How “chainy” is your community?

The term “Generica” dates back at least 19 years and is widely attributed to Barry Pitegoff, vice president of research for Visit Florida in the early 2000s.  It’s been a staple of tourism marketing discussions ever since. As noted then by Pitegoff, “The strategic marketing implication is that if everyplace looks the same, why go anywhere?”

And while there are travelers who prefer the comfort of familiar brand names, we know that many travelers do seek out unique culinary experiences as part of their destination experience. Those travelers are motivated by an avalanche of media ranging from Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives” to the more cerebral work of the late Anthony Bourdain, and tens of thousands of influencers and billions of bytes of content on social platforms.

While travelers and marketers alike have long ascribed words such as “unique” and “different” to nearly every destination, those qualities have been difficult to quantify. But a new study from Georgia Tech’s Clio Andris and Xiaofan Liang accomplishes just that by looking at the restaurant “chaininess” of American communities. Given the challenges faced by independent restaurants during the last 18 months, this research is particularly helpful in understanding the importance of those businesses to destinations.

The research is also really cool.  (Confession: I love maps.)

Andris and Liang observe that independent restaurants were more likely to be found in coastal cities and were more associated with pedestrian-friendly areas, wealthier and more educated communities, racially diverse neighborhoods, and tourism destinations.  The detailed maps (including one particularly useful interactive one) included with the study support these findings.

Given the demonstrated connection between tourism and the incidence of independent restaurants, this valuable study provides yet another reason for communities to embrace tourism as part of their support for small businesses.  And just as we said about tourism-supported retail in a previous post, independent restaurants are another way to grow vibrant downtowns and fill vacant storefronts.

Those restaurants still need help, and still face a variety of enormous challenges.  Ensuring their survival is essential to the health of our communities and the appeal of our destinations.  Otherwise, if every place looks the same, why go anywhere?