The numbers are out from Restaurants & Institutions, a trade paper, and they're grim. Sales at the top 100 independent restaurants in the U.S. were down 10 percent in 2009, and those are the most professionally managed places in the country.
Five of the country's top ten largest restaurants are in New York, three are in Las Vegas, one in Miami, and one in Chicago. You have to read down to No. 33 to find a Seattle listing: Sky City at the Space Needle. The Needle's $14.1 million gross from its restaurant is down from $15.1 million a year ago, but it's still nothing to sneeze at. The place has done well to hold its own in the recession, with an average check of $60 and over a quarter-million meals served. (The listing does not indicate profits.)
The only other local entrant in the high-rolling sweepstakes is Salty's on Alki, at No. 94. Salty's had just over $10 million in sales last year, down from $11.3 million in 2008, and 200,000 meals served. No word on the other usual Seattle suspects, Ray's and Daniel's Broiler. But when the Big Boys are in trouble, it means everyone's in trouble, cutting costs, reducing staff, and dropping prices. It means anything to drive customers into seats, starting with giveaway happy-hour deals. The restaurant biz may be Washington's largest private employer, but these are minimum-wage jobs and easily cut. Neighborhood bistros are also taking the hit, and taking it hard.