1. What is a seafood restaurant?
Seafood restaurants specialize in different types of fish and shellfish. They are unique in that they often have specific geographic and cultural influences.
You’ll find lobster shacks in Massachusetts, crawfish boils in New Orleans, and clam chowder on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Coastal towns across the country are home to oyster bars featuring freshly-shucked oysters plucked from local waters. Fresh, local catch is a defining feature of most seafood restaurants, and selections often change with what’s available.
Seafood restaurants also reflect various international cuisines, such as Chinese, Peruvian, Mexican, Japanese, and French.
2. What is the history of seafood restaurants?
The oldest continuously operating restaurant in America is a seafood restaurant in Boston, Union Oyster House, which opened its doors in 1826. Colonial-era taverns in port towns often served oysters and other seafood because it was cheap and easily accessible in local waters.
But starting in the mid-1800s, seafood went from daily sustenance to delicacy with the advent of ice harvesting. Ice “producers” in New England broke up ponds and lakes and created refrigerated railway cars.
Suddenly, the seafood could be shipped to cities cold and fresh. Demand soared, ocean stocks dwindled, and prices went up. Now dining at a seafood restaurant is considered a splurge-worthy event.
3. What is typically on a seafood restaurant menu?
Seafood restaurants offer an assortment of fish prepared in many ways, such as baked, grilled, fried, raw, and sautéed. Some restaurants develop expertise in one area, like Cajun-spiced shellfish, while others focus on one ingredient, like oysters or crab.
What they all have in common is that the menus are ingredient-driven and “wave to table,” meaning selections rotate with the seasons and change with what is caught that day or week.
Diners expect fresh fish (not frozen) and are increasingly aware of sustainable fishing practices. Detailed sourcing information, whether farm-raised or wild-caught, often appears on menus.
You’ll also find sides that complement fish, such as rice dishes, potatoes, salads, crusty bread, and vegetables. It’s rare for a seafood restaurant not to offer beer and white wine; many have extensive cocktail selections, too.
4. How do you start a seafood restaurant?
Seafood restaurants have been a staple of the dining scene in the United States since colonial times, and their popularity is as strong as ever.
But they’re also a niche experience as many people avoid seafood, and some have shellfish allergies. The most important first step is to find seafood-loving customers and understand your market.
Narrowing down the style of cuisine to target your ideal customer is the key to repeat business. Once you’ve established your “concept,” focus on sourcing. Research fisheries and create relationships with local fishermen. We all know that old advice: If a restaurant smells fishy, don’t eat there. Freshness and quality are top priorities among seafood aficionados.
5. How much does it cost to start a seafood restaurant?
The average overall cost to open a restaurant falls between $100 and $800 per square foot and varies depending on location, concept, size, materials, and whether you’re renting or buying your space.
Seafood restaurants have specific requirements that may drive up the cost. Fish is famous for its short shelf life and needs attention in the form of handling, preparation, and extra refrigerated storage.
Variable expenses, particularly the cost of goods sold, may also run higher than average if you are sourcing from local fisheries instead of bulk wholesalers. Restaurants often fly in specialty fish from international providers, like high-grade tuna from Japan, which also adds to expenses.
6. Most popular types of seafood restaurants
The magic of waterfront restaurants, with the promise of fresh fish enjoyed with beautiful ocean or lake views, will always lure in customers.
But popular seafood restaurants are not relegated to the coastline. Raw bars, oyster bars, poke stands, and casual peel-n’ eat shellfish at lower price points continue to emerge in landlocked cities all over the country.
Seafood has a high-low reach, with rustic, casual eateries just as sought after as white-table cloth restaurants featuring towers of shellfish.
The seafood industry is valued at $116.8 billion and is projected to reach $134 billion by 2026, relying mainly on restaurants and retail sales. This bodes well for the future of seafood restaurants. But owners must navigate the latest industry information about fishing practices and sustainability to thrive.
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