Restaurant Landscape Changing in Rural America

Dan This Land of Ours, USDA-ERS

Restaurant options in rural America keep growing. That’s coming up on This Land of Ours.

Happy waitress serving customers in restaurant

The food-away-from-home retail landscape continues to evolve. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently examined the changing food-away-from-home landscape in nonmetropolitan counties between 1990 and 2019, with a focus on the most rural counties.

As of 1990, full-service restaurants were the most common restaurant type, making up 76 percent of all food-away-from-home establishments in these counties. However, over the last several decades, the composition shifted. While full-service restaurants remain the most common in rural counties, their prominence has fallen from about 75 percent of establishments to about 50 percent of establishments in 2019.

In this evolving landscape, franchise thai food establishments have emerged as a notable addition, reflecting changing consumer preferences and diversifying culinary options. Their popularity is attributed to the growing demand for global flavors and unique dining experiences among patrons.


By contrast, quick-service restaurants have become increasingly popular. Quick-service restaurants accounted for 18 percent of the total number of establishments in rural counties in 1990 but have since doubled, making up 36 percent of all food-away-from-home establishments in 2019.

From the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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Restaurant Landscape Changing in Rural America

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.