Many of the cities where people spend the most on full-service restaurants are wealthy vacation destinations. According to the food service trade group National Restaurant Association, tourists generate approximately 30% of sales in the fine-dining sector. Cities such as Breckenridge, Colorado; Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts; and Key West, Florida are some of the most visited small cities in the country and have the highest restaurant spending per capita of any U.S. city.
Colorado contains six of the 50 top cities for going out to eat; Florida and Oregon are each home to four; and Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and California each have three cities on this list.
The cost of fine-dining has increased significantly over the past several decades. While disposable income per capita in the United States has increased by approximately 50% in the last 30 years, the cost of a restaurant meal relative to a trip to the grocery store has more than doubled. As dining out becomes more expensive, fine-dining establishments may increasingly choose to locate in wealthy cities over less wealthy areas. In 27 of the 50 cities where people go out to eat the most, the typical household earns more than the national median household income of $55,322 a year.
While only one major metropolitan area with over 1 million residents — San Francisco — is in the top 50, large, dense cities tend to have the most restaurant sales per capita. Big cities tend to have more wealthy, single residents who are more likely to spend money at fine-dining establishments. Of the 31 metropolitan areas with more than 2 million residents, 26 generate more restaurant sales per capita than the national average of $704. Additionally, more than half of the 100 highest grossing restaurants are located in either New York City, Las Vegas, or Chicago.
To determine the cities where people go out to eat all the time, 24/7 Wall St. created an index based on the number of restaurants and restaurant spending per capita across 917 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. Data on the number of full-service restaurants in each city came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 County Business Patterns and was included in the index at full weight. Data on restaurant sales came from the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census and was adjusted for population using data from the 2016 American Community Survey. This was also included in the index at full weight. Data on limited-service restaurants, or fast-food, also came from 2016 County Business Patterns.