Food Job: Food Geographer

Restaurant for SaleFood Geographer? No: this isn’t what you think it is. A food geographer studies traffic patterns, real estate purchases, school enrollment and other factors within a defined geographic region, even within a zip code, and advises a restaurant which street corner will be the most advantageous for the business. (More on that below.)

We can probably all point to a location in our neighborhood where every business — without fail — fails.  The space may be haunted or possibly there aren’t enough parking places. Either way, the road to success requires the owner of a new restaurant to identify the guests it hopes to attract.

The first question for a restaurateur to ponder is who lives and works nearby and who will become regular guests? Are they wheeler-dealers or bikers? Meat eaters or locavorian vegetarians? Will they be doctors and dentists or driver’s license dispensers? Are they blue-plate seekers or diners-after-darkers? Are they (YIS’s) Young Impoverished Students? Or WOOFS (Well-Off-Older-People)?

Nothing can proceed logically until a decision is made about the composition of the target market. This demographic definition will dictate the design of the space and the content of the menu.  Indeed it will (or should) point the way to every effective decision from the marketing and publicity to the “voice” of the servers who may welcome a table of four hedge funders or frown upon a young couple wearing dirty sneakers and an infant on their hip.

Rather than trying to be all things to all people, a restaurant’s road to success steers a path to a clearly defined concept, (with or without digital devices.)

Many have never heard of food geographers yet they and the topic take many forms of inquiry. Sidney Mintz is perhaps my favorite authority on the topic. But here are a couple of books on the subject that caught my eye.

Can you recommend others?