Colman Andrews | USA Today | August 9, 2018

The restaurant business is a tough one. The average lifespan of a restaurant is five years and by some estimates, up to 90 percent of new ones fail within the first year. There are, however, some very successful exceptions that manage to rake in millions of dollars a year.

24/7 Wall Street reviewed food service trade publication Restaurant Business’s latest annual ranking of the top 100 independent restaurants in America, which is based on their reported or estimated gross food and beverage sales for the year. They define independents, for the survey’s purposes, as restaurants with no more than five locations. Fewer than a dozen of the places on this list are single-operator restaurants.

The most recent Restaurant Business rankings, sponsored by Campbell’s, were published late last year, based on figures from 2016. The shuttering in late July of one of their top 50 establishments, Carnevino (No. 23), due to sexual misconduct allegations, inspired us to take a new look at the list. In the course of doing that, we discovered that two other restaurants in the top 50 have also closed since the list was published. There’s no indication that these two went out of business for financial reasons, but the fact that even restaurants that are phenomenally successful can close might serve as a reminder that sales and profits are not the same thing.

Perusal of this list reveals a few interesting facts. First, American diners are obviously carnivorous, as 16 of the top 50 are steakhouses or focus strongly on meat. Second, though Los Angeles has been getting much publicity lately as the country’s new food capital, it shows poorly on the list of top grossing restaurants, with only one restaurant making the cut. New York City, on the other hand, accounts for 20 of the 50. Next in line are Las Vegas, Chicago and vicinity, and Washington, D.C. Finally, celebrity chefdom apparently doesn’t mean very much when it comes to serious financial success. Only half a dozen of these highly grossing restaurants have or had famed culinary personalities attached. Two of those are among the places that have since closed, and two more are no longer associated with the noted names.

Some of the restaurants on this list serve breakfast (and brunch), lunch, and dinner, while others are open only in the evenings; many are open seven days a week, while others might close for a day or two. These factors obviously influence the number of meals served annually. The restaurant industry usually computes “average check” (or “check average”) by dividing total sales by number of those meals. In some instances in this list, the math doesn’t work out, but that’s most likely because the restaurants in question (especially those with nightclubs and/or large bars or lounges) racked up substantial sales from alcohol unaccompanied by meals.

10. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Annual sales: $24,700,825
  • Avg. check: $75
  • Meals served annually: 363,301

9. Bryant Park Grill & Cafe

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Annual sales: $25,400,000
  • Avg. check: $50 (est.)
  • Meals served annually: 420,000

8. Smith & Wollensky

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Annual sales: $25,961,337
  • Avg. check: $100
  • Meals served annually: 296,723

7. Lavo New York

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Annual sales: $26,822,655
  • Avg. check: $85
  • Meals served annually: 200,000

6. The Boathouse Orlando

  • Location: Orlando, Florida
  • Annual sales: $30,814,369
  • Avg. check: $43
  • Meals served annually: 643,829

5. Old Ebbitt Grill

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Annual sales: $32,662,051
  • Avg. check: $39
  • Meals served annually: 1,072,293

4. Carmine’s (New York)

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Annual sales: $33,147,017
  • Avg. check: $33
  • Meals served annually: 396,871

3. Tao Downtown

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Annual sales: $33,401,819
  • Avg. check: $95
  • Meals served annually: 311,945

2. Joe’s Stone Crab

  • Location: Miami Beach, Florida
  • Annual sales: $37,243,159
  • Avg. check: $80
  • Meals served annually: 316,000

1. Tao Las Vegas

  • Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Annual sales: $42,470,345
  • Avg. check: $90
  • Meals served annually: 226,146