We’re saddened - but not in the least surprised - by the chart that popped into our inbox moments ago, courtesy of Nation’s Restaurant News. The slow, inexorable takeover of the American dining landscape by large corporations continues apace, having expanded from 49% of restaurant traffic (paying customers, we guess?) in 2001 to 57% in 2007. These numbers are only for the summer, but we can’t imagine that people abandon Applebees for their local chef-driven bistro en masse in September. The small chains are more or less (less) holding their own, but the independents have taken a huge hit.
Almost certainly, this loss is skewed outside of urban areas. Chicago has more independent restaurant than you could shake a stick at! Then again, how many of the recent new openings have been orchestrated by boutique, high-end restaurant groups? More than we’re entirely comfortable with. But while there will always be demand in the city for independent qua independent restaurants, the suburbs and exurbs are not so oriented. In those realms, that which is inexpensive, efficient, non-challenging and familiar reigns supreme. The nationalization of the service industry is an economic inevitability, but not a cultural one.
Rise up, non-urbanites! Take risks, demand uniqueness, rail against gustatorial sterility! Life is richer when you live to eat.