The best place to be a vegetarian restauranteur in the U.S. is…
In the U.S. 3.4% of people self-report as being either vegetarian or vegan and another 33% of people eat one or more vegetarian meals per week. Consider that in absolute numbers, approximately 11 million people are vegetarian and another 106 million people are regularly eating vegetarian. And those numbers are growing.
You’d think vegetarian restaurants go where the vegetarians are… right?
Turns out a 2016 Harris Poll broadly tried to answer where vegetarians live. The Northeast has the largest proportion of vegetarians at 5.4% of the population, the West at 3.7%, and both the South and Midwest ringing in at 2.3%. Even with these small numbers they demonstrate a sizeable regional difference in the relative number of self-reported vegetarians (e.g., the Northeast more than doubles the South and Midwest).
This regional difference comes to bear when looking at the restaurant rich states (DC 207, Hawaii 192, Oregon 145, Vermont 122, and Maine 115; per million residents)* and the restaurant poor states (Mississippi 12, Arkansas 20, Alabama 22, Oklahoma 22, and Kentucky 24; per million residents).
But, the Harris Poll tells us something else more interesting. When asked who regularly eats vegetarian the regional difference shrinks (Northeast 42%, West 39%, South 34%, and Midwest 33%). Indicating the appetite for vegetarian meals is much more uniform between regions. Although vegetarians mostly aggregate in the Northeast and out West, you’d expect vegetarian restaurants to be more so equally distributed regionally. Good food is good food.
Vegetarian restaurants just go where the most mouths are.
Unsurprisingly, the total number of a vegetarian restaurants strongly correlates with a state’s population (R-squared: 0.834). Using this relationship, I put together a simple model where:
Or more simply, there should be one vegetarian restaurant for every 18,000 people over a state’s base population of 700,000.
So where should you open your hippy filled restaurant?
You should open it in Texas and expect the hippies to pile in. And here’s why: I interpreted each state’s distance from the linear model to be a measure of how full the market is. Seeing how far Texas falls beneath the line is a cutesy indication that it’s underserved tofu, but when you run the numbers, the difference is statistically significant …and by a lot (P-Value: 0.000,098). Now, I’d have guessed Texas would have proportionally fewer vegetarian restaurants than other states, but not by this margin. Interestingly, Texas was the only state that graded out as being significantly underserved. Rounding out the bottom 5 were Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. So…
If you’re planning to sell the farm and open a vegetarian restaurant, consider moving out to the lone star state.
On the flip side, a fuller market will be more competitive and should have better restaurants on average. The 5 states that came out on top in this analysis were California, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, and Utah.
If you’d like to dive deeper, both the figure and analysis were done in python and can be seen & forked from my Github.
*DC and Vermont both have populations under 1 million and their actual restaurant counts are 139 and 77 respectively.
This analysis was inspired by Jakub Marian’s map of vegetarian friendliness. The number of vegetarian restaurants were taken from HappyCow and population numbers from Wikipedia. Take a look at the Harris Poll.