The location of your restaurant will impact its success nearly as much as the menu – or anything else. If your restaurant is in the wrong place, you won’t attract the amount or type of customers you will need to stay in business. The same is true if your location is inundated with competitors, or has poor visibility, or is hard to find. There are many things that must be considered as you look for a location in which to open your business.

But first! Nail your concept. It is much easier and will save you money in the long run (and probably short run) to have your concept set and solidified before embarking on a location search. The right concept in the wrong location will fail. The wrong concept in the right location will fail. The two – concept and location – must both be right in order to succeed.

Your Target Market

Knowing who your target market is, is imperative to finding the right location for your restaurant (again, concept nailed at this point). If your target market is families, then you won’t want a downtown business location or one with little to no parking. If your target is foodies, then a small out of town location most likely won’t work either. When you know what your target market is, then you can study the demographics of your desired location to see if it will work for you.

Once you have an awareness of who populates your desired location, including things like age range, education level, income level, and even the crime rate, then you can determine if this location will attract your target market. Plus, spend some time near your desired location and look at the other businesses – especially the ones doing well. Who frequents these businesses? When? What are they buying?

Area Traffic

You will want to figure out how high the traffic is in your desired location. The greater the traffic, be it pedestrian or drive by, the better the chances you have of attracting people off the street, i.e. people who don’t make reservations.

Ease of Access and Visibility

Along with the area traffic, you will want to see if your desired location has easy accessibility and good visibility. Is it easy to drive to your location, is it easy to find on the highway or on the street? When entering your location, are there obstacles to getting there, such as one-way streets, obstructions, on-going construction, and other things that could alienate potential customers.

How about for you? Is it easy for you to get there? As the owner, you will be at your restaurant quite a lot. Can you get there easily; is it a long commute from home? The easier it is for you to get to your own restaurant, the better the location.

Availability of Parking

Is there parking available in your location? Will the offer of parking be a necessity or a perk? For example, if your location is in a busy city with limited parking, you may want to offer valet parking services, or locate a lot nearby that you can utilize for your guests at a discounted rate. If your desired location is a rural one, then parking may not be an issue.

Evaluate the Competition

Competition can be a good thing as long as it doesn’t hurt your business. If there are too many establishments offering the same menu as yours, then it could detract from your business. Do some serious market research to determine the competition in your area. This can be done online; in addition to driving around the area to see what other food establishments there are already. Plus, spend some time in these establishments at different times of the day and make note the number and kinds of people you see and what they order.

Competition can also include any other type of establishment that sells food. For example, if you plan on opening a deli that sells fresh sandwiches, the local grocer that also sells fresh deli sandwiches is a competitor. You will need to know all these things before you open so that you can plan accordingly.

A final word about competition, the more research you do before you settle on a location the better your chances will be for success.

Finding the right location is critical in ensuring a successful business. You want customers to easily find you, enjoy their visit, and keep coming back. This can be accomplished quite easily if you are in the perfect spot.

Evaluate the Costs

Finally, yet equally important, is to evaluate all the costs involved with your location. As mentioned in our previous article, Boston Restaurant Group Founder, Charlie Perkins, tells us that total Occupancy costs should not exceed 8% of gross revenue. Knowing this will require you to have a detailed set of projections giving you a location budget to work with.

While a detailed set of projections is not only important but very necessary, let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. At this stage of your restaurant start-up, assembling the right team takes top priority.

According to Adam Amontea, President of Cafco Construction Management (Cafco is THE “go-to” GC/Builder for restaurants in the Boston-area and has been for a very long time), Working with an experienced architect, designer, food service consultant, contractor, attorney and accountant early in the process is an investment that will pay dividends. Each of these project stakeholders will help establish realistic expectations and take more of the mystery out of a process that can be daunting…”

Here are the Team Players:

Attorney: You’ll most likely need to engage an Attorney from the get-go. An Attorney can inform you of the best entity structure for your business and set that up. And then there is the licensing… especially in the City of Boston, this can be a tough and bumpy road to navigate.  Adam adds that the right Attorney will counsel you on “licensing timing, limitations and costs” all of which will be extremely important in getting started.

Architect/Designer: In our opinion, this is non-negotiable, even if your Aunt Sally has a really good eye for design. Designing both the interior and exterior of a restaurant has many nuances and code issues that must be addressed and using a novice, or someone not familiar with this territory will cost you way more than you might think you’ll be saving. Adam adds, “Design test fits help to evaluate occupant load, code compliance and potential requirements for variances, all which can impact timeline, budget, and lease negotiations.”

Contractor: Getting the right Contractor on your Team can pay off immensely in more ways than one. For example, while in negotiations with potential Landlords, Adam mentions that a seasoned Contractor will know and understand “landlord delivery conditions vs TI (Tenant Improvement) contributions” which can possibly offer some start-up savings if the landlord is willing to take on some of the work. Also, “…early budgeting, zoning due diligence, required permitting, and duration of construction vs rent commencement, etc…” according to Adam is essential information for the business owner to have and be aware of during this expensive, cash outlay of the start-up period.

Accountant/Business Consultant: If this is your first rodeo, then there will be no cost/stress savings other than hiring a professional who has been there and seen this all before. They can be a trusted Guide to help you navigate the many, many moving parts, offer experienced advice, and keep you moving in the right direction with eyes wide open.

Adam’s final words of advice…

“Opening a restaurant, or any business, but especially a restaurant is not a small undertaking of any kind. Working with the right people and having the right Team in place will help you to truly understand the total investment, and risk, associated with such a venture.”

We couldn’t agree more.


Special Thanks to our article contributor, Adam Amontea, President of Cafco Construction Management.

Cafco is the leading General Contracting firm for restaurants in and around the Boston Area.

About the Author

A former restaurateur turned bookkeeper turned Profit First Consultant, Author Kasey Anton is on a mission to help eradicate restaurateurial poverty. She and her amazing Team at Spark Business Consulting have been helping restaurants get started, get organized, and get profitable for the past 10 years and counting.

Favorite Quote? “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. “ – Teddy Roosevelt