Defining your target customer is possibly one of the most critical aspects to consider when opening a restaurant. It is essential to ensure your restaurant business is a true success. Upserve.com reported that “As of 2017, the amount of money Americans spend on eating out has surpassed the amount they spend to eat at home.” With such a dramatic statistic in mind, any restaurant owner (present or future) must truly know what to expect when envisioning an ideal customer. Thinking of this from the framework of who, what, when, how, and why questions, restaurant owners must take the time to allow for thorough and constructive research. More specifically, they must ask themselves honestly:

  • Who will be eating at their establishment (ages, gender, population, income-level?)
  • What types of foods and service those target customers would enjoy (organic, vegan, BBQ, fast food, lunch, dinner?)
  • When will these people be enjoying your food (early in the morning before work, dinner, lunch, late night cafe/snacks?)
  • How will they be enjoying it (take-out, eat-in, delivery?)
  • Why they will be choosing your particular restaurant, perhaps over another similar brand?  

According to restaurant consultant Brandon O’Dell, “a target market is the portion of the population most likely to buy what you are selling. A target market ISN’T the portion of the population you want to sell your food to.” Since this is something that can change over time, it’s very helpful to do annual target research. Whether you’re opening your restaurant for the first time or doing an annual reboot of research of your target customer, it’s helpful to keep in mind these 3 main concepts.

  1. Business Planning

    It’s important to understand your brand which can be done by writing out your detailed business plan. Essentially you can consider this an effective tool where you’re able to put into writing what your brand brings to the table, and who your customers are. This is the time to really think about what your target customers care about. Consider other specifics such as the gender, age, hobbies, and income level, etc. of your ideal customer. While working to align your products with your ideal customer, think about what your ideal customer looks like. What do they believe in and value most? What’re their purchasing patterns and habits? These types of nuances will help you define and market your target audience.

    Additionally, consider what problem you’re trying to solve. This is a broad way to consider all of the “ingredients”  going into your brand. While writing your business plan, think of how your target customer will experience your brand. Don’t be overly concerned about who may pop into your restaurant and there. Your business plan should be focused on who your audience actually is if you were to open your doors today.

  2. Consider Location & Target Demographics

    You’ll want to make sure that you thoroughly consider the location and demographics of the area where you plan to open your restaurant. One way to research your market and target location is by using tools such as census.gov in the United States or  statcan.gc.ca in Canada. These tools will provide you with an estimate of the population in your target area. It’s important to know the demographics and your target audience to ensure that your brand is aligned to their consumer needs. This will help your business become financially successful.

    As a restaurant owner, time should be taken to research trends in your target location; as well scoping local and virtual competition. Become involved in the community and get to know the area, the vibe, be a part of local events, participate in networking opportunities, and festivals. Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce to find out more about the population, trends, and other useful information. Also, formal or informal polls, research agencies, consultants, and other local business statistics will be helpful as you work to figure out your target demographic.

  3. Marketing Considerations for your Target Customer

    When considering marketing strategies, it’s essential to think about how your target customer is defined. This includes how your audience generally receives information. For example, are your target customers millennials who are always on social media and love a good Instagram boomerang? Are your target customers largely a retired population who still read the local newspaper and value area community news stations to get their information. Marketing to the wrong audience can be a detrimental mistake for your business.

    Continuously working to analyze who is responding to your marketing strategies are also very important to your business growth and success. Keep in mind your target customer and the personal nuances of that audience. Does your target population live or work within x amount of miles where you’re hoping to open your establishment? What types of things does this demographic care about?  Do they value organic food and a sit down relaxing atmosphere where recycling and local farm-to-table practices are valued? Or do they enjoy a quick meal on the go because they’re a college town?

    Regardless of the service you offer, once you know your marketing demographic even more thoroughly, you will be able to communicate with that  target audience more effectively and in creative ways to reach them effectively.

In Conclusion

As a restaurateur wishing to open an establishment in a particular area, keep in mind that “your target market picks you,” explains Brandon ODell. Regardless of who you end up defining your target customer as it is paramount to target that customer and get to know that audience as if they were a friend. The three factors mentioned above help any restaurant owner think constructively about their target audience in a way that allows for individualization of offerings and marketing efforts accordingly. After all, you are offering a service! Those willing to patronize your restaurant will more likely find you authentic and valuable if they feel that you truly know them.