The Growth of Local Dining By the Numbers

It is easy to get caught up in the local food scene and assume that everyone eats local all the time. The reality is that the vast majority of dining choices in the city are not local.
We are under no illusion that all dining will ever be local, in fact, most of us are open and honest enough to say that we do not even eat local 100% of the time. What we do want to see, however, in a strong food culture is a growth in the local dining economy. Growth has a snowball effect. It cultivates more culinary talent, it causes more investors to take risk on new restaurants and expansions, and most importantly, it keeps more money floating in the local economy that leads to growth in all areas.
To understand growth we are going to need to geek out on you for just a bit. The easiest way is to take sales numbers and see where growth is happening. The final numbers for 2014 Little Rock Dining are out, so we decided to compare against the previous years to see where growth is happening and by how much.
If you feel like 2014 was a big year, you are not dreaming. 2014 saw an overall 7.4% growth in total restaurant sales according to the A&P tax numbers obtained from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau . 2013 by comparison was only a 0.56% increase over 2012. But how much of this growth was local?
We decided to lock down just the top 100 restaurants, which are in no way representative of the overall picture, but do account for roughly half of the sales for the total 800+ restaurants on the list. In fact, a higher percentage of restaurants outside the top 100 are local than inside the top 100, so any growth show is likely a conservative estimate. We broke things down by being Arkansas owned and not. For the handful of cafeterias (think hospitals) we left those in the non-local category since many are operated by an out-of-state contract service.
Here is how the numbers look:

Year Total Food Sales Percentage Increase
2014 Top Local $50,720,531.29 10.7% Increase
2013 Top Local $45,820,669.00 4.6% Increase
2012 Top Local $43,817,218.00

Compare that to an actual drop in the biggest growth year for non-local places

Year Total Food Sales Percentage Increase
2014 Top non-Local $175,827,948.67 0.4% Decrease
2013 Top non-Local $176,488,787.00 0.4% Increase
2012 Top non-Local $175,768,374.18

So yes, local is growing. Each year added a new restaurant to the total in the top 100 (from 24 in 2012 to 26 in 2014), additionally almost all local places that stayed in the top 100 showed growth equal to or greater than the all-restaurant average.
Keep in mind, these numbers do not reflect alcohol sales, only food. Numbers are again likely higher than that considering the vast majority of the top local places serve alcohol and have a thriving bar program. The majority of the top non-local do not.
In short, local is growing on all fronts. It is reflected in the broader attention of the food scene in Little Rock and the growth of new locations. It is a great time to be a foodie in Little Rock, and if the first three months are any indication, that is only going to continue.

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