Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Chain Restaurants of America

map showing the locations of McDonald's outlets in the USA
Map of McDonald's outlets in the USA

The Georgia Institute of Technology's Friendly Cities Lab has released a new interactive map which reveals which chain restaurants dominate which areas of the United States. The U.S. Chain and Independent Restaurants map shows the locations of over 700,000 restaurants across the country, organized by restaurant chain and by frequency. 

The map reveals that independent restaurants are more prevalent in areas "associated with dense pedestrian-friendly environments, highly educated populations, wealthy populations, racially diverse neighborhoods, and tourist areas." For example many East and West Coast cities have a high percentage of independent restaurants. 

According to the Institute's analysis of the map a number of different factors are associated with high rates of chain restaurants. In Restaurant Chainess the Lab states that " car-dependency, low walkability, high percentage voters for Donald Trump (2016), concentrations of college-age students, and nearness to highways were associated with high rates of chainness".

Using the map's drop-down menu you can filter the restaurants shown on the map by chain. For example the screenshot at the top of this post shows the distribution of McDonald's outlets across the US. According to Friendly Cities Lab McCities (cities with a high percentage of chain restaurants) "are prevalent in the Midwestern and the Southeastern United States."

map showing the share of commuters who commute by car in the U.S.

You may have noticed that the Lab suggests that a high percentage of chain restaurants is associated with a 'high percentage of voters for Donald Trump".  Last year The Washington Post's Department of Data also reported on this curious correlation between the number of chain restaurants in a state and the number of Trump voters. According to the Post the states with the highest percentage of Trump voters also have the most franchise foods.

The Department of Data obviously knows that correlation isn't causation and that a tendency to vote for delusional wannabe dictators is not a direct result of poor nutritional choices. They therefore went looking for correlations between chain restaurants and other data. 

In the article Places in America with the most chain restaurants the Washington Post has published a number of interactive maps. One of the most interesting of these is a map showing the percentage of workers who commute by motor vehicle in each U.S. county. This map shows that there is a strong correlation between the number of chain restaurants in a state and the number of people who commute by motor vehicle. 

The Post therefore concludes that Trump won more counties with a high number of chain restaurants because he 'won more of the places with the most car commuters' -  although ''We still aren’t sure why Trump won areas with more car commuters". 

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