What are The Most Popular Types of Restaurants in the US?

Trends 6 minute read 5th October 2020

As of Spring 2018, it was estimated that there were over 600,000 restaurants operating in the United States.

That colossal figure demonstrates that the sector is anything but flagging, but if you work in the industry, you’ll be acutely aware of how competitive it is.

This stems across all types of restaurant, from traditional American diners to oriental cuisine.

We therefore thought it would be interesting to take a look at the most popular types of restaurant in the US. If you’re already operating in the industry, this may provide a sense of perspective about the level of competition you face.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in opening your own restaurant in the future, it might give you a steer on the type of establishment best suited (and most likely to draw in the biggest audience).

Most popular cuisines by state

This brilliant piece of research by Thrillist provides a fascinating insight into the most popular types of restaurant cuisine by US state. The data is pretty reliable, too, because it was collated from American citizens who had opted into sharing their Google location history.

Eight types of restaurant were included in the research: pizza, Italian, Chinese, burger, BBQ, seafood, steakhouse, and sandwich shop.

Pizza dominates the Midwest, big time, while sandwiches reign king in the Mid-Atlantic. Head further south, and Mexican makes an unsurprising appearance as king of that area, although it’s also notable as the most popular type of food in the west, too.

Perhaps more interesting are the cities that appear to be the ‘capitals’ of specific cuisine:

  • Burger joints: Washington DC
  • Sandwich shops: Orlando
  • Steakhouses: Indianapolis
  • Seafood: New Orleans
  • Pizza: Detroit
  • Mexican: San Antonio
  • Chinese: New York
  • BBQ: Memphis

The sheer variety of cuisine available in the US demonstrates that the above really only offers a glimpse into the types of food available to diners.

The following map from The Huffington Post shows the most disproportionately cuisines in each state, and while there are some obvious entries, others will surprise:

Most popular cuisine in the US

Gluten-free, gastropubs, Filipino and Peruvian all feature strongly in certain states, but that still only tells part of the story.

Although the data is a little long in the tooth now, the following figures by Statista demonstrate the huge role played by ethnic cuisine in the United States:

  • 61% of Americans eat Italian most often
  • 50% of Americans eat Mexican most often
  • 36% of Americans eat Chinese most often

These are monthly figures, too, and are living proof that ethnic cuisine remains a dominant force in the American restaurant industry.

Which types of establishment make the most money?

Most profitable types of US restaurant

Restaurants typically have relatively low profit margins (in fact, they’re estimated at around 2-6 percent), but there’s still plenty of money to be made if you get it right.

If you want to run a restaurant capable of delivering decent margins, this list of the five most profitable types of eatery may help with your business planning.

  1. Bars (unsurprisingly - alcohol is typically the highest mark-up within any restaurant’s financials).
  2. Diners (this is thanks in part to breakfast foods becoming more affordable and an increase in early morning custom).
  3. Food trucks (low costs, limited staff and the ability to sell at high traffic events contributes to handsome profit margins).
  4. Delivery-only (think ‘virtual’ restaurants with no dine-in option, although you might benefit from the delivery revolution yourself).
  5. Farm-to-table (increasingly conscious diners are driving a surge towards restaurants that offer sustainably sourced food).

Wrap up

The next couple of years are likely to be key when it comes to dining trends in the US. The rise of fast casual, delivery and veganism is reshaping an already complex market.

In the meantime, if you’re about to enter the restaurant industry, where will you place your cards?

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