What price fame? Start with 90,000 prime-rib dinners.

Randi_2 The question of why LA is perpetually absent from the Top 100 list published by Restaurants & Institutions has hit a nerve. It seems that not only is it a huge ask, it also may be more, literally, than our traffic can bear.

First off, R&I considers any "concept" with more than five locations a chain, which is why Nobu ranks among R&I’s Top 400 Chains (#212 last year, a ranking that placed it just above Furr’s Cafeterias but well below Cinnabon).

However, as anyone in Hollywood could tell you, it’s hard for an indie to be a blockbuster. Restaurant producer Jerry Prendergast (Tower Bar, Melisse, The York) writes:

$12 million is a big nut. It translates to $36,000 per day average. With a $100-per-head check average, that is 360 dinners a night.

Gladstone’s has always been the largest grosser, but that is with a much lower check average and a much higher head count (in summer). Spago probably does that number with a reasonable check average and good cover counts every night of the week, as opposed to most restaurants in LA that have low counts earlier in the week. LA is not a market that traditionally has supported high check averages or large head counts. Those restaurant with high check averages have low head counts (i.e. Melisse, Valentino, Bastide).

It is tough for a place here to generate enough gross to get on the list. LA does not eat early in the week, does not spend a lot for dinner and does not have many large venues (200 seats and more). A restaurant like Smith & Wollensky in NYC not only has a large lunch market but a large dinner crowd seven days a week, at a high check average. Nine hundred dinners on a Saturday night at $100 per person certainly makes a big contribution (90,000 x 50 weeks = $4 million). It is possible that Lawry’s is capable of the $12 million.

I, for one, do not know that many places here with that many seats; the parking would kill them.

And publicist Arlene Winnick (L’Ermitage) chimes in with a reminder that bigger is not always better:

You have just given me the biggest laugh of the week.

Glancing through the list of top restaurants (revenue-wise), my eyes lit upon #38 — The Milleridge Inn, a blast from my childhood on Long Island. I have few food memories before the age of 10, but I do remember going to this old house and having chickenless fried chicken, tasteless mashed potatoes and soggy green beans. The best parts of the place were the adjoining, colonial-style shops, where you could always hit your parents up for some useless, overpriced item.  I cannot believe they are still thriving.
R& I editor in chief Scott Hume tells me he hadn’t considered LA’s parking issue (oh, we envy such innocence), but says not every top-100 restaurant operates on the bigger-better ethos.

Getting over the $12 million threshold usually requires either a lot of seats or a high check average. But Gibsons Steakhouse here in Chicago (#6 on the top 100) has neither: The dining room has 170 seats and the average dinner tab is $60, but it did $20 million+ in 2006 because it’s just never, never not packed with people. Reputation goes a long way.

For my part, I can cope with LA falling short of the magic mark if it means not having to think about just how much food $12 million really means ever again.
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