More US diners pass over national chains in favour of local eateries with more charm

Yelp, a business ratings and review website and app, has helped bring in diners for locally-owned eateries over national chains in the US.
Yelp, a business ratings and review website and app, has helped bring in diners for locally-owned eateries over national chains in the US. PHOTO: YELP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favour of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and mum's watercolours decorating the walls.

It is a turning point in the history of American restaurants, according to Mr Darren Tristano, chief insights officer at Chicago-based restaurant research firm Technomic.

Free-marketing websites, such as Yelp, have boosted the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald's, Cracker Barrel, Domino's, Taco Bell, Olive Garden - the list goes on.

In a shift, annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 per cent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 per cent, according to Pentallect, an industry researcher in Chicago.

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It is not that Wendy's Baconator or the Grand Slam Slugger Breakfast from Denny's will soon go the way of the dodo. But some national chains are feeling the pain amid dismal sales.

Subway Restaurants, the biggest US food chain by number of locations, saw its number of domestic outlets decline for the first time ever last year.

Customers these days believe local eateries have better food, service, deals and even decor, the Pentallect report said.

While national chains advertise like crazy, mom-and-pop joints depend mostly on word of mouth and Yelp reviews.

The "authentic" and Instagram-able experiences are what diners are searching for these days, industry experts note.