The restaurant and service business can be one of the most challenging and rewarding lines of work to choose to be involved in, but few restaurant owners prepare themselves well enough for the type of market their customers represent. This information is vital when determining price points, menu items, and even hours of operation to ensure a successful launch and years of prosperity. Public records can be one such tool to help owners determine their scope of service and level of dining.

1. Understanding the nearby population

Once an owner determines their location for a new restaurant, extensive research using public records will reveal the type of potential customers that are available. First, an owner needs to look at and understand any businesses in the vicinity. Are there already six pizza parlors in town? Is there any fine dining available? Owners need to make sure they’re offering something that isn’t already being overdone, as well as whether there are local employees that will likely be patrons.

If there aren’t any businesses in the area, but more residential properties, owners may want to consider the majority of their clientele will likely be families, couples and even some with small children. This information can also help determine hours or special offerings such as brunch or dinner-only options.

2. Understand the demographics of surrounding residents

Owners should also spend some time in the area to determine what type of food residents may be interested in most. Should the atmosphere be laid-back with mainly one type of food offered? Or is it a town full of wine or coffee aficionados? Owners need to use this type of information to determine the level of service, ambiance in their restaurants, and even number and type of menu items.

Talk with locals to determine if there is a type of food that isn’t already offered in the area, or if there is too much of one thing. Maybe they need a simple coffee shop that offers hot lunch sandwiches and soup options. Perhaps the need is greater for a romantic, nicer dinner option or a less expensive family-friendly atmosphere diner.

Are there a lot of stay-at-home moms in the area? Perhaps a more kid-friendly lunch menu is in order. If there are more professionals working in the offices nearby, owners should aim to promote happy hour specials to draw in the crowds.

Restaurants should also pay attention to demographics such as cultures and religious affiliations in the area. Sunday worshippers may be more likely to go out to eat after services in the morning, or kosher menu items may appeal more to the client base available. All of these things are important to get to know so a new restaurant in the area will appeal to the larger base.

If residential areas are made up of apartments and condo renters, offering delivery and plenty of take-out menu options may also be a wise avenue to pursue. Owners should pay attention to the cost of delivery if that option is offered, however. Delivery fees should often apply if the cost isn’t calculated into the cost of making the food.

3. Understanding area income and pay levels

Using public records, restaurant owners can set menu prices and items based on local average income levels. Other information that can be useful is recent real estate sale prices, market home prices in the area and tax brackets for local residents.

Perhaps residents would really like an Italian restaurant in the area, but owners also need to decide if they are likely to be able to afford certain menu items. If the local average income is $28,000 and a new restaurant offers only $35 dinners, for example, it will likely not survive. A $12 pasta option would succeed far easier.

Employee pay scales should also be considered. Having a low-cost wait staff that depends largely on gratuity may be a better option in some areas, while in others a seat-yourself counter service will make more sense.

If owners are going to obtain liquor licenses and serve alcohol, the caliber of offerings should also be taken into account. Is the location ideal for $6 craft beer and top shelf liquor options? Or are local income levels more apt to purchasing $3 domestic beers? Will carryout options be available for beer? This may be a smart move in areas where beer and liquor sales aren’t always available to the residents.

After taking all of these variables into consideration, at the end of the day an owner needs to remember to constantly reevaluate needs and demands in the area. Costs of food and labor, licensing and even rent can always change, too. This means that prices and/or offerings may need to be altered from time to time. Listening to clientele and asking for feedback will often clue an owner in to what their clientele base really wants to see happening in the area, helping them decide to become a regular patron.

Emily Andrews is a writer at and marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night. She believes in compassion and defending the defenseless. 
Outside Insights, Story