Who is the target market for your restaurant?

This may be the most important question you can answer when designing a restaurant concept. It is definitely the most important question to answer when creating a marketing plan.

One of the biggest mistakes restaurants make is trying to appeal to everyone. If you think that your target market includes everyone, you are setting yourself up to fail. If you want to be successful in any business, especially the restaurant business, then you need to define who it is that is most likely to buy your products, and focus your concept to appeal to that defined market.

First off, let me tell you what a target market or target demographic is and what it isn’t.

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.

Do you see the difference? You must realize that your target market picks you, you don’t pick it.

When creating a plan to market your restaurant, focus on these points.

    1. Realistically define what type of person is most likely to enjoy what you want to offer.
    2. Assess whether that particular demographic works or lives in large enough numbers within 3 miles of your location to support your concept.
    3. Make sure your marketing is communicated in a manner that demographic can understand, and broadcast via a medium that demographic uses.



Here is how you use those points to build your marketing plan.

Point 1: Realistically define what type of person is most likely to enjoy what you want to offer.

This isn’t the time to be politically correct. You need to examine gender, age, race, religion, income, background, prejudices and sexual orientation among other things if you want to get a clear picture of who you should be marketing to. No matter who you want as a customer, kosher Jews and Muslims aren’t going to eat at your BBQ joint. Lower income Asian families aren’t going to eat at your bistro, and upper income, white yuppies aren’t likely to visit your diner in the hood. If you have a “quiet” atmosphere, don’t expect to attract families of any type. If you have a “noisy” atmosphere, don’t expect seniors.

Until you throw political correctness out the window and truly define exactly who is most likely to eat what you offer, in the atmosphere you are offering it, at the price you are charging for it, you aren’t ready to move on to the next step.

Point 2: Assess whether that particular demographic works or lives in large enough numbers within 3 miles of your location to support your concept.

Once you know who it is that is truly most likely to buy your food, you’ll need to consider whether or not they live or work in large enough numbers in your area to support your business. This is a feasibility exercise. With this point, you are determining whether or not it is even possible for your idea of a restaurant to make it in the location you are considering.

If your concept appeals to low income seniors on a fixed budget, you shouldn’t be putting it in an upscale shopping center surrounded by neighborhoods full of high income families. You also don’t want to open a bistro appealing to high income white people in the ghetto. While these examples seem obvious, I’ve seen many restaurant make the mistake of putting their concept in an area where their target market does not live or work in great numbers.

A good rule of thumb is to only consider the initial 1-mile and 3-miles radius around your restaurant when evaluating the presence of your target market. Whatever the sex, age and income of the persons most likely to eat your food, those persons need to be living or working in great numbers within a 1 to 3 mile radius of your restaurant. The closer the better.

On to the next point.

Point 3: Make sure your marketing is communicated in a manner that demographic can understand, and broadcast via a medium that demographic uses.

Email marketing isn’t going to produce customers for a breakfast diner appealing to seniors. Radio ads on an easy listening radio station aren’t going to bring in 20 and 30 year old hipsters. If you haven’t defined who it is most likely to buy your food, it’s not likely you are using marketing mediums most likely seen/heard by your most likely customers.

In marketing, you must use the language your target market understands. Speak your target market’s language and only create offers that target market values. $10 off a meal isn’t going to attract high income middle aged married couples, but a complimentary bottle of wine with any food ticket over $50 might. While any demographic appreciates a good deal, each demographic has a different set of values. What is valued by middle class high school kids won’t be the same as what is valued by humble German country folk. The language each of these groups understands will also be different.

Communication with your potential customers is just as important as communication with your employees. If you are speaking a language your customers don’t understand, or designing offers your target demographic doesn’t value, then your marketing will be a big waste of money. If your current marketing isn’t working, there is a good chance you’re doing one of these two things.

I hope I’ve driven home the importance of defining your target market. Marketing can be an expensive undertaking, but if you define exactly who it is you should be marketing to, you can greatly reduce the cost involved in reaching the customers most likely to eat at your restaurant. With the right approach, you can not only compete with chain restaurants with big marketing budgets, you can beat them.

Brandon O’Dell
O’Dell Restaurant Consulting
Office: (888) 571-9068

4 thoughts on “Who is the target market for your restaurant?

  1. Hi Brandon! Love the blog!! Question: what about when the restaurant idea could appeal to a wide range of people (in terms of who would choose to eat there)? Would it be a mistake to design a restaurant where it’s hard to narrow down potential clientele? The restaurant idea I have in mind hits a lot of key points you deem necessary (in your other article, “Biggest mistakes restuarants make”), and in itself creates appeal to a variety of people, but now I’m wondering if I’m making a mistake in thinking that mass appeal is a good thing.


  2. There are several potential problems with trying to appeal to everyone.

    First, when your restaurant isn’t directed at a particular segment of the market, you have to pay to market to everyone. Marketing to everyone is expensive. Since most marketing budgets are limited, you get a lot more out of your limited marketing dollars when you market repeatedly to a smaller group instead of less often to a larger group.

    Next, having a concept that tries to appeal to more people usually results in a lack of focus in that concept. In addition to trying to tell your message to too many different people, you also have a message that requires too much detail to say who you are and what you do. If you can’t say who you are and what you do effectively in one short sentence, then neither can your customers. This makes it very hard for them to recommend you to others, or to even remember what it is you do themselves.

    A good, focused concept will reach people outside of your target market. You should still focus on marketing to a smaller group though, without that group being too small. In my experience though, concepts that try to appeal to too broad of an audience don’t usually connect significantly with any of them.

  3. Hello Brandon,

    I found this site through a post on foodservice.com and read some articles in your blog. I am particularly interested in this article because of your point #2. I am a Business Geographer and am trained to examine prospect sites for businesses such as restaurants in terms of demographics of residents/workers, visibility, accessability, etc. This article caught my attention because you discuss particular marketing strategies that I am researching for a new type of product I am developing. I wanted to get your opinion from a restaurant owner (or person in charge of marketing budget) perspective. My plan is to develop short, published booklets for apartments and office buildings that show residents and workers what businesses (such as restaurants, retail and services) are located within 1 mile, 3 miles or a 5 minute drive. I am trying to gauge how interested restaurant owners would be in purchasing inexpensive ad space (such as 1/10 the cost per person of newspaper ads) in these booklets that are garaunteed to only go to locations within a specific distance from the restaurant and are very likely to serve as a resource (or coffee table book) for that “1 to 3 mile” market and referenced repeatedly at the point in which the customer was ready to buy.

    I know this would be an extremely effective tool for restaurants to advertise to this important market; those working and living within 1 to 3 miles. Do you or anyone viewing this blog have any insight they can give me as far as what is the best strategy to approach restaurant owners to tell them about this?


    • You know William, restaurants are hit by a lot of advertising companies telling them they are the greatest idea since sliced bread, and one is usually more expensive than the next. It seems like every new idea to market a business is developed based on the maximum dollar of revenue they can get from the advertiser, dependent on the “average” cost per ad in the industry. It would probably be very, very refreshing for a restaurant owner to be approached by a company that has developed an advertising medium that costs 1/10th what newspaper ads cost. Since your tool specifically markets to people within a 1-3 mile radius, it could be very effective and a very good value.

      My suggestion to approach restaurant owners would be to create an actual copy of the booklet. It’s not important that the business you are approaching is in the sample booklet. As a matter of fact, if you put a limit on the number of “big” ads you put in the booklet, you could create a sense of urgency by showing them one of their competitors in the “big ad” spot. If the price point is right, you shouldn’t have much problem filling the ads.

      One thing I would suggest for your booklet would be an actual overhead street map with numbered points and a legend with the businesses instead of a list of businesses, just like you would get on an online map in Google or Yahoo. Slap a 1-mile and 3-mile circle on it and it becomes very user friendly. If you create a price point for the ad that is significantly cheaper than a featured listing in Yahoo Local or Google, then potential advertisers will see a great value when comparing prices for marketing. Not to mention, your type of advertisement would not require them to know anything about internet listings.

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