I recently had to go back in one of my novels and change the name of a popular restaurant I used. Why? Because the restaurant went out of business and I didn’t want to date my novel by having a restaurant that no longer exists. So instead I changed it to Becky’s Diner, knowing that Becky’s Diner is an institution that has been around for awhile, and should be around for the foreseeable future.
As a reader, do you enjoy reading about real places and products in a novel? I know I do. I tend to look up stuff on the internet after reading about place and see if the mentioned restaurant or coffee shop really exists. Or a particular brand of local beer. Real places in a book grounds the story for me and makes it authentic. If I’m visiting that city, its a place where I probably would like to visit, and sit in the same seat that a familiar character or villian once sat in, like Norm in Cheers. Or quaff a local brew that the characters like to drink.
But there are times when I need to use a fictional business place or restaurant in my story. For example, if one of my characters has a bad meal there. Or if something negative happens in the business that might end up with the owner of the establishment suing me for libel. Ha! I’m a working writer. Good luck getting blood from a stone.
Say I’m writing a story about an unethical doctor or shady hospital administrator. Or a sleazy college professor who seduces his students. In that scenario, there’s no way I’m using a real name. Instead of Maine Medical I’ll make up another name, like Casco Bay Hospital. Or Dirigo University. I’ll use a name that won’t get me in trouble, but somehow alludes to the locale I’m setting my story in. I’ll never write a novel about a chef who poisons his customers and have him working at a wonderful floating restaurant named Demillo’s.
In one of my earlier books, a horror novel before I transitioned to crime fiction, I set one gory scene in a well-known Boston college. This was before I really started thinking about places and spaces in my novel. Well, it could have been a disaster publicity-wise. But instead the book made 10 Best Literary References to Berklee College, alingside some big name writers. https://www.berklee.edu/news/berklee-now/10-best-literary-references-berklee
My general rule in using an establishment or product’s name in a book is to use if it’s good, and change the name if it reflects negatively on the place or product. I’ve even had instances in my book where readers were so convinced a fictional beer was real that they looked it up, only to discover it never really existed. I suppose that’s a compliment.
In any case, if you’re a writer, keep using those landmarks in your manuscript to give a sense of place and space. Mention popular local beers and coffee shops. Your readers will surely appreciate it and enjoy your novel more than if you go generic.