Houston Tops Dallas for Dining, Says LivingSocial, But What's In a Survey?

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In the last two weeks, two very different surveys have been released on the dining scenes in cities across the nation: one from Travel + Leisure, which placed San Antonio above Austin on its top 20 list -- while failing to recognize any other Texas cities -- and one from LivingSocial, which named Houston and Dallas at the top of its pack.

The full results of each survey were even more curious.

Travel + Leisure's list didn't contain the usual suspects in its top three: New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles all fell farther down on the list, while New Orleans, San Francisco and Providence -- yes, the one in Rhode Island -- received first, second and third place respectively.

"The list was decided by Travel + Leisure readers, so it cannot possibly be incorrect," joked Paula Forbes of Eater Austin.

The LivingSocial list of the top ten foodie cities was also gleaned from its users' self-reported rankings of their own cities. And that list placed Houston at No. 4, right below New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. Dallas came in at a shocking No. 5.

What do these two drastically different surveys tell us?

Well, they tell us that surveys are silly and easily flawed, and that we shouldn't place too much emphasis on them one way or another. After all, these are just surveys of one magazine's readers, or of one website's users. But that doesn't mean the data the surveys contain isn't intriguing.

There was no "metadata" so to speak in Travel + Leisure's list, but there was plenty of interesting behind-the-scenes details to ponder when it came to LivingSocial, data culled from 4,000 of the site's users in 20 major cities. (Interestingly, New Orleans and Austin were not among the cities.)

The website, like Groupon or our own Voice Daily Deals site, allows its users to mass-purchase coupons for deals at area restaurants, bars, salons, yoga studios and more. But while LivingSocial has roughly half of the users that Groupon does -- 28 million versus Groupon's 70 million -- it's actually older than its biggest competitor, and it hasn't been faced with the controversies that Groupon has.

LivingSocial draws an entirely different demographic than Groupon does, too. A recent Nielsen survey showed that LivingSocial's typical user is in a much higher income bracket, much younger and -- like Groupon's core user -- mostly female.

That means that the typical LivingSocial user -- a young woman who makes good money -- thinks that Houston is pretty damn awesome. And they're the working single, too: LivingSocial's "rank by dining companions" showed that 11 percent of its Houston users were dining out while on dates while 12 percent of them were out with business colleagues. Those stats represent the third highest and the highest rankings in the nation, respectively.

But where are they eating?

LivingSocial's data shows that Houstonians self-reported eating Mexican food the most often (a whopping 76 percent of its users said so), with Italian and Chinese following closely behind. This isn't interesting, however, as most other cities reported the same. What is interesting is that Houstonians are eating more Cajun food -- at 23 percent of its users -- than any other city (excluding, of course, New Orleans ), and aren't nearly as interested in pizza as the rest of the nation.

We don't even rank in the top three when it comes to ordering barbecue: Orlando, Dallas and Atlanta have those honors. And despite our professed love for Vietnamese food, we come in at No. 8 on that list, with merely 9 percent of our diners eating it on a regular basis compared to San Francisco's 22 percent.

Possibly the most baffling statistic of all is how often Houstonians try new cuisines, and which cuisines they try. While other cities were reporting trying out Ethiopian food, Korean food and sushi, Houston was downright dull when it came to open minds and palates, with very few people self-reporting on their food adventures (even though 36 percent of Houstonians consider themselves "experimental eaters"). Instead, we were busy trying...Mexican food for the first time?

But...the data also said that Houston was eating Mexican food most often. So are we trying this crazy new exotic cuisine for the first time, or are we singlehandedly keeping the nation's tortilla factories in operation? Which is it, LivingSocial?

Like I said, surveys are silly and easily flawed, but that doesn't mean they aren't interesting. If nothing else, we learned that the latest restaurant or bar to offer a LivingSocial deal is likely going to be the next hotspot for young, single, well-to-do ladies on the town.

If you don't mind the fact that they consider Mexican food exotic, that is.

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