For the first time, Americans are spending more money on restaurant meals ($55 billion) than on groceries ($52.5 billion). That's the word from the folks who keep track; don't believe the alarmists who claim there's a "restaurant recession." They're missing the point: an explosion in "grocerants."
Meantime, we've just been handed a roster of the top 100 independent restaurants around the country. As always, the top dog is Tao Las Vegas, which last year brought in $48 million. It's a 400-seat, 40,000-square-foot joint where the average check is just under a C-note and the priciest item on the menu of shared plates is "I want my own goddamn steak" $85 rib-eye. In Noo Yawk's Times Square, the number four restaurant is also the nation's highest-grossing Italian spot, Carmine's, raking in $32 million; the lasagna is $32.95 but serves four to six eaters.
Our own 270-seat Sky City atop the Needle slots into the 53rd spot; it grossed a respectable $16 million in 2015 with an average check of $58. Can't add seats at that height, though, unlike a fried-chicken palace called Zehnders in the town of Frankenmuth (90 minutes north of Detroit). Some 1,500 seats across a gaudy 80,000-square-foot theme park, an all-you-can-eat menu, a $15 average check. Do the math: to rank at number 66, with sales if $15 million, you have to serve a million meals. There's something in the water up there in Frankenmuth, by the way. The Bavarian Inn, just cross the street form Zehnders, is also on the top 100 list; they do sauerbraten and schnitzel in addition to chicken.
Back to SeaTown. Average check hovers around $30. Lots of new spots in Belltown, Ballard, Bellevue, Bothell. Seattle at the top of the list when it comes to number of craft breweries & distilleries per capita. Respectable 10th in number of gourmet & specialty food shops per capita, 19th in number of restaurants per capita, dismal 41st in grocery stores, as evidenced by the Safeway-Kroger (QFC-Fred Meyer) stranglehold.