Best Cities to Start a Restaurant

There are certainly plenty of factors to think about when it comes to opening a restaurant. Buying restaurant equipment, hiring staff, obtaining permits and marketing are only a handful of “to-dos” that aspiring restaurateurs must keep in mind before opening their doors to the public.

And perhaps the biggest factor of all is location, location, location.

So, what’s the best market to open up a restaurant? We were curious to find out. After ranking the best cities to start a restaurant, we were able to find out where restaurateurs can get the best return on their investment. To narrow down our list to the top 50, we analyzed four key factors across 236 cities including:

  • Annual restaurant sales per capita
  • Restaurants per capita
  • Number of restaurant industry workers per capita
  • Median income in each city

Check out our findings below.

The Washington D.C. area dominates the top of the list with both D.C. and Arlington ranking No. 3 and No. 1, respectively. San Francisco, which is home to the most restaurants per capita, also falls within the top 5. Elsewhere on our list, cities with growing restaurant scenes like Austin, Nashville, and Denver show why aspiring restaurant owners might not want to rule out second- and third-tier cities.

While there are many cities that made are list which known for their cuisine, such as San Francisco, Miami, Charleston, and New Orleans, it’s interesting to see smaller cities like Chattanooga, Fort Collins and Raleigh make the cut as well.  

Overall, when it comes to finding an ideal location to start a restaurant, it’s not all about sales. Factors like over-saturation, competition and disposable income are all metrics to keep in mind when researching a market.  

Methodology

To determine the best cities to open a restaurant, we compared 236 cities – including the 150 most populous cities in the U.S. From there, we considered annual restaurant sales per capita, competition and market saturation (restaurants per capita), workforce (the number of restaurant industry workers per capita) as well as median income in each city. Data for restaurant sales, restaurants per capita and workforce was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau. Median income data was collected from the American Community Survey. Each factor was graded on a 100-point scale and then weighted to reach a final ranking.

We determined an overall weighted average based on the following:

Sales: 50 points

(Annual restaurant sales per capita)

Competition: 25 points

(Number of restaurants per capita)

Workforce: 10 points

(Number of restaurant industry workers per capita)

Income: 15 points

(Median income)