In a previous Divvy Research post, we dived into the most “popular” restaurants for businesses in each of the United States, based on transaction count. The usual suspects were all there, with McDonald’s scoring the win in 23 of the 50 states, followed by Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, and Subway.

While we found this data interesting, it wasn’t necessarily actionable—we weren’t going to take an extra trip to McDonald’s because it dominated the transaction volume landscape.

Consumer Reports has found that consumers prefer independent restaurants. So we decided to do a bit of additional research—how could we find restaurants where we’d actually want to eat if we were traveling to a particular state?

Looking for hidden gems

An idea occurred to us: if we removed all of the national chains, we’d be left with local restaurants (by definition), either independent establishments or smaller chains. 

We also hypothesized that by eliminating chain restaurants, we’d lean more toward local diners rather than business travelers. In other words, we’d be following those who eat where they live, not just tourists or big spenders.   

In order to come up with this data, we exported all Divvy transactions at restaurants for 2019 (in order to find restaurant-only transactions, we filtered by Merchant Category Codes 5812 and 5814). We grouped and summed the results by restaurant name and spender state—meaning each line of our export looked roughly like this:

Joe’s Restaurant Florida X transactions $Y spent

Of course, this list still included chain restaurants. In order to get at local favorites, we filtered out any restaurant that appeared in more than one state, and were left with only establishments that had spenders from a single state.

Finally, we sorted the list by dollars spent, then hand-filtered when it turned out that the top result in a state wasn’t truly a restaurant. Caterers and hotels (and a water park?), for instance, took a few of the top spots, so we moved down the list until we found the top restaurant. (Another interesting result was Fiserv Forum, our top Wisconsin result—we eliminated it because it represents the sum of several restaurants, most of them probably chains).

Favorite local eats: According to Divvy customers

The result is our magnum opus: the Divvy Restaurant Guide.

Potential improvements could be made to this list. As noted above, we used spender state instead of transaction state in this dataset. This limited us to restaurants that only had spenders from one state, which may have proved advantageous in some ways; it probably did help us get to more “unknown” restaurants to business travelers.

For some states, we had fairly low transaction volume once we filtered out chains, so the results could be biased by just a few heavy spenders. There may also be restaurant locations outside of the state where it appeared in our data, that didn’t have any Divvy spend.

In addition, we’d love to find a way to narrow it down to independent restaurants only; with the methodology we used, this could still include chains within a single state. You could argue, though, that those smaller state-wide chains represent the best of local restaurants, due to their ability (through running a popular, profitable businesses) to expand to more than one location.

Put our customers’ taste to the test

Looking at the list overall, we’re pretty excited about it. Though it’s impossible to use this exact dataset and methodology to scientifically claim that these are the most popular local restaurants, we still think it’s a pretty cool restaurant guide. In most states, these establishments are well off the beaten path, and they also have pretty impressive Google reviews. 

In other words, we’ve got a great list of places to try as we travel the country spreading word about Divvy! And we hope our customers and friends will take the chance to let us know what they think when they try out some of these local favorites.

About Divvy

Divvy is free expense management software paired with smart corporate credit cards. If you want to learn more about our product, we’d love to schedule some time to chat.

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