One of the best ways to get to know the spirit of a place is through its food. Whether it's beignets in New Orleans or oysters in Maine, regional cuisine is a portal to the histories, values, traditions, and communities that shape the communities we live in and visit.
Food culture deeply depends on the success of local restaurants, bars, cafes, and other eateries—the establishments that work around the clock to showcase the best local flavors.
To better understand the landscape of food service in the United States, Task Group mapped states by their concentration of food service and drinking establishments, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Concentrations are measured as the number of establishments in the first quarter of 2023 per 100,000 residents, based on 2022 Census Bureau estimates. Establishment count data are preliminary.
The BLS estimates there are nearly 696,000 privately owned food service and drinking places nationwide. The Northeast and Western regions of the United States have the highest concentrations per capita.
As you might expect, states with large populations, like New York and California, rank highly, with over 200 restaurants and bars per 100,000 residents. However, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Hawaii—which are home to smaller residential populations—have the most restaurants and bars per capita, with over 250 establishments per 100,000 residents.
One possible contributing factor to higher rates of eating establishments in the Northeast and the West Coast is wages for food service employees. BLS data shows employment rates and wages for chefs are highest in the West Coast and Northeast, specifically in states with a high concentration of restaurants per capita. With more competition for qualified workers comes higher pay, but it's also possible that recruiting and maintaining food staff might be easier in places where working as a cook is a more lucrative profession.
Privately owned food establishments are facing specific challenges this year. Supply chain disruptions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic are still taking their toll, helping make the cost of many ingredients higher than it used to be, according to the National Restaurant Association. Many restaurants have also increased their takeout and delivery business, making them more dependent on food-delivery apps, which can come with high fees. As the costs associated with running a restaurant have increased, the association's analysis of BLS data finds that many restaurant owners have raised menu prices.
Despite those challenges, there are many benefits to owning and operating a restaurant. Restaurant ownership might appeal to those who thrive in a collaborative, fast-paced, and creative workplace. Owners can be their own bosses, providing a sense of independence and freedom that few other professions offer. Further, food and drinking establishments can be wonderful opportunities for experimentation, testing out new menu items and service models. Plus, restaurants and bars are community hubs that bring people together for momentous occasions and make the everyday a little more joyful. Consider another visit to your favorite local spot, one that makes your hometown feel a little more like home.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close.
This story originally appeared on Task Group and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.