Whether you are in the process of writing your business plan or already in business, it is always helpful to assess how the competition is doing. Prior to the Internet, we were somewhat limited to physically visiting the competitors to obtain marketing information, gain insight through interviews (if possible) and observation. However, with the Internet, there is so much more!
The most obvious starting point is the competitor's website. Here, you can find out details such as their logo, sales and marketing strategy, promotions, pricing, hours of operation, etc. However, don't just stop there.
Next, do a search of newspaper and magazine articles. It is here that you might find out more important details such as estimated sales, any negative occurances, management changes and more.
Then, it starts to get fun. Do a general web search (such as google or my personal favorite dogpile.com) to see what you can find. Pay special attention to blogs. People share a lot of information in their blogs - for both personal and commercial usage. Some of the more interesting ones to read are the personal blogs where current and prior customers talk about how good/bad their experience was.
You can also look for industry related websites that offer ratings. Make sure you not only look at the ratings, but also the comments included as they can also give you some insight into how they are doing. For example, on milwaukeemoms.com, the members (mostly females with children) have rated how kid-friendly restaurants are in the area. On dine.com, you can see customer ratings on restaurants across the U.S.