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Top 100 Restaurants Fare Better Than Expected in 2008

Independent restaurants, a sector that will be hard hit by the sour economy, fared better than expected in 2008. Revenues for the top 100 restaurants remained steady until the fourth quarter, according to Kelly Killian, editor-in-chief of Restaurants and Institutions.

"It was kind of a roller coaster," he says. "Some of them were up and a lot of them were down, but when you added the totals, things seemed pretty flat." Total revenue in 2008 was $1.52 billion, compared to 2007's $1.53 billion.

Las Vegas restaurants took a blow, with sales declining between 3% to 9%, but Tao Las Vegas Restaurant & Nightclub remained at the top of Restaurants and Institutions' annual ranking of the top 100 restaurants, with a 2.5% increase in sales. The list is based on 2008 revenue data, and doesn't indicate turmoil in the restaurant industry--yet.

Although 2.5% is a far cry from its usual 20% growth, Tao has been at the top of the list since its first full fiscal year of operation. (Tao Asian Bistro in New York City, which shares the same owners, also remains in the No. 5 spot.) Killian says this could be from a variety of factors, including its size (62,000 square feet, fifth largest on the list) and the number of meals served (785,000--surpassed only by Zehnder's of Frankenmuth, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and Old Ebbitt Grill). Tao's average dinner check is higher than average too, at $72, yet it's only the 37th most expensive restaurant on the list.

Since the list only looks at revenue (and not profit), it's no wonder that a hefty chunk of the top 100 restaurants are higher end, and located in pricey Las Vegas or New York City. Looking strictly at sales, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) expects a record of $566 billion this year for the entire industry, including chain restaurants.

The increasing number of value specials offered by many restaurants has helped minimize losses. Annika Stensson, a spokesperson for the NRA, explains that while there has been "consumer pull-back, restaurants are still an essential part of Americans' lives for both convenience and socialization. Even in a down economy, people have to eat."