Eat out more often!
By any account, we’ve got it good. If you live in Sonoma County, you eat out. If you come here to visit, well—you probably came here to eat out and drink, too. We’re known for producing food and beverages that are exported to all parts of the globe. Take a cursory tour of the fresh offerings at San Francisco’s Ferry Building food hall and you’ll see that many of the highly regarded local foodstuffs showcased there come from here. Take the excellence of our products, serve them up here—and no wonder we’re a dining and drink destination.
But we’re eating less of our own excellence.
According to the Environmental Science Research Institute, within the last six months among Sonoma County’s adult (age 18 or older) population of some 392,000 residents, 77 percent of us dined at a full-service restaurant and 90 percent ate at a fast food establishment. All told, we spent $650 million on dining out in 2015, averaging $3,500 per household.
While that might sound like a lot of expendable income being spent, in reality, it doesn’t come close to that ofour neighbors.
In fact, it’s estimated that $67 million a year in sales “leakage” misses our own restaurants and goes instead to Bay Area eateries. (“Leakage” refers to our residents’ spending at restaurants elsewhere or not at all, compared to national averages.)
A significant amount of Sonoma County bounty goes to Marin, East Bay, and San Francisco markets, specialtyshops, and restaurants. The high quality of Sonoma County products commands a higher price for dinerswilling to spend more. Given that residents in the surrounding counties are wealthier, it’s not surprising that our better quality food goes there for consumption.
And for that matter, the good stuff from elsewhere comes to us. While we excel at producing cheese, baked goods, and meat, only a very small percent of the total $60 million worth of fruits and vegetables consumed in Sonoma County restaurants is grown here.
So: Where do we keep the money that makes our money? In beer. Those establishments that focus on our beer and cider industries, like Healdsburg’s Bear Republic and Santa Rosa’s Russian River Brewing Co., saw a surplus of sales in 2014 that came in at around $8.2 million. Quite the opposite of leakage, surplus means more income recirculating and more jobs supported in our own ‘hood.
We brag about being a foodie mecca, yet Sonoma County ranks last in restaurant spending per household compared with nearby counties. While our households spend 6 percent of total income on our own restaurants and brewpubs, about the same percentage as do households in adjoining counties, we spend less overall, which points to that pesky “leakage”—where we’re spending it elsewhere or not spending it at all.
Want to help grow our local economy? It’s simple. Grab your coat.
Go out to dinner.