We’re happy to be customers and advocates for all of Kent’s eateries but in the spirit of full disclosure we’re particularly fond of the locally owned “mom’s and pop’s” because they offer some of Kent’s most distinctive flavors that keep people coming back for more.
We recently came across some data from the restaurant world that talked about the distribution of restaurants nationwide from the perspective of national chains vs. mom’s and pop’s — and I asked Tom Wilke, our Economic Development Director, to do some comparative shopping for those categories in Kent.
We weren’t able to get a true “apples to apples” comparison as we didn’t have the exact same data set as the national data but we got close enough to make some general observations.
Here’s Tom’s findings:
Unfortunately I couldn’t do the math the same way as they did in this report because they didn’t provide the raw numbers for each category. But I did do the attached comparisons and it does tell you a couple of things.
Even though the percent of chain restaurants citywide is slightly above the national average, that’s largely because we are in the midwest where as the report noted, has the highest chain percentage with Columbus and Cincinnati topping the list.
I also compared the city’s percentage of limited service restaurants (fast food and fast casual) versus full service restaurants and again we were higher than the national average but I would suggest that is due to the high number of students whose budget often dictates their eating habits hence the large grouping of fast food and fast casual.
The best news comes from downtown Kent where 73% of downtown restaurants are independent versus 53% nationally.
And further, 65% of downtown restaurants are limited service versus 55% nationally
Here’s an excerpt from the national article that got our attention:
On Wednesday, Yelp released a five-year trove of data about local businesses in the United States. One of the company’s big conclusions? Americans prefer independent restaurants (even, in fact, especially independent fast food) to their chain counterparts.
In all 50 metro areas the company examined, the average Yelp rating for independents and chains has been diverging. Nationally, mom ’n’ pop eateries were always preferred by a small margin, but since 2012, the gap in Yelp’s 142 million ratings between them and chains has nearly doubled. For fast-food restaurants, the average rating gap stands at almost a full star now.
Yelp chalks this up to America’s changing tastes, which would be quite a shift. It’s not crazy to think a new trend in consumer preferences might be underway. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has restaurant spending up 18 percent between 2012 and 2016; the Census Bureau says we’re now spending more in restaurants and bars than at the grocery store. There’s social media pressure to find new and interesting ways to represent your life, and maybe going to Applebee’s just doesn’t cut it.
It’s also possible that consumers are more likely to rate chains badly when an individual franchise fails to live up to brand expectations than to rate them well when the Bloomin’ Onion is as crispy as promised. Poorly rated indies might also be more likely to go out of business than poorly rated chains.
Yelp has also been able to deduce what percent of local restaurants are chains in various U.S. cities. (Since the data looks at fast food, fast casual, and casual dining, largely excluding “fine dining,” this data shouldn’t favor wealthier places.) This information serves as a measure of place-based authenticity—the extent to which local food culture hews to a national standard or reflects local tastes and traditions.