Despite the central importance of the niche concept for the ecological theory, current methods to quantify the species niche from qualitative resources, such as food or habitat types, remain insufficiently developed. Classically, information theory and diversity measures have formed the toolbox used for calculating resource niche metrics on species preference data for a set of qualitative resources. We provide a comprehensive framework that extends these classical approaches by incorporating the resemblance between resources into the calculation of resource niche metrics. This does not only allow estimation of the niche centre, breadth, overlap and displacement with greater accuracy, but also makes the estimates less influenced by the way the resources are subdivided. In addition, all niche metrics can be calculated while taking into account the variation in resource availability, and confidence intervals can be obtained by bootstrapping. We illustrate the utility of the framework with an analysis of dietary preferences in feral pigeons Columba livia. © 2011 The Authors. Oikos © 2011 Nordic Society Oikos.