Miller's Ale House
Miller’s Ale House Restaurant by the Florida Mall attracts a strong crowd for dinner. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – Franchising, business students are taught, is the practice of using a company’s proven business model, and, in most instances, the franchisor’s ability to make a profit depends in large part on the success of the franchisees.

In other words, if you’ve got a good product to start with, you should do well.

But the question is, what is the public looking for that’s successful enough to become a profitable franchise?

Restaurants do this all the time – there’s even a Web site,, that lists franchise opportunities, and brags that this is a thriving field in an up-and-down economy.

On the other hand, there are a lot of restaurant chains out there, each with their own unique meals and ambiance, and competing fiercely against one another – particularly here in Central Florida, one of the great tourist Mecca’s in the nation.

How does a franchise manage to beat out the competition?

Part of it, I think, is finding the right formula that mixes a diverse menu, just the right look to the décor to make it inviting and appealing, friendly service, and an ability to make people feel like they’re getting exactly what they want at this location.

Just how tall an order that is remains a question for those who opt to open a franchise, which I’ve never done. But again, if the original formula is good, the franchise should be a success wherever it goes.

On a recent Thursday night, I met a friend at Miller’s Ale House Restaurant, located at 1667 Florida Mall Ave. by the Florida Mall.

First, I should note that it was quite crowded on a Thursday night, with most of the tables and just about every seat at the bar taken. What seemed clear to me right off the bat is that Ale House found that formula and knows how to make it work.

Seated right next to a pool table, I’ll admit, was one thing that worked so well for me. It was fun to watch an entire family play pool together while I waited for my meal to arrive – and to observe how good some of the players were, as they demonstrated their skills to the younger members of the family.

It was so entertaining to watch them play, in fact, that I ended up playing pool myself with my buddy after we’d finished our meal. That’s an interesting twist for a restaurant: to invite people to relax and enjoy their meal, then consider staying longer, and enjoy a game of pool while they decide whether or not to go with dessert.

As soon as we got seated in our booth, our server was right there, ready to take our drink orders – and had some fun chatting with us for a bit — the friendly service down pat. Appetizers arrived in record time, as did the meal.

Ale House is known for its “Zingers,” or boneless chicken wings served with celery and either Bleu Cheese or Ranch dressing. But there’s an lot more than just appetizers to pick from, including burgers (the Ale House Mini Burgers topped with grilled onions are a good choice), sandwiches (including the Big Red, a lightly fried boneless chicken breast covered in hot sauce), steaks (how does the Flat Iron Steak with Boom Boom Shrimp sound?) and seafood that included English-style Fish & Chips and Twin Lobster Tails.

The meals are priced affordably, ranging from $7.49 for a Basic Burger and $7.99 for a Tuna Melt or Breast of Chicken Sandwich, to $16.95 for a Porterhouse Steak . There are plenty of options in-between, such as a Cajun Chicken Pasta plate ($11.99), baby back Ribs (full rack, $15.99), or Jambalaya ($11.99). There’s also a very tempting dessert menu that includes the Chocolate Pounder dark chocolate cake with chocolate filling, an Apple Crisp, a Brownie Hot Fudge Sundae, or Capt’N Jack’s Nutty Brother – a delicious dessert mixing Nutter Butter cookies, fudge and vanilla ice cream, topped with chocolate and peanut butter sauce.

If Miller’s Ale House works so well, it’s because the original formula was so well thought out: a fun atmosphere, a diverse menu, good prices, and fast and friendly service.

The first Ale House was opened by Jack and Claire Miller in 1988, in Jupiter, Florida, and this chain is based here in the Sunshine State, although it also has locations in seven other states. There are 48 Ale House restaurants in Florida, including 13 in Greater Orlando alone – a healthy sign of success, and a reason why Nation’s Restaurant News reported in 2003 that average units of the restaurants were grossing $4.1 million annually.

They’re a reminder that if you get the formula right and make people feel like they’re always going to enjoy coming there, the franchise will succeed, over and over again.

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