Opening a Restaurant? It’s about Location, Location, Location!

When choosing the site of your new restaurant, cafe, lounge or marketplace the old adage rings true: location is everything!

Of course the actual brick-and-mortar, water supply, electrical wiring and the like matter inherently, but for the most part the interiors/exteriors and functionality can be changed and/or modified to fit your needs. But, one thing you can NEVER change – the geographical location of your establishment!

Whether opting for an existing space or new construction, thoroughly understanding the area surrounding that shell/site (and knowing the activity that happens there) is crucial to making your restaurant vision come to life.

“Site selection is part science, part art, and while some people may also say part luck, I don’t think so,” says Dan Simons. “You can control a lot about the deal and the location, so you should always try to.”

Equipped with the expertise of finding the perfect locale fit for a variety of VSAG industry clients, Dan believes that, “The first step is to really understand not only the concept and the brand, and where it might work best, but to also understand your potential audience and the guests you are looking to attract.”

So, before heading out with a commercial realtor, Dan suggests arming yourself with not only the standard statistical demographic data (including gender, age and ethnicity) of specific areas that you may be interested in, but to also gather psychographic data to get a full picture of just how your concept can thrive in a particular location.

Psychographics is the study of personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. And the real magic, Dan feels, is in assessing this type of data in reference to perspective area guests: What are their hobbies? When are they most apt to go out to eat (ie: aligning them with day parts such as time of day/day of week)? What do they value? What are they looking for in a restaurant? All related elements are vital to building a matrix that will help you analyze sites within your target area.

Other location considerations include:

  • Accessibility: Does the region have vital transportation issues? Is there public or mass transit nearby? Is there ample parking for your location? You want accessibility not just for guests, but also access for employees and staff.
  • Must Haves: Preparing a ‘must haves’ list is highly recommended. Is having the option of outdoor seating a must? Is it good business to be near a cluster of other restaurants? Is not having a great view a deal breaker? Creating a framework of criteria that compares one site to another and allows you to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses will help you chose your winner, Dan recommends.
  • Connecting to the Past: Some sites you tour might have cultural ties to the community, such as an historic or landmark building. If connecting to the past works with your brand, utilizing the linage of a site is a great way to align guests with your establishment and your brand. Head to the local library or town hall/building department and research the building’s lineage and history. Displaying write-ups of your findings, building permits, architectural drawings, artifacts/ artwork you may find while renovating, even photographs of the era when the site was built all make for compelling and interesting visuals. If you’re renovating, staying true to the authenticity of the space is key to unearthing its true character, to embracing the spirit of the space… and to creating that connection to the community.

Once the location is locked-in, the final step is the lease. “Negotiating a great lease is probably the most important element of all,” says Dan. “Great lease terms can make a less desirable site good – and vice versa.” Therefore, if you are not well versed in typical leasing terms, he recommends hiring a professional broker or agent to get you the best possible terms. The peace of mind of having a great lease will give you the freedom to perfect your brand, which will prove invaluable in the end!

Photo: Location, location, location! Exterior of VSAG client: MoCo Founding Farmers.