UNIQUE: Look beyond non-traditional sites, such as armories and historic buildings.
Full service and multiunit restaurants can expect big growth this year, but finding prime restaurant sites will be harder then ever. Brian Stys, v.p. of the restaurant group at Shawmut Design and Construction, shares 10 tips for picking your next location.
- Follow the Pack. When looking for a place to eat, people typically flock to areas with a variety of restaurant choices. While it may appear that you're increasing your competition, the increased customer traffic is a plus.
- Know your liquor laws. This is vital if beer, wine or liquor are a critical aspect of your business. Some cities and towns won't allow patrons to sit on stools. Other towns won't allow people to stand with a drink. Some states have happy hour restrictions or won't allow a shot and a drink to be served simultaneously. Knowing the ins and outs of local liquor laws will help dictate cities and towns to avoid. Beware of the costs of liquor licenses in states like New Jersey and Massachusetts, since they can be very pricey.
- Consider nontraditional sites. For a little flavor, look beyond the traditional and consider sites such as old armories, churches and historic buildings. Recently, Ruth's Chris Steak House opened in Boston's Old City Hall, built in 1865. The Oceanaire, a multi-unit upscale seafood restaurant, is opening a Philadelphia unit in an historic building. The one-ofa-kind setting can be worth the extra effort and costs.
- Carefully review signage opportunities. With any site, ask specifics about where your signage can be located. Are there limits to the size, brightness and number of signs allowed at the site? In addition to landlord preferences, local laws can dictate signage requirements.
- Know the associated costs. Dumpster removal, delivery and trash collection will be daily routines once the restaurant is open. Examine the logistics that these services will require. For instance, if you're opening an urban location, are trucks allowed to park outside during delivery hours?
- Smog hog required? Sometimes called a smog hog, a precipitator cleans exhaust and grease prior to expelling fumes outside. For instance, restaurants in hotels typically install the device so that hotel guests don't overlook smoke stacks from their windows. A smog hog can cost $150,000 to $200,000 and requires a lot of space. Check the lease for language that may require the device.
- Urban essential. For city sites, seek a location with good foot traffic. Examine the access points to your lease hold. Do you have access from within the building in which you are located or is only outside access permitted?
- No u-turns. Look at the traffic patterns to examine how accessible your site is from the street. An extra u-turn may be the difference between guests picking your restaurant or an easier-to-reach site. In suburban areas, good parking areas are also critical.
- Know your audience. If a lunch crowd is essential to your restaurant's success, locations close to high-rise buildings or large corporate campuses are best. If dinner and weekend crowds are critical, avoid downtown areas that empty out on the weekends.
- Don't go it alone. Engage a contractor early. Have a trained eye review the lease for language that may impact your construction costs. Ask for preliminary cost estimates to make sure your proforma works right. An experienced contractor will review the status of the site to evaluate logistical costs and scheduling impacts on construction. This is important if the opening of the unit is based on the landlord's completion of work.
Brian Stys is v.p. of the restaurant group at Shawmut Design and Construction, a $500-million construction services firm headquartered in Boston with offices in New York City and Providence. Stys can be reached at 617-622-7000 or email@example.com