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Over the last five years, restaurant-goers have been shifting their preferences.

Charlie Heller
February 07, 2018

Certain well-known chefs and Yelp may not always have the most cordial relationship, but the ubiquitous user review site has some very good news for independent restaurants around the country. Namely, that over the last five years, Yelper's preferences shifted in their favor.

As part of the second edition of Yelp's "Local Economic Outlook" study, the company has analyzed prevailing trends throughout the country, centering on the growth of local businesses in metro areas. It credits the rise of celebrity chef-owners, due in part to popular media, and increased consumer confidence in non-chain restaurants (thanks in part, they say, to review platforms like Yelp) with the increase in average ratings of independent restaurants, with a corresponding decrease in those of chain restaurants.

Between 2012 and 2017, fast food chain restaurants have on average lost about a third of a star out of five possible, which equals about 16 percent of ratings, with fast casual chains losing one tenth of a star. Independent fast food and fast casual establishments, on the other hand, have gained 7 percent in average ratings over the same time period.

“Historically, chain growth has outpaced the broader restaurant industry growth," Yelp quotes a rep from food industry research firm Technomic, "but in the past three years we’ve actually seen independents and smaller operators outperform chains.” And, Yelp points out, while many think of fast food and fast casual as chain-only dining styles, the majority of them nationwide are actually independently owned.

The study also ranks 50 U.S. cities on business growth, with Charleston, South Carolina making the top of the list thanks to its rapid increase in population and construction. But don't just take Yelp's word for it—read up on how Sean Brock himself told Food & Wine that Charleston cuisine is the best it's ever been.