Want to Cross Paths With the Rich? Head to IHOP

Chain restaurants are where those of diverse socioeconomic statuses may get to interact
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 16, 2023 10:00 AM CDT
Want to Cross Paths With the Rich? Head to IHOP
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/LuckyBusiness)

If you were asked to come up with venues that represent a true melting pot of the rich, poor, and everyone in between interacting, you might think of the likes of churches, parks, and post offices. But the Messenger reports on a new study out of MIT and California's Naval Postgraduate School that shines a light on one type of place in particular where folks of all income levels just might cross paths: casual chain restaurants, including such favorites as IHOP, Chili's, Applebee's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Olive Garden.

For their working paper published on the Social Science Research Network (meaning it hasn't yet been peer-reviewed), the researchers examined nationwide cellphone pings that indicated where users of all different income levels were congregating. "The geolocation data were anonymized, so the authors used neighborhood-level income of the tracked individuals as a proxy for income," per Catherine Rampell, who recently penned an opinion piece about the study for the Washington Post. What the scientists found was that such casual chain eateries "are far more likely to put higher and lower-income people in close proximity" than other neighborhood venues might, per the Messenger.

"Everyone, rich and poor, seems to like predictable, mass-produced, moderate-price-point nachos," Rampell wryly notes. Despite Rampell's observation, the study itself didn't pinpoint why chain restaurants are a draw for such a diverse socioeconomic population, though the Messenger notes that even the affluent may be willing to venture outside their immediate neighborhood to visit their favorite chain eateries. Meanwhile, they're more likely to stick to their own (read: affluent) neighborhoods when visiting other venues such as drugstores, libraries, post offices, and the like. The Messenger comes up with its own theory: The chains "might ... strike a balance between luxury and informality: They are just fancy enough to attract wealthy diners but also affordable enough to welcome lower-income families looking for a good meal." (More discoveries stories.)

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