers guests access to specialties from both concepts in a single platform.

“Surprise!” is a welcome exclamation on birthdays and anniversaries but not on construction projects. Unexpected events usually increase costs. In rare cases, an unpredicted expense can cause an owner to scuttle a project.

When a new restaurant opens, it is a time for celebration. Like any kind of significant event, an opening takes preplanning. Restaurant chains that open a number of units each year have developed best practices for what could be called the countdown-to-opening period. While the key elements are similar — punch lists, marketing, training — the specific focus and timing can be quite different, depending on the chain’s corporate mission and brand promise.

High-end steakhouse operator Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group (SWRG) has introduced a new, more casual sister concept, Wollensky’s Grill. Positioned as a place for best-in-class shareable dining and interaction with a gastropub-style menu, Wollensky’s Grill is located on the lower level of the iconic Smith & Wollensky restaurant on the Chicago River.

Dunkin’ Donuts has launched DD Green, a green building certification program to help franchisees build sustainable, energy-efficient restaurants. In conjunction with the announcement, the company celebrated the grand opening of a DD Green-certified unit in Long Beach, Calif., in December.

Big Boy is dead! Long live Big Boy! That seems to sum things up for the Warren, Mich.-based franchisor. It would appear, on one hand, that better days are behind the aging brand despite an attempt four years ago to rev sales with a new full-service prototype. 

It’s a refrain repeated too often by casual industry observers: Casual dining is dying. Yes, some big-name brands in the segment are struggling. Full-service concepts that made Technomic’s 2014 list of the Top 500 Chain Restaurants (ranked by U.S. system-wide sales) posted sales growth of 2.4 percent in 2013, compared with the 3.8 percent growth recorded by limited-service concepts.

For brands looking to expand into international markets, location should almost be last on the list of considerations. While hot international growth markets such as Canada, the Middle East and parts of Asia remain attractive, it’s their correspondence to other factors that make a successful transition.