Opening a Dairy Queen Franchise: Info and Costs

Opening a Dairy Queen Franchise

Dairy Queen first opened their doors 75 years ago and has established themselves as the leading soft-serve restaurant across the country. The company’s founder, John Fremont McCullough, is credited with creating the first known version of soft-serve ice cream.

This ice cream legend has branched out to open over 6,800 locations in the United States, Canada, and 25 additional countries.[1] In the United States alone, nearly 4,503 stores are independently owned franchises.

If you’re interested in finding out how to open a Dairy Queen franchise, this guide will walk you through the steps and Dairy Queen franchise requirements.

Dairy Queen Franchise Overview

With a name that’s been bringing joy to Americans for years and a robust menu of lunch, dinner, and dessert items, opening a Dairy Queen franchise can be a smart business move. In fact, Entrepreneur Magazine rated Dairy Queen as number 16 on their 2020 Franchise 500 list.[2]

Before taking you through the steps to set up your own Dairy Queen franchise, we’ll first walk you through the pros and cons of this franchise. There are advantages and disadvantages to any franchise, of course, but let’s see where Dairy Queen stands out and falls short.

Dairy Queen Pros

In addition to national brand recognition, here’s what else you’ll get when opening a Dairy Queen franchise:

  • Top-level franchise support
  • Flexibility to choose a franchise location
  • Access to both management and employee training
  • Options of franchising a Dairy Queen or Orange Julius

Dairy Queen Cons

Although there are many benefits to opening a Dairy Queen franchise, there are quite a few glaring drawbacks you should keep in mind as well:

  • High up-front costs (higher than most fast-food restaurant franchises)
  • Requires franchisees to have high capital liquidity and a net worth of over $750,000
  • No financial assistance currently available through Dairy Queen, but they do offer connections to third-party financing services
  • Some recent bad press over a 2018 ad intended to guilt-trip working parents into skipping a day of work to treat their kids to ice cream[3]

Dairy Queen Franchise Cost

Now that you have the basics of this brand, the next question to answer is: How much is a Dairy Queen franchise? 

You’ll need an initial investment of $45,000 to cover your franchise fee. You’ll also be required to pay a 4% royalty fee on all of your gross sales. In addition, you’ll pay 5% to 6% of your gross sales for marketing support (though their website does not go into the specifics of what you’ll receive for this fee).

Dairy Queen franchises can expect an initial investment range between $1,151,135 and $1,936,655, though this number can vary depending on your location, market, and store size. Keep in mind, this number is only for Dairy Queen Grill and Chill franchises. Dairy Queen does not detail what to expect for Orange Julius locations.

Ultimately, Dairy Queen franchise costs can be quite high. The good news is, Dairy Queen’s franchise costs, while on the high end, are on par with many competitors. 

Let’s take a look at a few initial investment requirements from top food franchises:

  • McDonald’s: $45,000
  • Taco Bell: $45,000
  • Dunkin’: $40,000
  • Wendy’s: $40,000

Now that you know what to expect in terms of fees when opening a Dairy Queen franchise, let’s look at the actual process for applying to become a franchise owner.

How to Open a Dairy Queen Franchise in 6 Easy Steps

Are you eager to dive into the Dairy Queen franchise application process? We’ll take you through how to inquire about a franchise, the research required, the application process, store construction, management training, and opening your new franchise.

Step 1: Submit Your Interest

You’ll start off on your path to becoming a Dairy Queen franchisee by submitting an inquiry with their franchise team.

This inquiry should include:

  • Your basic information (name, address, phone number, etc)
  • Net worth
  • Cash available for investment
  • Investment timeframe
  • City and state of interest (you can select only a state if you’re open to locations)
  • Existing real estate management or ownership experience

Once you submit your inquiry and if you seem like a good fit for the franchise, Dairy Queen will reach out and provide you with their franchise disclosure document (FDD) with all of the terms and stipulations for owning a Dairy Queen or Orange Julius franchise.

Step 2: Research and Decide

Now that you have the full franchise agreement information, it’s time to review all of the financial requirements, total Dairy Queen franchise costs, and the location availability Dairy Queen has provided to determine if opening a franchise is the right move for you.

You’ll also want to view renewal fees, contract terms (typically 20 years), your responsibilities as a franchisee, services provided by the franchisor, financing guidelines, and other fine print. It’s recommended that you review this document with a business attorney to ensure you fully understand the terms you’ll be agreeing to.

During this due diligence period, Dairy Queen welcomes you to reach out to their franchise team with any questions or considerations.

Step 3: Submit Your Application

If you’ve made the decision to move forward, congratulations! You’re ready to submit your official Dairy Queen franchise application.

To get started, reach out to the franchise team and request the application. You can expect the application questions to cover the inquiry questions you filled out in the first step, along with some additional information.

The additional application questions typically include:

  • Your previous employment history
  • Education
  • Total assets
  • Location request (based upon available options supplied in the first step)

Dairy Queen may reach out to you several times during the application process and will likely contact you for an interview to request more information and learn more about your investment history.

Step 4: Start Construction on Your New Store

Once Dairy Queen approves your franchise application, you can break the ground on building your new store. The Dairy Queen franchise support team will help you through this step, providing helpful tips and guidance on store layout options and overall design.

Step 5: Complete Dairy Queen Franchisee Training

The Dairy Queen franchisee training program is required for all franchise owners and managers. This training program is five weeks long for Dairy Queen Grill and Chill franchisees and three weeks long for Orange Julius franchisees. 

This program will cover product, systems, equipment, customer service, operations, sanitation, and management training topics. Training will take place in a hybrid classroom and in-store setting.

Step 6: Get Ready for Your Dairy Queen Grand Opening

Once you’ve completed your training and your store is constructed (or almost complete), you’ll need to prepare for your grand opening. While the Dairy Queen franchise team will help you with this process, here are the tasks you’ll need to complete ahead of opening:

  • Securing the proper business permits for your city, county, and state
  • Prepare the appropriate POS and HR software (these are typically provided by Dairy Queen)
  • Hire employees and managers
  • Order your first shipment of food, drinks, and other restaurant supplies

Dairy Queen also offers training programs for managers, leads, and employees, so make sure you schedule the appropriate training prior to setting your grand opening date.

You’ll also want to market your grand opening, with the help of the Dairy Queen franchise team. Make sure your employees are prepared to handle large crowds of people since opening days tend to draw in more customers than usual.

How Much Does a Dairy Queen Franchisee Make?

One of the most important factors that will go into your decision to purchase a Dairy Queen franchise, is understanding how much money you can expect to make on your investment.

While numbers can vary by location, on average, Dairy Queen franchisees can expect to make $70,000 per year. This number is 15% over the national franchise owner’s average salary.[4]

Is a Dairy Queen Franchise Right for You?

Purchasing a Dairy Queen franchise is not always easy and the process is highly competitive. Even if you meet the Dairy Queen franchise requirements, the application process can be extensive and selective. 

Before jumping into a decision, you’ll want to make sure Dairy Queen is the right fit for your franchising vision.

Here are a few characteristics of a good Dairy Queen franchisee candidate.[5]

Strong Sense of Teamwork

Dairy Queen is highly focused on finding franchisees who are team players and leaders who inspire and mentor employees. It will be important to showcase examples of past leadership and teambuilding experience to stand out in the application process.

Financial Management Background

While a good leader can inspire positive change, Dairy Queen also looks for candidates who have a strong financial management background. They prefer candidates with a background in franchise management, investment properties, and previous building or business ownership.

Having a keen awareness of your local market, real estate, and building trends is also at the top of Dairy Queen’s franchisee wishlist.

Community Ties

Strong commitment to your community is a quality Dairy Queen values in all of their franchisees. This franchise wants store owners to use their connections to help market store events and products, while also providing assistance and benefits to the community.

Showing you’re well-regarded within your city or county will earn you points on your application.

Brand Commitment

Dairy Queen franchisees not only enjoy running businesses—they love the Dairy Queen or Orange Julius brand. Dairy Queen refers to their customers as “fans.” This frozen dessert company is on the hunt for franchisees who are passionate about their products, marketing efforts, and high customer satisfaction standards. 

Dairy Queen Franchise Alternatives 

While Dairy Queen offers an excellent franchise opportunity, we understand that not everyone is up for the rigorous training and huge investment this franchise requires. To help, we’ll walk you through some other great food franchise alternatives.

Dunkin’ 

This beloved American franchise has been fueling workers, families, and students with hot coffee and decadent donuts since the 1950s. This well-known coffee and food establishment is located across the country and offers excellent franchise opportunities.

The minimum initial investment for franchising a Dunkin’ is a little less than Dairy Queen ($40,000, depending on your location) and on average, Dunkin’ franchise owners make the highest annual salary out of all other food franchises.[5] You can find out more in our Dunkin’ Donuts Franchising Guide.

Chick-fil-A

If you’re looking for a more affordable franchise opportunity with the same strong brand recognition as Dairy Queen, you might consider applying for a Chick-fil-A franchise. This fan-favorite fast-food chain is highly regarded for their waffle fries, chicken, and customer service.

The initial investment for Chick-fil-A is only $10,000 and this chain offers flexibility in financing options. You can learn more about opening your own in this Chick-fil-A franchise guide. 

Final Thoughts

Creating and running your own business can be an exciting challenge if you have a marketable idea or service. If you want to get started with managing a business right away, franchising can be an excellent option.

Dairy Queen is an international brand that attracts millions of customers per year. Becoming a Dairy Queen franchisee requires a large financial investment, business experience, and rigorous training.

If you have the initial capital and are passionate about growing a fan base in your local area, you will likely enjoy opening and managing a Dairy Queen franchise.

Article Sources:

  1. DairyQueenFranchising.com. “Why the DQ Brand.”
  2. Entrepreneur. “Dairy Queen.”
  3. Inc. “Dairy Queen Said It Tried to ‘Guilty Trip’ Parents With an ‘Offensive’ Ad That Showed Zero Emotional Intelligence.”
  4. CareerBliss. “2 Dairy Queen Franchise Owner Salaries.”
  5. DairyQueenFranchising.com. “Dairy Queen Franchise Investment Information.”

Courtney Johnston

Courtney Johnston is a freelance writer, specializing in finance, real estate, and small business. Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Benzinga, Rocket Mortgage, BestReviews, Mashvisor, and MoneyGeek. She also teaches writing instruction at the University of Indianapolis. Courtney enjoys condensing complex topics into easily digestible content for readers.

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