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Are there too many restaurants?

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I was recently out with a chef friend eating in a new restaurant and he commented about how oversaturated the market is with new restaurants. It’s difficult enough to do business in a tough economy, he said, but with a growing number of restaurants continually opening, the competition for dining dollars has gotten brutal. 

That’s the difference between someone who eats in restaurants for a living and someone who operates restaurants for a living. For my taste, there aren’t nearly enough good restaurants in my hometown of Cleveland, though hoards of people who live here would gladly argue the point. But, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I eat all over the country, and my idea of good restaurants may be different from someone who doesn’t get around. Nevertheless, my chef friend doesn’t particularly care if a new restaurant is good or bad; its mere existence draws potential customers to the new place and away from existing ones. His joint, by the way, is exceptional and no matter what happens in restaurant land, customers always return, though maybe not as frequently as he would like because of growing competition.

So with his words in mind, I found myself recently in New York City, where our parent company is headquartered. I blow a fuse every time I’m there because at least a dozen new and cool places have opened since my last visit, and I generally get there every month. Since I’m only there for a few days, I can’t possibly get to see all the new stuff, and it kills me that I can’t return to my favorite established restaurants. Too many restaurants, too little time.

That’s my problem, but what if you operate a restaurant in cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco? One can literally be dropped off anywhere in one of those cities and walk to several very good restaurants. If my friend is struggling in Cleveland with competition, how does a restaurant survive in a major restaurant market?

As I mentioned above, being good, really good, helps. Customers who love quality usually return to quality restaurants. But at what frequency? And in cities where most restaurants have to be good or suffer a quick death, how do you stand out from the crowd. Is being good . . . good enough?

That’s the question I pose to you. What are you doing to survive in competitive arenas where new players are arriving rapidly to compete for dining dollars? Are you doing it on your name, a certain food item, your location, some gimmick, a great chef? If you don’t know why you stand out and have survived, I daresay you’ve beaten the odds. When competition is tough, being tough isn’t enough. You have to be smart. What’s your edge, and how do you work it to your advantage? 

Please email me at [email protected].

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH


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