There’s an old saying, “There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” And while we typically shudder at the very thought of clichés, when it comes to opening a restaurant, this particular one is just too true to be ignored.
The fact is, an aspiring chef or restaurateur can have all of the elements perfectly in place—a great concept, an amazing menu, and a solid business plan—but if the location isn’t right, it’s going to be a challenge to get people in the door to eat the food, in which case, none of the rest matters.
It’s important to consider these five things when scouting restaurant locations:
1. The Neighborhood
Ultimately, this is probably the most important thing to consider, as a restaurant typically needs to appeal to the people who live nearby in order to succeed. Jacob Cross, VP of Marketing and PR for Back of the House (Belga, Super Duper Burgers, Lolinda, Delarosa, Starbelly, Beretta) says it’s important to have a great concept, but also to understand the needs of the neighborhood.
Back of the House recently opened a Super Duper in Los Gatos, one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S. — a location that was very deliberate. Cross says, “By most accounts Super Duper is considered expensive when you compare it to other fast food, so going into a market where there’s a Whole Foods and a Chipotle, and where the clientele wants quality ingredients, were all very important factors.”
It’s also important to consider things that might draw people to the neighborhood, like shopping, schools, or corporate headquarters, but again Cross emphasizes that, first and foremost, the restaurant should achieve what the neighborhood needs and wants. Belga, a Belgian-Inspired Brasserie, is on Union Street in San Francisco, a neighborhood known for its young, fit demographic and surplus of gyms and Pilates studios. Cross says, “As much as we loved the great reviews and press we got when Belga opened, we felt like we really made it when someone came in straight from the gym with yoga clothes on. We knew then we’d achieved what we set out to do which was be a neighborhood restaurant.”
2. The Competition
While it may seem at first like it’s better for a restaurant not to have any nearby competition, in fact, the opposite is often true. Cross says he believes in the old adage, “The tide rises all ships.” While it might not be a smart idea to open a French restaurant right next door to another French restaurant, in general, other restaurants with similar styles will bring more people to the neighborhood looking for that kind of dining experience. Plus, Cross says, “We consider our competition to be ourselves. If we do what we do well, then it will be successful.”
3. The Size and Layout of the Space
The size of a space can be deceptive and will oftentimes appear much larger without furniture and people inside. Drawing out a floor plan is the best way to ensure everything will fit, keeping in mind that the dining area typically takes up 45–65 percent of the space. The kitchen and prep area generally take up around 35 percent.
But how big to go? Cross says that he thinks Back of the House’s founder Adriano Paganini says it best: “Don’t go into something that’s too small, but also don’t go into something that’s too big.” Nebulous, yes, but the idea is not to be limited whilst also refraining from taking on too much.
There are restaurants hidden in alleys and on lonesome back roads that find tremendous amounts of success, but don’t be fooled: the owners have to work much harder, at least initially, to get people through the door. People get excited about new restaurants coming to their neighborhood. Signs should go up quickly and be in places where folks passing by (on foot and in cars) will see them. If the restaurant doesn’t make itself known by its very presence, a lot more will need to be spent on marketing and advertising.
5. The Concept
This goes back to demographics, but Cross says he can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure the concept fits with the location. Will the restaurant be reservations only or will there be walk-ins? Is it casual enough that people feel like they can come on a Tuesday night versus just the weekend? What are people wearing? Will they come in large groups toting laptops (if the restaurant is near a convention center, for example) or will it cater more to two and four-tops? “That really does vary neighborhood by neighborhood,” Cross says. “Especially in San Francisco.” If the restaurant doesn’t fill a need or want, no one will come.
Wondering about those “cursed” spaces where restaurants go to die? “I think that’s a bunch of baloney,” Cross says. “If the concept delivers on what the neighborhood needs, the restaurant will be a success.”