In a sea of steakhouses and clubstaurants, Alinea stands out.
Restaurant Business just dropped its annual ranking of the highest-grossing independent restaurants in the country—meaning establishments with no more than five locations—and the Michelin three-star tasting-menu spot in Chicago appeared on the list for the first time, joining a list where 34 of its fellow restaurants are steakhouses. Coming in at No. 6, Alinea brought in more than $27 million in sales in 2021, according to Restaurant Business’s estimates. And with diners spending an average of $650, it had the highest average check among all 100 restaurants.
Despite those impressive numbers, the Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas isn’t touting the restaurant’s inclusion in the ranking, according to Eater Chicago. In the past, he’s questioned the list’s accuracy and said that it isn’t journalism. This year, he told Eater that Alinea refused to provide data to Restaurant Business. “They reached out sometime back and had ‘guesses’ on cover counts and such and I replied that they should do the research and were way off,” Kokonas said in an email.
Kokonas did concede, however, that the $650 average check was “reasonably close” to what Alinea does. But he thinks there are restaurants that do better than that, even though they didn’t appear in the ranking. Chicago isn’t a top market for wine sales, Kokonas said, and restaurants in New York, the Bay Area and LA sell more wine and should have higher check averages.
That might be true, but Chicago still leads the pack on the Restaurant Business list: The Windy City came in with 16 restaurants in the top 100, followed by Miami/Fort Lauderdale with 15 and both New York and Las Vegas with 10 each. Overall, the 100 restaurants had $1.8 billion in combined sales in 2021, with Miami’s Komodo outshining the competition with a staggering $41 million in sales.
Many of the restaurants on the list are large-scale operations that cater to tourists and work dinners, not the sort of places that win Michelin stars or James Beard Awards. But a handful of spots, like Alinea and Michelin two-star Mélisse in Santa Monica (No. 100 on the list), have a check average that can drive revenue instead of high-volume at luxe steakhouses like Maple & Ash or clubstaurants like Komodo.