Boone ranked 4th for restaurant growth
by Anna Oakes
Savor this -- Boone recently landed among the top five cities in the nation on Nielsen's annual Restaurant Growth Index.
The Nielsen Company conducts market research to track consumer trends. According to the company, the Restaurant Growth Index, or RGI, "charts restaurant openings and sales to identify the nation's hottest markets."
Boone landed at No. 4 on the list, with an RGI score of 460. The study appears to have taken all of Watauga County into account, as the population is listed as 51,614. The Boone area followed Ocean Pines, Md., at 732; Findlay, Ohio, at 623; and Liberal, Kansas, at 565.
(An article published by Nielsen in April stated that Boone placed fifth on this year's RGI, but a chart of RGI rankings listed Boone at fourth. Meg Chari of Nielsen confirmed May 15 that the fourth-place ranking is correct.)
Boone rose from the No. 37 rank on last year's index.
"Boone is a tourist destination, drawing 225,000 each year. It's also home to Appalachian State University, which has seen dramatic growth in the last decade and ranks in the top 5 percent for general business growth in Nielsen's BGI. The influx of students and tourists helped drive up its 2013 RGI score," an article by Nielsen's John Torres and Song Lin stated.
The index was based on total restaurant counts and sales for 2012, which are derived from data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, Nielsen and Infogroup.
"The RGI is designed to help restaurants screen markets and find attractive areas for expansion and growth," the article stated. "These market rankings represent underserved areas that signal strong restaurant sales relative to the national average."
According to the index, the Boone area had 170 establishments at the end of 2012, with per capita restaurant sales of $3,301.43 -- representing 17.76 percent of per capita income.
John Pepper of Pepper's Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants in Boone, has been active in the efforts of Boone Independent Restaurants. The organization creates marketing efforts and events -- such as the Small Plate Crawl -- to promote the Boone area's locally owned restaurants.
Pepper said he and the Nicastros of Boone Bagelry recently discussed Boone's RGI ranking.
"We both kind of felt like our sales have been strong," he said. "The people that are here and the people that do come here are spending a little bit more money as the economy improves."
But he expressed doubts that the High Country market could support a significant increase in new restaurants.
"We just have such a small population, and the population isn't really growing that fast," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with us being one of the top growth locations in the country."
Indeed, a nationwide influx of competition -- with 47,161 restaurant openings -- appeared to be dogging restaurants' profit margins in 2012, Nielsen noted: "The glut of new restaurants is milking the industry's bottom line."
Boone Independent Restaurants will present Celebrity Serve June 4 through 6. Local "celebrities" will volunteer as servers at area restaurants on those three days, and their tips, as well as a percentage of restaurant sales, will benefit the High Country United Way.
For more information about Boone Independent Restaurants, visit booneindependentrestaurants.org or follow the group on Facebook.
To view Nielsen's RGI rankings, visit http://www.monkeydish.com/towns-with-potential/home.