Eat this up: Report reveals best, worst American foodie cities

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October 16 is World Food Day.

Restaurant prices rose 8.3 percent from August 2021 to August 2022, and WalletHub determined the best and cheapest local food scenes in its report 2022’s Best Foodie Cities in America.

The personal finance website determined the report’s results by comparing more than 180 of the largest cities in the United States across 29 key metrics. Data includes affordability and accessibility to high-quality restaurants, food festivals per capita and craft breweries and wineries per capita.

Portland, Oregon is the best foodie city in America, according to the report, followed by Orlando, Miami, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.

At the bottom of the list are Oakland, Calif., Charleston, SC, New York City, Portland, Maine and Pittsburgh.

The most gourmet specialty food stores per square root of population can be found in Orlando. The fewest are in Pearl City, Hawaii. Orlando also has the most restaurants and the fewest are in Pearl City.

The highest ratio of full-service restaurants to fast food is in Cape Coral, Fla., while the lowest is in Jackson, Mississippi.

Orlando also has the distinction of the most ice cream and frozen yogurt shops. Burlington, Vermont has the least number of ice cream and frozen yogurt shops.

Experts provided tips for foodies living on a tight budget.

“Many places catering specifically to tourists are generally in neighborhoods with higher rents and therefore have higher food prices,” Dr. Darryl L. Holliday, Associate Professor and Director of Food Science Program at University of Holy Cross. “Using proper safety, do not be afraid to deviate from the beaten path and find smaller neighborhood establishments that market to locals or find food trucks that can deliver some of the same flavors you are looking for but with a lower sticker price. However, some foods are just naturally expensive due to ingredients used, seasonality or captive market locations such as festivals.”

Business Planning and Marketing Specialist for Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University Andrea Graves suggested ordering an appetizer as your meal when eating in a restaurant, or go during happy hour or another slow time when discounts are offered.

“For general food trends, go on social media and learn how to make some of these trendy foods yourself,” Graves said. TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest are great resources for hacks and how to recreate the latest food items. When traveling to another city, ask the locals where they go, they will know where to get the best value for your dollar. Go to places during the off-peak season, if possible, prices can be lower during slower times, just like hotel rates and plane tickets. Go meatless once in a while and look for satisfying entrées that are less expensive than the same meal containing meat. Drink water instead of ordering a cocktail or iced tea and spend the bulk of your budget on the main course. Lastly, join loyalty clubs if the restaurant has one. You can often get freebies from doing what you already do anyway.”

What role can local authorities play in improving the food scene in their cities?

“I think one of the key aspects is improving the lives of those who work in the food business,” Dr. Makarand Mody, Associate Professor, Director of Research and Chair of Undergraduate Programs at Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, said. “One of the biggest challenges facing food businesses and hospitality more broadly right now is the availability of skilled labor. Many who left the hospitality industry during COVID may not come back. And one of the challenges that have led to this exodus in cities is workers’ inability to make a living wage and have a good quality of life while living in the city itself. This ties into issues of affordable housing, minimum wage, and, more generally, resources (such as access to healthcare) available to workers in the food business (and other service businesses). If we want a thriving food scene in a city, those creating the scene should be thriving themselves.”

Associate Technical Professor at Western Colorado Community College Wayne Smith said infrastructure, including market hubs to link local agriculture and metropolitan areas can help improve a city’s food scene.

“Develop zoning that encourages neighborhood markets and restaurants. Include space for food trucks in urban areas, parks, and commercial zones,” Smith said. “Give recognition to restaurants and wholesalers that develop the local market. Development authorities and visitor bureaus can organize and promote ‘restaurant weeks’.”

Experts also commented on 2022’s dining out trends and how inflation is affecting Americans eating out.

“Some developments that came out of the pandemic are here to stay. QR code menus, for instance, are economical for the restaurant and fine with most of the public,” Claire Stewart, Associate Professor at New York City College of Technology, the City University of New York, said. “Printing menus and having staff distribute them is now an unnecessary expense. Groceries are terribly expensive now so that is affecting home meals as well. Restaurants have adapted by either raising prices or cutting portion sizes. Staffing is a struggle, so some venues are limiting their hours and seating capacities.”

The development of take-out options may be here to stay also thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Martin Talavera, Assistant Professor at Kansas State University.

“Those restaurants that were able to accommodate a business in a world of social distancing, were able to survive and even thrive during the pandemic, and may continue to do so in the future. Easy-to-use ordering apps, simplified menus, healthy options, and any option that allows the customer to have the power to easily chose how they want to eat their food will continue to thrive,” Talavera said.