Data nerds will love the latest Grub Street exploration of the economics of gastronomy -- "gastronomics," if you will -- that provides a fascinating portrait of where New York City's 1 percent prefers to dine. Since the 99 percent entered into our lexicon following the explosion of all things Occupy this fall, we've heard a lot of hemming and hawing about the 1 percent and their awfully greedy approach to life, but it's a rare treat to find hard data to provide detail to the sweeping claims. Grub Street imported data wizard Felix Salmon from his day job as a Reuters business blogger, and he came up with an interesting approach to tracking where the 1 percent spend their money. The gastronomics angle is almost secondary to the interesting methodology:
The good people at Bundle -- a company I've talked about before, with access to an anonymized database of credit- and debit-card spending data - decided to identify the city's luxury spenders by looking at where people shopped. They put together a list of high-end shopping destinations -- Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Harry Winston, ABC Carpet, you get the idea — and then identified the New Yorkers who shopped at those places on a regular basis. It might not be an ironclad way to track the city's highest earners' every move, but conveniently, those New Yorkers whom Bundle identified as luxury spenders constitute just under one percent of people in the entire Bundle data set (although of course they account for much more than one percent of all spending).
From there, Salmon used the same payment data to find out which restaurants this literal 1 percent chose to spent their food money. And when you think about it, using food money as a sort of measuring stick for rich people habits works quite well. Though eating out is more common in New York City (we blame the tiny kitchens) it's a luxury to most, and Manhattan offers some of the most luxurious restaurant options in the world. A single meal for two at Per Se, recently named best restaurant in the city by former New York Times food critic Sam Sifton, tend to cost at least $1,000. But what Salmon's data suggests is that the city's richest aren't going out of their way to eat obnoxiously priced gourmet meals every night. In fact, they're into convenience more than anything. The startling conclusion that Salmon draws: "The city's most expensive restaurants are far more egalitarian than you might think, which also might be the reason why they're so good in the first place." The not-so-startling realization, the 1 percent sure loves to frequent restaurants just off of Fifth Avenue. Madison Avenue is especially popular.
We have a hard time calling the 1 percent's choice of restaurant "egalitarian" claim, though the idea that rich people are more like you than you think is interesting. Salmon, a columnist most famous for his wonky but accessible column about finance for Reuters, more or less explains his egalitarian claim as such:
What’s going on here? Well, one obvious explanation is that the kind of people who shop at Bergdorf are social X-Rays who think of Momofuku Ko's tasting menu as more of a challenge than a pleasure. And the rich, even more than the rest of us, place a high value on convenience. If you’re not budget-constrained when it comes to restaurants, then, sure, sometimes you’ll go out for a special occasion. But more often, you’ll meet a fellow Upper East Sider for lunch or for dinner, and you’ll go somewhere mutually convenient rather than schlep somewhere noisy and trendy and well reviewed downtown or (heaven forfend!) in Brooklyn or Queens. Proximity trumps quality, even when you have a car and driver.
We're only a little bit bummed that Salmon neglected to include Brooklyn and Queens in this interactive map: