Best and Worst Places to Open a Restaurant

The Restaurant Growth Index, ranking the best markets for new restaurants

Although the number of restaurants opened in the U.S. in the past year is flat—growing just 0.4 percent—tourism continues to be the driving factor in areas with the strongest growth. And while two of the top five markets are beach destinations, a deeper dive shows that a return to the roads also is driving consumers to restaurants in small towns that sit at the crossroads of major highways.

5 best places to open a restaurant

  • 1. Kahului-Wailuku Lahaina, Hawaii
  • 2. Kapaa, Hawaii
  • 3. Las Vegas, Nev.
  • 4. Sevierville, Tenn.
  • 5. Starkville, Miss.

5 worst places to open a restaurant

  • 1. Los Alamos, N.M.
  • 2. Urbana, Ohio
  • 3. Sunbury, Pa.
  • 4. Boone, Iowa
  • 5. North Vernon, Ind.

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Metro area State RGI value Ranksort descending Population Per capita income Restaurant sales per capita Sales as percent of income Total restaurants Sales per restaurant Persons per establishment
Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina HI 517 1 163,072 $27,686 $4,721 17.05% 506 $1,521,451 322
Kapaa HI 457 2 70,875 $25,935 $4,499 17.35% 241 $1,322,992 294
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise NV 453 3 2,066,046 $23,573 $3,598 15.26% 4,993 $1,488,614 414
Sevierville TN 382 4 95,271 $21,154 $4,215 19.92% 417 $962,911 228
Starkville MS 363 5 49,564 $21,200 $3,828 18.06% 188 $1,009,176 264
Effingham IL 333 6 34,311 $28,812 $4,365 15.15% 136 $1,101,346 252
Liberal KS 311 7 23,490 $20,122 $3,059 15.20% 70 $1,026,643 336
Ocean City NJ 306 8 95,231 $32,925 $5,804 17.63% 634 $871,754 150
Carson City NV 303 9 53,936 $25,385 $3,107 12.24% 135 $1,241,489 400
Urban Honolulu HI 292 10 996,526 $30,127 $3,265 10.84% 2,408 $1,351,022 414
Boone NC 290 11 53,373 $21,033 $3,638 17.30% 231 $840,619 231
Greenwood MS 286 12 41,726 $15,031 $2,542 16.91% 125 $848,672 334
Reno NV 284 13 442,240 $25,623 $2,858 11.16% 990 $1,276,834 447
Berlin NH-VT 283 14 38,360 $23,499 $5,225 22.23% 314 $638,268 122
Gardnerville Ranchos NV 282 15 48,118 $33,178 $3,643 10.98% 136 $1,288,971 354
Mount Vernon IL 278 16 38,565 $24,545 $3,684 15.01% 153 $928,523 252
Salisbury MD-DE 265 17 390,833 $27,456 $3,570 13.00% 1,365 $1,022,064 286
Pecos TX 265 18 14,082 $16,311 $4,168 25.55% 113 $519,407 125
Branson MO 263 19 85,169 $20,173 $3,373 16.72% 364 $789,255 234
Oxford MS 262 20 53,036 $26,419 $3,472 13.14% 184 $1,000,641 288
Middlesborough KY 261 21 27,429 $15,586 $2,924 18.76% 115 $697,357 239
Panama City FL 255 22 193,247 $24,343 $3,495 14.36% 759 $889,962 255
Cullowhee NC 253 23 41,488 $20,267 $3,804 18.77% 233 $677,253 178
Hattiesburg MS 252 24 150,038 $21,040 $2,754 13.09% 427 $967,656 351
Tifton GA 252 25 39,666 $21,741 $2,700 12.42% 105 $1,019,867 378
Lake City FL 248 26 67,875 $18,792 $2,442 12.99% 173 $957,908 392
Atlantic City-Hammonton NJ 248 27 276,512 $25,481 $3,083 12.10% 830 $1,027,183 333
Hilo HI 246 28 193,770 $23,460 $2,697 11.50% 487 $1,073,172 398
Carbondale-Marion IL 242 29 126,617 $23,401 $3,188 13.62% 453 $891,024 280
Kill Devil Hills NC 241 30 39,645 $30,334 $5,191 17.11% 291 $707,230 136
Elmira NY 241 31 88,004 $25,691 $2,736 10.65% 212 $1,135,764 415
Grenada MS 240 32 21,567 $21,018 $2,984 14.20% 76 $846,882 284
Taos NM 238 33 33,182 $22,516 $4,652 20.66% 267 $578,127 124
Charleston-Mattoon IL 238 34 64,529 $22,706 $2,939 12.94% 206 $920,617 313
Flagstaff AZ 232 35 137,763 $22,381 $2,672 11.94% 378 $973,884 364
Maryville MO 231 36 23,119 $17,137 $3,266 19.06% 124 $608,960 186
Big Stone Gap VA 230 37 59,469 $19,775 $3,515 17.78% 322 $649,193 185
Bangor ME 230 38 153,070 $22,699 $3,677 16.20% 790 $712,394 194
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford FL 225 39 2,328,788 $23,404 $2,465 10.53% 5,351 $1,072,766 435
Vincennes IN 224 40 37,709 $22,889 $3,546 15.49% 184 $726,641 205
Richmond IN 221 41 67,315 $19,154 $2,287 11.94% 166 $927,265 406
Cordele GA 218 42 23,025 $19,631 $2,766 14.09% 82 $776,805 281
Crestview FL 218 43 260,761 $27,633 $3,262 11.81% 919 $925,654 284
Sault Ste. Marie MI 217 44 38,672 $20,639 $3,746 18.15% 242 $598,669 160
Mount Pleasant MI 216 45 70,312 $19,712 $2,259 11.46% 168 $945,274 419
Watertown-Fort Drum NY 215 46 119,570 $22,538 $2,537 11.26% 316 $959,896 378
Henderson NC 213 47 45,070 $19,032 $2,383 12.52% 126 $852,286 358
Tupelo MS 211 48 141,180 $20,828 $2,773 13.31% 492 $795,679 287
Winnemucca NV 206 49 17,812 $30,238 $3,019 9.99% 52 $1,034,231 343
Oneonta NY 205 50 61,372 $25,800 $3,626 14.06% 304 $732,095 202

Pages

Source: Nielsen

How we rank the markets

The Restaurant Growth Index is designed to help restaurants screen markets and find attractive areas for expansion and growth. The market rankings represent underserved areas that signal strong restaurant sales relative to the national average. The RGI ranks both metropolitan (core urban area population of 50,000 or more) and micropolitan (urban core of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000) areas. Each area consists of one or more counties encompassing the core urban area while integrating adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic similarities.

The RGI uses restaurant sales collected by the U.S. Census of Retail Trade and per-capita income reported by the U.S. Census Bureau and updated by Nielsen. Restaurant-location data comes by way of Nielsen through Infogroup. Sales figures conflate visitors and residents of each market. So, smaller markets that are tourist destinations with high transience and heavy through traffic tend to index high. Market size should be considered in addition to market rank at all levels of geography (state, CBSA, ZIP) in assessing opportunities for future restaurants. The RGI formula:

RGI = 

Note: The national average is 100. Higher scores signal better opportunities; scores dipping below 100 suggest weaker opportunities than average. Markets are scored as whole. All markets, when scrutinized at lower levels of geography (i.e., ZIP codes), show pockets of better and worse opportunities.