Have We Reached Peak Restaurant in Bryan / College Station?

When I started this article, I planned to title it: Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant is Now Closed – Here’s Why (College Station, TX). But I like to always have a control variable to compare, and so I picked Chuy’s. After comparing Chuy’s — one of the busiest and most popular restaurants in town — I quickly noticed I needed to drag the data into a spreadsheet and see what the numbers were saying. Frankly, I WAS SHOCKED!

I assumed Ninfa’s, a well-established, long-in-the-tooth brand hadn’t been able to compete in this busy market, but I discovered an overall market trend. I checked other (similar) Bryan & College Station well-established quick serve restaurants foot traffic and the results were similar. Let’s take a deeper look at Chuy’s and Ninfa’s.

Jan 2017 – March 2019 visitors

In the spreadsheet here, it was only this December 2018 that Ninfa’s felt the pinch — down 11% in foot traffic, and continuing through February 2019. That’s fast and steep! If we look at Chuy’s they have trended down for even longer, ranging from -4% to -13% starting October 2018. I guesstimated that each set of feet are worth an avg. of $12 and multiplied that out by the drop in visitors from the previous year. By my estimates, Ninfa’s was in the hole -$85,000 in just 3 short months.

Jan 2017 – March 2019 visitors prior location

above: I wondered if the client location played into Ninfa’s foot traffic in a different way than Chuy’s.

Both restaurants had people coming from the same zip codes and the top 5 are even in the same order. I’ll have to see further if this is a common theme with the restaurants that are seeing a drop in foot traffic.

Jan 2017 – March 2019 college student impact

Next, I wanted to see how much Gen Z factored into both restaurants – just for kicks. College students drive so much around here!

above: Chuy’s has almost 40% of all visitors college age. Ninfa’s has a little over 31% of its visitors college age. Students definitely play a role in both businesses.

Jan 2017 – Dec 2017 college student impact

I then wondered what 2017 looked like for the defined age range? Has the student moved away from Ninfa’s or Chuy’s?

above: traffic from Deacon to Ninfa’s cooled down and went from red (most traveled route) to orange, a step below red’s volume of traffic

At this point, I wish I was able to export this data by month like I am for foot traffic data to run an analysis in Excel to see where the changes occurred over time. I’ll update this article if I am able to get the data in a csv file.

2017 vs. 2018 – Present: travel patterns

Lastly, I reviewed the traveling habits of Ninfa’s customers and how they changed from 2017 to the current period of 2018 – present. The 2 images show from the hot color of red to the cool color of purple the number of customers that traveled a particular path. The most noticeable difference I see is areas on the outside of Bryan grew in traffic, yet the traffic from Deacon to Ninfa’s cooled down and went from red (most traveled route) to orange, a step below red’s volume of traffic. What used to bring people from further down HWY 6 in College Station to Ninfa’s that now diverts elsewhere? I need more information at this point to make a better determination.

above: January 2017 – December 2017 show both restaurants still had about the same percentage of college age visitor with Chuy’s dropping down from it’s 2017 high.

In closing, a new question is starting to surface: have we reached peak restaurant in Bryan / College Station given the current population pool? We know the population and business development projections remain very positive in the years to come, but the restaurants may be butting up against the limits until the growth catches up. I think it’s too early to call. The data is showing already that with the addition of each new restaurant in town, the entire ecosystem has to rebalance in terms of who eats at what restaurant. Click here to leave your ideas in the Facebook comments section— I’d love to hear them.

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Author: Jason Pulliam

Jason Pulliam is an avid researcher of technology and marketing. He enjoys figuring out ways to automate tasks and increase the personalization of the customer’s online journey. When Jason isn‘t pushing all the buttons to see what they do, he’s a nutty husband to his wife, Jada, and proud father for his two daughters. Jason enjoys all cold things, in every sense of the word, and you might find him working inside a fridge if that were possible.