Jed Kolko, chief economist for the San Francisco-based firm, examined data from the top 100 U.S. metros to determine the concentration of drinking and eating out across the country, posted online today. Using the U.S. Census's County Business Patterns and 2010 demographic data, Kolko found that the coastal metros tend to have a greater concentration of restaurants, while New Orleans and Midwest metros have a greater concentrations of bars.
San Francisco tops the list by a considerable margin. The Bay Area has long been a foodie-capital, home to the influential chef Alice Waters and countless other great chefs, a wide diversity of ethnic cuisines and fusions, and numerous farmers' markets selling fresh produce from the nearby Central Valley. The Greater New York metro area claims the next three spots, with Fairfield County, Connecticut, second; Long Island, New York, third and New York City fourth (Manhattan and Brooklyn would likely rank much higher). The top ten are dominated by major cities and metros on the East and West Coasts. Seattle is fifth, San Jose (Silicon Valley) sixth, Orange County seventh, Providence eighth, Boston ninth, and Portland, Oregon tenth.
Kolko's analysis covers only sit-down restaurants ("establishments primarily engaged in providing food services to patrons who order and are served while seated (i.e., waiter/waitress service) and pay after eating"). In an email he told me that County Business Patterns also reports data for “limited-service restaurants” or fast-food restaurants where you order at counter and pay first before sitting down to eat as a separate category. "The distribution looks pretty similar to full-service restaurants," he wrote. "I wanted to compare only full-service restaurants to bars since both are places where people go to spend time as well as consume.
Now New Orleans with its vibrant nightlife scene comes in first. But much of the top ten is dominated by older, industrial Midwest metros. Milwaukee (famous for its breweries) is second, Omaha third, my hometown of Pittsburgh fourth, Toledo fifth, Syracuse sixth, and Buffalo seventh. San Francisco is 8th, followed by the tourist hotspots of Las Vegas and Honolulu rounding out the top ten.
Kolko makes it clear that this is purely a measurement of the number of bars and restaurants, so it does not convey which eating or drinking scenes might be more interesting, creative, or innovative.
But the presence of amenities, like bars and restaurants, has been found to be important to a city's economy, as Harvard's Edward Glaeser has long argued. In his book, The City as an Entertainment Machine, University of Chicago sociologist Terry Clark and his collaborators note that for people "pondering where to live and work, restaurants are more than food on their plate. The presence of distinct restaurants redefines the local context, even for persons who do not eat in them. They are part of the local market baskets of amenities that vary from place to place."