Featuring a world-class restaurant scene, millions of annual visitors and a history rooted in both technology and customer service, Orlando is a “best kept secret” to global restaurant headquarters like Darden Restaurants, Ruth’s Chris and Sonny’s Barbecue.
Here are some of the major reasons why Orlando makes the cut for many restaurants' head offices.
Pictured: Prato in Winter Park, Fla.
1. Best Foodie City
Orlando’s affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants and food festivals consistently earn the region a place among cities including San Francisco, New York City, and Portland in WalletHub’s 2018 Best Foodie Cities in America.
Orlando is home to a high concentration of James Beard nominated chefs and restaurants, and that culinary excellence has spread to the city’s unique neighborhoods – with creative culinary concepts like Hawker’s Asian Fare and 4Rivers growing quickly on the national restaurant scene. Orlando restaurants and bars have been featured in national media outlets, with 4Rivers and Sonny’s ranked No. 1 and 2 Best Barbecue Chains.
2. In Good Company
Orlando is home to sixteen restaurant headquarters including the world's largest full-service restaurant company, Darden Restaurants, which operates the brands Olive Garden, Seasons 52, Smokey Bones and more. Many restaurant groups have a corporate presence in Orlando, which also includes employee training centers and testing kitchens (see interactive Tableau map here - and embedded above.)
Pictured: Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Photo credit: UCF
3. World-Class Talent
Alongside its world-class hospitality, Orlando boasts a robust workforce of qualified hospitality-trained employees. The Orlando region produces thousands of future chefs, restaurateurs and hospitality-related graduates each year from regional universities and institutions. The University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management ranks among the top five colleges for hospitality worldwide, with a 97 percent job placement rate upon graduation.
"The region's diverse population provides access to a talented workforce, and it's also an attractive feature when we recruit talent to Darden,” said Rich Jeffers, director of media relations and external communications at Darden Restaurants.
4. Testing Bed for Innovation
Orlando’s growing and increasingly diverse population also provides a great test market for products or services intended for a national market. Restaurants can test menu items on a diverse and international palate, as visitors from all over the globe search for a taste of home. It’s one of the reasons why Red Lobster moved its headquarters to downtown Orlando, where it opened its first Culinary Development Center.
Pictured: East End Market in Audubon Park
5. Strong Urban Farming Movement
With so many hungry visitors, Orlando’s attractions are creative with food production – fusing local, sustainable farming to meet the high demand for fast, fresh and delicious cuisine.
The Orange County Convention Center features its own hydroponics gardens, Orlando World Center Marriott recently installed a 1,500-square-foot “HyCube” modular hydroponic vegetable production system and the Orlando International Airport hosts a functioning apiary. Fleet Farming, a non-profit urban agriculture program that transforms residential lawns into working micro-plot farms, was born out of Orlando’s foodie and sustainability scene.
Orlando’s strong urban farming momentum supports a food ecosystem that is sustainable and environmentally friendly – part of the reason why FoodFirst Global recently moved its headquarters and culinary and training center to Orlando; the company is working to position Brio and Bravo as natural food restaurants focused on environmentally-friendly meals.
The Emeril Lagasse Foundation opened a community kitchen house and garden – the first-ever in the county – and the vision for a 40-acre farm and agriculture center is being laid by 4 Rivers’ founder, John Rivers, in Orlando’s newest main street neighborhood – the Packing District.
Pictured: Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)
6. Most Visited Destination in the World
As the most visited destination in the country, it’s easy to travel to anywhere in the world from Orlando. Orlando International Airport offers nonstop flights to 133 cities per week and served over 47 million passengers in just one year – listed in the top most active airports in the country. Quick and easy access to cities around the globe is especially critical for corporate executives travelling for business – and with four international airports in the region, Orlando is an excellent location for extremely mobile executives.
Orlando's Menu Offers More Than Entertainment
Welcoming over 72 million consumers each year, Orlando is a global destination with unique competitive advantages when it comes to hospitality – making it an attractive location for restaurants’ headquarters.