These are some obvious questions to ask while scoping out the new location for your restaurant.
How much are you willing to spend on rent?
How much space do you need?
What’s a strong neighborhood for your target customer base?
If you’re like most aspiring restaurateurs, you’ve probably already given these items some thought. But beyond these basic queries, there are additional questions that are equally important — and not so readily apparent. Here are a few tips to help you streamline, simplify, and strategize your search for a home base by asking all the right questions:
First thing’s first: Knowing your niche
Fast-casual restaurants, cloud kitchens, and food trucks obviously all have vastly different needs when it comes to restaurant location strategy. To figure out yours, it’s important to know what type of establishment you want to be and what type of experience you want customers to have. Here are some questions to ask yourself before diving in:
- Will customers dine-in or take food to-go? If you goal is to create a dining experience for your customers, you’ll need the space to do that. Some experts recommend locations where you can allocate 60% to diners, and the other 40% to your operations. However, if you don’t plan to serve customers in your space, you can be more flexible.
- What type of atmosphere do you want to create? There are lots of different types of dine-in restaurants — from neighborhood ethnic spots to closed-door kitchens. Before you can find the best space to make your dream into a reality, you need a strong vision for the experience you want to create for your customers.
- Where — and how — will the food be made?Whether you’re baking wedding cakes or preparing sushi, your kitchen has specific needs. To envision a floor plan for your restaurant, start thinking about what exactly you’ll need to get started.
Choosing a neighborhood
There are many reasons why location is important for a restaurant. In fact, location is nearly everything — especially in the restaurant world. Your neighborhood is what connects you to your customers, both in-person and through your delivery radius.
Just as every restaurant has a character of its own, every neighborhood has a distinct personality — and you want to make sure that your restaurant fits well within the neighborhood you ultimately choose. If you’re considering spaces in different areas, spend time in each of them and take note of what you see.
Here are a few questions you should ask when developing a restaurant location strategy: Is it busy or quiet by day, and in the evenings? Are there a lot of nearby offices or workers, suggesting a thriving lunch crowd? Do the neighboring restaurants offer dine-in seats — or do most cater to customer convenience? The answers to these questions can be helpful in informing you about the competitive landscape, foot traffic, and the local market.
Thinking about the little details
As a foodie, you’d probably prefer to think about fresh ingredients and innovative menu items — not the seemingly small details like parking options and street visibility. But ultimately these are critical factors in connecting customers to your cuisine. Providing an easy place to park can be the thing that brings them to your innovative menu, and great street visibility can get hungry diners through your door that wouldn’t have discovered you otherwise. Take some time to dive into these types of details when deciding on a restaurant location strategy:
- Is this space accessible? If you plan to host diners, you want to make sure that your space is inviting and accessible to everyone. As you look at a space and imagine a potential layout, you should be thinking about whether or not the space will allow you to comply with certain regulations, such as those put forward by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s an added bonus if you can find a place with solid transportation and parking options for diners who drive to you.
- Will the location give me good visibility? Think about how many times you’ve stumbled upon a restaurant and fallen in love — now think about where those restaurants were located. An inviting storefront on a busy street can be all you need to reel in hungry customers and turn them into regulars. Conversely, a location where customers need to know about your restaurant in order to find it might make you lose business. Whenever you see a prospective location, ask yourself about its visibility.
- Are people in the neighborhood hungry for your food? When looking at neighborhoods, you not only need to assess whether your establishment will fit in, you also need to gauge whether or not your neighbors are hungry — specifically, hungry for the food you’re making. Focus on demand, talk to locals, and do your research. It’s hard to perfectly predict customer behavior, but you should aim to move into a space where the surrounding neighbors are eager for your arrival.
Zooming in: Finding the right spot
Once you have gotten a sense of the neighborhood, zoom in on the actual real estate you’re considering. Think about your block and your neighbors: will you be adjacent to any loud noises or unpleasant smells (unless, of course, that’s your vibe)? Will you be lost amidst a torrent of similar (and similarly branded) restaurants? Are you near public transportation and/or easy parking? Does the spot you’re considering get a lot of foot traffic; if so, is it the kind you want? The answers can help determine whether or not a space is right for you.
Unless you’re looking at newly-built properties, it’s also important to think about the past life of a building or storefront. What type of establishment used to occupy the space you’re looking at? For example:
- Is there an existing kitchen? If you’re moving into a space that used to be a restaurant, you may assume that it will have the appliance infrastructure necessary to support yours — but this isn’t necessarily the case. The ovens needed for a bakery differ tremendously from the fryers needed for a burger joint. You don’t need to move into a space that has 100% of what you need, but you do need to move into a space that’s capable of supporting the type of kitchen you plan to have.
- What will you be replacing? If you’re a late-night spot replacing what was formerly a quiet cafe, your introduction to the neighborhood might cause some stir — which can be a good thing, but something you want to be mindful of nonetheless. If you plan to serve alcohol, investigate whether the former occupants also had a liquor license.
Ask yourself: do I have an opportunity to fill a new gap or bring something totally new to this neighborhood? If the answer is yes, full steam ahead.
When you understand why location is important for a restaurant, you’ll be on the right track to developing a successful business plan. But regardless of location, one constant in your business can be revenue made through a partnership with DoorDash. And for more tips and tricks to consider while planning for your restaurant, refer to our restaurant university guide, Finding Your Restaurant Niche.