The Fine Dining Landscape

The “White Tablecloth” Segment

The fine dining restaurant industry caters to American consumers looking for a high-end, away-from-home dining experience.

2016 – Americans eat out an average of 4.5 times per week, according to a 2016 Zagat survey. While often this might mean a quick bite at a Fast Casual restaurant, there are some occasions in which diners prefer something more high-end. The fine dining restaurant industry caters to these demands, offering high-quality fresh food and exceptional service. CHD Expert, the Chicago-based foodservice data and analytics firm, evaluated the current fine dining landscape of the United States to share trends and offer insights into the market.

As of October 2016, there are more than 5,100 Fine Dining restaurants in the United States. By definition, fine dining establishments have a dinner emphasis and check averages are over $50. They are also known as “white tablecloth restaurants.”

Fine dining restaurants make up 1.4 percent of the Full Service Restaurant landscape in the United States, and only account for 0.73 percent of the total restaurant landscape (FSR and LSR) in the US. In terms of popularity by state (in terms of number of units), Washington D.C. ranks first, with 4 percent of D.C.’s total restaurant landscape being made up of fine dining restaurants. Hawaii (2%), Nevada (2%), Rhode Island (1.4%), and South Dakota (1.3%) round out the rest of the top five.

With regard to Fine Dining Menu Types, the segment tends to skew toward protein- or seafood-based restaurants and restaurants specializing in ethnic cuisine. For example, the Steak & Seafood menu type makes up 21 percent of the fine dining segment, while Family Steak / Chophouse accounts for 20 percent and American Traditional makes up 16 percent.

When it comes to annual sales, the total fine dining industry in the US makes up over $10 billion dollars in sales, with an average unit volume of almost $2 million dollars per unit. In comparison to the rest of the industry, the average unit volume for all full service restaurants is $824,000 per unit per year. Only 8 percent of fine dining restaurants gross over $5 million in annual sales.

Food, Beverage and Disposable costs in this segment account for 38% of their total annual sales, totaling to more than $3.8 billion per year. Further breaking down the Purchase Product Categories, Protein is by far the greatest expenditure for fine dining restaurants. Protein products equate to 35% of total purchases made each year by Fine Dining restaurants; the highest percentage for protein purchases in the restaurant industry. For Total Expenditures by Product Category, see figure 1.

While some fine dining chain restaurants have become household names, a majority (88 percent) of these establishments are considered independent operators. CHD Expert defines an independent operator as a brand with 9 or fewer units in operation. Among the 12 percent of fine dining restaurants that are classified as chains, steakhouses reign supreme. Top fine dining chain Ruth’s Chris Steak House boasts more than 130 units in CHD Expert’s foodservice database and, according to data from Technomic, experienced a positive 3.3 percent growth in 2015. Similarly, Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao and steak & seafood chain Ocean Prime both experienced 20 percent growth in 2015, according to Technomic’s data.

Continued growth in the fine dining segment may be attributed to innovation and the ability to entice potential customers. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, for example, attracts diners through promotions and special events that could have at one time been considered the domain of independent operators due to the difficulty of planning large-scale events. One such recent Ruth’s Chris dining event paired the steakhouse chain with Stags’ Leap Winery to bring customers a memorable five-course wine pairing dinner at 108 participating restaurants. By providing the diner with a unique experience, Ruth’s Chris is better able to foster brand loyalty.

Independent operators like Peter Luger Steakhouse (with locations in Brooklyn, NY and Great Neck, NY) are also able to build loyalty through a unique reputation. The restaurant is well known for serving aged beef that is hand-selected by the family that runs the establishment. The restaurant also does not accept credit card payments; it instead offers its own Peter Luger Card that customers can sign up for.

For foodservice suppliers of premium or gourmet products, the fine dining segment may represent numerous white space opportunities.

“Despite dining out being commonplace for the majority of Americans, they can still be wowed by a high-end fine dining experience,” said Catherine Kearns, General Manager at CHD Expert The Americas. “Fine dining operators are always on the lookout for suppliers that can help them exceed their customers’ expectations and thereby secure repeat business. By having comprehensive data on the fine dining industry, such as that provided by CHD Expert, suppliers are better positioned to connect with these operators and make the sale.”

CHD Expert evaluated the most recent data within its foodservice database and packaged the most interesting facts and figures into an infographic designed to help foodservice industry professionals better understand the fine dining restaurant landscape.

To access the 2016 Fine Dining Restaurant Landscape Infographic in its entirety, please click here.

To obtain detailed information on the foodservice industry landscape in the United States, or foodservice data in general, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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