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Where People Rely on Restaurants the Most in the U.S.

Where People Rely on Restaurants the Most in the U.S.

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This article was last updated Apr 24, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

The restaurant industry is in dire straits now that states across the country have implemented stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association reports that the industry has already lost 8 million in jobs and $80 billion in sales with more to come.

Before the pandemic, people were visiting restaurants often. Americans typically ate out 5.9 times per week on average in 2018. The restaurant industry projected $899 billion in sales for 2020, up 4% from last year, compared with the $678.4 billion projected for 2020 supermarket revenue. From 2013 to 2018, the average household budget for “food away from home” increased by 32%, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

That upward trend of dining out has lost its trajectory, and it’s unclear when customer-facing businesses will be able to safely reopen. Not only do owners and workers suffer when restaurant doors close — people who rely on restaurants may face limited food options. Dining out is a form of entertainment or social pastime for many people, but others may eat at restaurants out of necessity because they have access to fewer grocery stores.

CompareCards decided to take a look at the places with the highest concentration of restaurants relative to grocery stores to uncover which locations are most dependent on restaurants. Using Census Bureau data on restaurants, grocery stores and their respective payrolls, we measured the prevalence of two top ways of getting food — grocery shopping versus eating out at restaurants.

Key findings

  • People spend the most at restaurants compared with grocery stores in Nashville. This Tennessee city had the highest payroll ratio of restaurants relative to grocery stores. In total, restaurants had payrolls six times higher than grocery stores.
  • Grand Rapids, Mich., took second place. The metrowide payroll for restaurants in Grand Rapids was 5.4 times that of grocery stores.
  • Rounding out the top three was El Paso, Texas. Payroll at restaurants was just over five times that of grocery stores.
  • On the other end of the scale was Allentown, Pa., Springfield, Mass., and Scranton, Pa. Restaurants in these three metro areas had payrolls just 1.56 to 1.64, to 1.76 times that of local grocery stores, respectively.
  • In general, cities tend to have a lot more restaurants than grocery stores, which is what you would expect. However, there are large differences from one city to the next. New York, for example, a place that is well-known for its restaurants, actually has the smallest parity between its number of restaurants and grocery stores — there are 3.4 times as many restaurants as grocery stores. Albuquerque, on the other hand, has 14.2 times as many restaurants as grocery stores. One reason there are more grocery stores than restaurants in larger cities is that grocery stores benefit from larger economies — supermarkets can expand to offer more items at a cheaper price thanks to sophisticated supply chains, whereas restaurants operating on slim margins can grow only so much without significantly increasing costs.
  • Restaurants also tend to be bigger economic drivers for cities. No city analyzed had grocery stores with a higher payroll than restaurants.

Places that rely on restaurants the most

Places where people spend the most at restaurants compared with grocery stores

Time to ditch that restaurant rewards card? Not so fast

Don’t ditch that rewards card yet — restaurants may be closed for dining in, but many have resorted to offering delivery or pickup options.

With that said, you should make sure before you order that the business sticks to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health guidelines, such as staying the appropriate distance away from you when delivering. If there’s been an uptick in how often you order takeout while hunkering down at home, don’t miss out on the opportunity to earn cash back.

Several cards can help you rack up rewards for dining out, and the dining out category usually includes takeout, as long as the restaurant’s primary business is eat-in dining, and it uses a restaurant merchant code for the transaction.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, rewards 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.
  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Each point equals one cent when you redeem for cash.
  • The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Earn 3X points on eating out, ordering in and popular streaming services, 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit, and 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn 1X points on other purchases. You can redeem points for travel, cash, gift cards and more.
  • The Uber Visa Card offers 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber rides, Uber Eats, and JUMP, 3% in Uber Cash on restaurants, bars, hotels, and airfare, and 1% back in Uber Cash on all other purchases. Uber Cash can be redeemed for rides and Uber Eats.

Even though you may be unable to travel for leisure or business at the moment, your hotel card can still come useful for dining rewards.

  • With the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Earn 14X per $1 of eligible purchases on your card directly with a participating Hilton hotel or resort, 7X for eligible purchases: on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com; on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies; & at U.S. restaurants, and 3X for other purchases on your card.
  • With the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio. Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.

Even if you do eat takeout once or twice a week, eating out may still not be a big-budget item right now. In this case, look to see if one of the rewards cards in your wallet can help you offset your grocery spending instead.

Top cashback cards for grocery spending

Due to stay-at-home guidelines, you may be spending more on groceries than ever before. Cashback credit cards can give you money back when you make large grocery hauls, and you can use the cash back as statement credits.

Here are our top picks:

For stocking up: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 1% Cash Back on other purchases. This is one of the highest grocery cashback offers around. The card has a $95 annual fee, but you’ll easily earn enough to cover the fee if you spend about $1,600 per year in the highest cashback rate category. Any additional cash back you receive will be profit.

Warehouse and superstore spending is excluded from the higher rate cashback offer. On the bright side, you also earn the higher rate on streaming services, which can come in handy if you decide to sign up for several now that you’re spending more time at home.

For no annual fee: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

  • The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. 1% cash back on other purchases. That doesn’t include superstores and warehouses. New cardholders can earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.

For warehouse shopping: Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and Sam's Club® Mastercard®

Neither card above gives you bonus cash back for spending at superstores or warehouses. Consider adding one of these two cards to your wallet instead.

  • Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter, 3% on restaurants & travel, 2% at Costco & Costco.com, 1% on all other purchases. Cashback rewards come in one annual rewards certificate at the end of February. You can redeem rewards for cash or merchandise at U.S. Costco warehouses.
  • Sam's Club® Mastercard®: Earn 5% cash back on gas (on first $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 3% on dining and travel, and 1% on other purchases (maximum of $5,000 in cash back rewards in a calendar year). Cash back is loaded to your Sam’s Club membership and can only be used in-store or at SamsClub.com.

Bottom line

For many, dining out is a sorely missed activity. Restaurants are forced to change how they do business in response to the pandemic, and, sadly, that means many are losing jobs. If you are able to support restaurants still operating, check to see what rewards you can earn on your rewards credit cards for that spending.

Since grocery hauls may take up a larger portion of your budget these days, consider using grocery rewards cards offering cash back to lower your bill. Cash back earned can usually be applied as a statement credit or be put toward future purchases.

Data and methodology

To find the places most dependent on restaurants, researchers looked at data on the number of restaurants and grocery stores in the largest 100 cities. Specifically, we compared the number of restaurants with the number of grocery stores, and ranked them from highest to lowest using that metric. Since grocery stores can vary in size by city, we also compared the total payroll at grocery stores and restaurants, and ranked using that metric as well. Data comes from the Census Bureau and is from 2017.

Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.


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