Much has been written – including right here – about why a restaurant’s location is so important to the success of the business. Visibility is the number-one factor in choosing a site for a new restaurant, as being seen is the basis for drop-in business, which is vitally important. For this reason, off-street locations have long been considered undesirable real estate options. However, as highly visible, center-of-the-action locales are not always within reach, in terms of budget and availability, many new restaurants are choosing off-street venues and still making it a success. We’re here to tell you how.
What is a Bad Location?
A restaurant location can be less than ideal if it meets any of the following criteria: low visibility, which makes it difficult to find; poor accessibility, such as no parking or no elevator; or, if it is in an isolated area where there is little or no foot traffic. Keep in mind, as well, that even if a restaurant seems to satisfy all the criteria of being in a suitable location –- if the format or theme is wrong for the area or the neighborhood it is in — it is also bound to fail.
Real Estate Prices Keep Rising
With real estate prices continuing to rise, it is expected that off-street (out-of-the-way) establishments will represent the future of the restaurant business. There is simply no other choice, as the savings to be had at less-accessible locations can be enormous. Rents at most off-street restaurants can be less than half that of those at on-street locations, representing a financial head start that only off-street establishments can enjoy.
However, even if the financial benefits of an out-of-the way location are plentiful, the pressure to bring in business at a low-visibility restaurant is enormous. Since you can’t expect people to see you, you have to make people hear about you, and only a proactive and creative approach to advertising and marketing will make the difference.
Out of Sight is Not Out of Mind
Believe it or not, the fact that you are in a tucked-away location can be a big selling point. People these days are looking for anything that is new and different, and a more obscure location can be a big drawing point. Don’t underestimate the allure of a unique location – one story down, or one flight up in a loft, for instance. Walking down steps, away from the hub-bub of the busy street, sets your restaurant apart from the everyday city experience in a way that can’t be achieved in an on-street location.
When you advertise a restaurant that is below ground level, and not visible from the street, promote the elusive and mysterious aspect of the business. Use words like, “hidden,” and “secret,” which make people feel like they’ve discovered a buried treasure when they arrive, and that they have inside information that the average diner does not. Exclusivity is a powerful tool and when diners discover your hidden gem, they will feel like special guests.
Similarly, if your restaurant is really off the beaten trail, you can market it as a destination restaurant, and boost its appeal as a place that people want to travel to. This is also a good way to bring in tourists from other states or countries, and not just people who have to drive a few more miles than they’re used to. Be in touch with tour operators and work hand-in-hand with them to ensure that they add your restaurant to their itinerary, which will, in turn, help you get in guide books and turn your restaurant into a major tourist attraction.
On the Other Hand…
When a new restaurant opens in a neighborhood, the first people to notice it are almost always the locals. Therefore, the way to gain a broader audience is to first appeal to those in the surrounding area and to make an effort to be part of the community. Your location may not be front and center, but it can still be touted as the jewel in the crown of whatever neighborhood it is located in.
In order to spread the word among the locals, devise a “neighborhood special” and hand-deliver flyers to residents and businesses within a mile or two of your restaurant. Include a coupon with the flyer that they can redeem, which also helps you keep track of your sales. In other words, although far-flung customers will look at a night out at your restaurant as a special occasion, you want those who live close by to get into the habit of coming to your place, making it a regular hangout. Keep people coming back by offering incentives – a free dessert or appetizer; and soon, your establishment will be on their regular dining-out circuit. Have your wait staff chat with customers and find out where they live. You want to give freebies out to those who live nearby because they are the ones – as opposed to tourists or out-of-towners – who have the potential to become regulars.
Make Invisibility Visible
Use lighting and other eye-catching decorative elements to make the outside of your restaurant as visible as possible. You can start small, with a few lights, flowers, and plants outside your restaurant, so as not to overwhelm the environment. But slowly increase the effort with more strung lights on the trees outside the restaurant and more signage. In addition, make the interior a beacon, as well, by optimizing the lighting inside the restaurant and maximizing the attractiveness of the restaurant to anyone who happens to pass by.
Place signs in strategic places in the streets around your restaurant to ensure that people know about your restaurant even from a few blocks away. Place as much signage with your restaurant logo as possible, both right outside your restaurant and in the area surrounding it. Anything that you can do to catch people’s attention and inform them that there is a new and amazing restaurant nearby, is helpful for maximizing foot traffic. Use bright colors, like pinks and reds, for your signs, as they seem to grab people’s attention more than blues and greens.
Posting a menu board outside a restaurant may seem old school, but it is key for operating an off-street restaurant, as it draws immediate attention to your place. You can also put a menu in one of the restaurant’s windows that may face the sidewalk. This can give people an enticing view of the interior space while they’re perusing the menu. People can see inside and then see how inviting, attractive, busy, and interesting the place is, which can give them the incentive to enter.
Social Media Can Overcome a Bad Location
In an article entitled, “The Restaurant-Failure Myth,” the Bloomberg Business website says, “Research shows that some popular perceptions about the rate of failure in the restaurant industry are just not true,” and that a poor location isn’t the most common reason that businesses fail. A study found that businesses are more likely to fail due to a lack of startup capital or the inability of owners to balance business and home life. A poor location, on the other hand, can be overcome but it may take some extra effort, particularly in the realm of social media.
To overcome your bad location, incorporate an aggressive online marketing strategy with multiple social media pages and review sites, listing your restaurant with search and discovery services like Zomato and Yelp. Having a social media presence drives customer loyalty and helps you highlight your restaurant’s location to make it more known to customers online. Use Google+ to ensure that your page is on Google; ask guests to put reviews on TripAdvisor and other review sites; and maintain active Instagram and Twitter accounts. Maximize all the free resources available to get as many search engine optimization (SEO) hits as possible for people looking for new and exciting restaurants.
Be Better Than Your Location
If you’re going to want people to go out of their way to get to your restaurant, you’ll have to give them a good reason. Be the best at one thing – one type of food, one unique theme or cuisine, or one kind of entertainment – and you’ll start drawing a crowd. Offer some things that other restaurants in your area don’t have. Serve food so delicious that customers can’t help but spread the word. The more you stand out, the less of a big deal it will be to travel to a “bad” location. Give your customers a reason to find you and come to you.
Patience Helps You Overcome a Bad Location
The most difficult part of opening a restaurant – regardless of the location – is the waiting. Although you want quick results, especially as a lot of money is on the line, it may take a a few months for your marketing efforts and other attempts at showing off your restaurant to really have an effect. Be patient and try to stay optimistic. A poor location can be overcome by an excellent product, great marketing and a great staff. If you have all that, then the rest will eventually fall into place.