There was a time when snow birds flocked to South Florida for the traditional November-May romance. But according to a recent University of Florida study, for one out of four snowbirds the seasonal affair is over, and a year-long residential relationship has begun. The population of South Florida, which was once defined as transitory, has developed into a growing commu¬nity of permanent residents. Not only have the retirees come to stay, but the younger generation is nesting here as well.
As families and senior citizens place perennial roots in South Florida, a demographic facelift is taking place. What was once known as a mecca for the silver-haired crowd is still home to sparkling beaches and brilliant blue skies but with the addition of younger, more energetic inhabitants. The vibrant, growing community of South Florida now encompasses couples with dual incomes, and plenty of it is being used for dining out. For the first time in U.S. history, Americans are eating more meals outside of the home than at home. Just 10 years ago, the early bird special was not only the running joke about South Florida, but a reality for restaurants. The snowbird season was the cash cow, and restaurants made the bulk of their profits during their stay. We simply do not see the huge seasonal population swings we used to see in the 1980s and 1990s.
The advent of a new demographic and population explosion over the last five years for the South Florida region has boosted the need for additional eating establishments to an all-time high, yet restaurant sites are in scarce supply. Every major chain and independent wants to have a presence in South Florida. Developers recognize the need to create restaurants that match the new demographics within the market. On the flip side, developers have realized that restaurants and eatertainment properties drive residential and commercial projects, not retail or banks as many would like to think. This has put restaurant/hospitality in the forefront of developers’ plans.
Changing demographic influences all development
To illustrate how changing demo-graphics have influenced restaurant construction in South Florida, let’s take a look at the city of Delray Beach. Once a sleepy seaside town on the verge of bank-ruptcy, it is now a fashionable destination for diners seeking the finest cuisines and entertainment.
In 2000, when seasoned restau-rateurs like Dave Mauer and Butch Johnson stepped into the Delray Beach restaurant scene, they saw a gold mine and took the opportunity to develop restaurants and lounges with concepts appealing to the younger, hipper, more educated crowd moving in. Restaurants such as City Oyster, Sopra and 32 East ushered in the new era, and the effects were immediate. The construction industry took note and acted on it. Sprouting residential condominiums and housing revitalization took hold, and the recreation of Atlantic Avenue was born. Delray Beach began to thrive, and with each new restaurant, bar and lounge came more curious pedestrians to check out the experience. The booming restaurant real estate market mirrored the new resident, and the construction followed.
In Boca Raton, Fla., the same holds true. From Town Center Mall to pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development Mizner Park, the area is booming with new restaurants. The elegant Chops Lobster Bar owned by Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and based out of Atlanta, Ga., recently joined the ranks of Nick’s Fishmarket, MoQuila and 11 Marco moving to the area.
Choosing the ideal site
Yet, while selecting the ideal market is one important decision, choosing the location within that market is equally important and has a bearing on where construction will take place. Will the restaurant thrive as a freestanding building, or does locating within a shopping center make more sense? Cost limitations and land scarcity play a role in that decision, but demographics do as well.
For instance, when considering opening a restaurant site within a shopping center, South Florida’s warm climate comes into play. Warm, balmy evenings invite diners outside to enjoy a walk either before or after dinner, allowing restaurant owners to reap the benefits from customer visits to the surrounding attractions and retail stores. Waterfront restaurants are in rare supply due to the prohibitive construction costs brought on by the all-too-memorable 2004 and 2005 hurricane years. Recognizing who the target customer is within the existing demographics will narrow down the choices when making the important decision for location.
Another concern when construct¬ing in South Florida is how to appeal to the variety of visual tastes and demands of the new, young demographic. The look and feel of a restaurant and its lounge area have changed to keep up with the shifting eating and drinking habits of today’s consumer. Restaurant design runs the gamut as restaurants cater to families, singles and high-earning individuals. As one may have noticed, restaurants have more couches or comfortable chairs in the reception area or banquettes that offer a more intimate setting.
The colors, the furniture, the flooring, the textures — all are taken into account when designing today’s restaurant in a highly com-petitive market. For instance, when Lynn Manero, restaurant designer, was creating Shore in Delray Beach, her interior design decisions took into account our memories of the shore in this oceanfront restaurant where the patio spills out onto the sidewalk.
And, of course when looking at South Florida demographics, we would be remiss not to mention the natural attraction for celebrities seeking to get a business foothold in this playground of the rich and famous. In particular, South Beach, Miami, is known as the food and party destination for globe-trotting stars and famous figures. The newest celebrity restaurant to open there is DeVito’s South Beach, actor Danny DeVito’s high-style Italian restaurant. But it’s not just South Beach. Throughout South Florida, celebrities are laying down roots and opening restaurants, including Conine’s Clubhouse in Hollywood (Jeff Conine of the Florida Marlins) and Bru’s Room in Delray Beach (Bob Bryzinski of Miami Dolphins and Ohio State University fame.)
The restaurant and construction industries’ recognition of the correlation between a market’s core demographics and the construction and design of restaurants makes it a necessity for a restaurant’s profitability. As we continue to refine marketing research and offer fresh, innovative choices that parallel our ever-changing customer base, we are satisfying the need for more restaurants poised for success.
Athan “Tom” Prakas is president/broker of The Prakas Group, a restaurant/hospitality brokerage firm in Boca Raton and Orlando, Fla. and can be reached at 561.368.0003.
Hospitality Construction // May/June 2007